A conditional use permit application for extensive renovations to The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum was approved by a vote of 5-0 Tuesday, Oct. 9 at Sanibel Planning Commission. Commissioners Richard Johnson and Roger Grogman abstained due to being a part of the museum’s capital campaign for the project.

The Shell Museum is expected to undergo major interior and exterior renovations beginning around the Thanksgiving holiday and be completed by late Spring 2019. Interior renovation plans include relocating the lobby entrance and gift shop to the ground floor, which will become air conditioned and flood proof. The ground floor will also house the much-anticipated aquarium to exhibit and study live creatures.

This proposal is really to take the museum to the next level,” said its Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman. “Nine out of 10 people don’t know our shells were once living creatures. People should know the beach is a living environment.”

The museum’s ground-floor renovations will increase the existing 10,638 square feet of air conditioned space by 3,431 square feet – primarily due to converting current storage areas. Restrooms and administrative office space will also be located on the ground floor.

Exterior site improvements include modifying the visitor driveway and parking areas, converting some asphalt to pervious pavers, improving pedestrian and bicycle access, altering onsite storm water retention system and new landscaping. The application was approved with two conditions – storm water drainage and Shared Use Path connectivity plans receive separate approval by city staff.

The Shell Museum, which sits on 8.1 acres at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Rd., first obtained a conditional use permit in 1991 and four years later received a development permit to pave the shell parking and driveway. In 2016, Planning Commission approved a variance allowing the Wetlands Conversation District’s fill limitation be exceeded by 2.4 percent for the installation of a second driveway and 23 employee and volunteer parking spaces in the abandoned septic system area.

The applicant, today, is proposing plans that will not increase the amount of fill or development on the site,” said Planning Department Senior Planner Roy Gibson.

Commissioners commended the applicants on providing detailed plans, including a traffic assessment that showed the proposed renovations will not increase traffic. “The (addition of a) live aquarium is expected to increase time spent inside the museum, not necessarily create more traffic,” said Gibson.

Recognizing Historical People

Commissioners, along with Planning Director Keith Williams, continued reviewing the Historical Preservation Committee’s proposed criteria and procedure for recognizing historical people. The discussion included naming or renaming of streets only or to include public facilities owned by the city.

I think for simplicity we are better off leaving it at streets,” said Commissioner Karen Storjohann. “If there is a pressing need down the road, assuming this goes any place, we address it at that point, instead of trying to bite off the entire apple at once.”

The creation of a policy and procedures was due to a request to rename a street, which brought about the question of renaming a public facility. Since the city does not have a policy or procedures in place, the Historical Preservation Committee was tasked with drafting it.

Williams told the commissioners if they reduce the scope of it to streets only, public facilities controlled by the city would be left with no set policy.

However, Commissioner Chuck Ketteman expressed concern over including public facilities because it could affect special-use buildings such as BIG ARTS, which leases its Dunlop campus from the city.

For example, BIG ARTS is in the midst of a major capital improvement project….The buildings on this campus seem to fit the public facility,” Ketteman wrote in his white paper. “The improvements will be paid for entirely by private donations and the campaign includes several building naming opportunities for major donors.”

Commissioners ultimately decided to focus on streets and deal with the more complicated process of public facilities at a later time. This will be brought back to the Planning Commission in November.