by SC Reporter Wendy McMullen
The plan to form a major subdivision and build six cluster homes on the south side of Sanibel-Captiva Road in the Sanibel Bayous subdivision was sent back to the Sanibel Planning Commission for reconsideration after city council heard arguments for and against the project at Tuesday’s meeting.
The map above shows the location of the former treatment plant and the six proposed homes. Photo provided
The case was closely followed as a bellwether to determine if Sanibel’s strict development standards would become more lenient following Hurricane Ian. It was heard by the Sanibel Planning Commission in January and the commission approved the project in a 4-2 vote.
City Attorney John Agnew instructed the council this was a quasi judicial hearing and no new evidence other than that already provided to the planning commission was permissible. The city council had only to decide if the planning commission has correctly interpreted the facts and legal arguments.
Arguing for opponents to the project was environmental attorney Ralf Brookes who claimed that the proposal to build six homes with pools on top of a former wastewater plant presented health hazards to future occupants and asked the site be cleaned of contaminants like nitrogen and phosphorous before approving the project.
The City of Sanibel decommissioned the plant in 2008 after sewage leaching from the plant forced the closure of Bowman’s Beach in 2007. There were also concerns phosphorous and nitrogen would be released into the nearby lake which is already being aerated because of pollutants.
Vice Mayor Mike Miller moved the application be remanded back to the planning commission for a new hearing on the basis the commission failed to apply the provisions of the Sanibel Land Development Code which requires the design and construction of the development minimize environmental damage. The motion passed in a vote of 3-2 with council members Holly Smith and Dr. Scott Crater opposed.