Couple Gets Crucial Variance To Build Home In Sanibel Bayous Neighborhood

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Planning Commission hears variance application for a proposed home on Buck Key Road. SC photo by Shannen Hayes

Keith and Leslie Castleberry were granted a crucial variance Tuesday to build their home on Buck Key Road in the Sanibel Bayous neighborhood. Planning Commission approved the application by a 6-1 vote, after a three-hour discussion about an open body of water near the middle of the property.

The Castleberrys propose building a 1,828 square-feet home with a 446 square-feet swimming pool. The neighborhood is predominately in the D-2 upland wetlands ecological zone and city staff identified two open bodies of water on their property – the bayou to the south and wetlands with elevations below 1.3 feet NAVD to the center-west.

The Land Development Code requires a 20-feet setback from open bodies of water and the variance reduces that setback to zero feet from the center-west wetlands, which city staff says qualifies as an open body of water.

A lengthy discussion focused on the definition of an open body of water and if the center-west wetland qualified as an open body of water. Director of Natural Resources Holly Milbrandt said her department was “confident” there is an open body of water center-west on the property.

Planning staff denied the Castleberry’s short-form application last year citing insufficient steps had been taken to reduce the encroachment into the center-west open body of water setback. Planning Supervisor Craig Chandler said the proposed site plan before commissioners was the same one submitted last year and more could be done to mitigate the encroachment.

Chandler even gave an example of how the site plan could be modified to reduce the encroachment into the center-west setback by turning the swimming pool in a different direction. He said there are more options.

But Steve Hartsell, attorney for the Castleberrys, said his clients could not do more to reduce encroachment into the center-west open body of water.

“The applicant believes this represents the minimum necessary to have reasonable use of the property. And that is why they have stuck with the plan they have proposed,” he said.

Vice-Chair Eric Pfeifer said the land was entitled to be developed. But because it’s upland wetlands, the LDC reduces the impervious square footage to 25 percent, an already big restriction.

“For me,” said Pfeifer, “it comes down to are there open bodies of water on this parcel.” It’s tough here, he said, because surveys from CES and Johnson Engineering do not match. “That’s the whole crux of this – is there an open body of water (center-west on the property).”

Pfeifer also said he was “dismayed” to hear city staff say 1.3 feet NAVD is not part of the open body of water definition, but is part of mean-high water line definition. “So it becomes very subjective if there is an open body of water,” he said.

The Castlberrys have obtained permits from the Amy Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to build their home and pool in an upland wetlands ecological zone. They also purchased mitigation credits from the Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank as required by the ACOE, and reduced the size of their home to comply with ACOE.

“They were led to believe they were following all of the rules set forth and they have met all of those,” said Pfeifer, “…In my opinion, they have done everything asked of them.” He went on to say the couple is building a “below average square footage” home and pool and have met all the variance standards.

Leslie Pendleton, neighbor to the west of Castleberry’s property, told commissioners he and his wife had similar issues when they built their home 21 years ago. He said those were resolved when they moved their house to the west-side of the lot, closer to the road, and removed plans for a pool. He suggested the same changes could be applied in this case.

Keith and Leslie also spoke at the hearing. Keith said he began coming to Sanibel in 1965 and has dreamed of living here. He and Leslie sold their home in South Carolina with the belief they would soon build their island home, but now it has been a nearly four year process and construction has yet to start.

“You won’t find two better stewards of the island than us,” said Keith. “We haven’t given up on our dream.” Leslie said it’s been a costly process for them, plus the cost to build continues to rise. She also said they have conceded they are not getting the home they initially planned and are trying to do all the right things.

In the approved motion made by Commissioner Matt Kirchner, the variance standard to install a rope and bollard to delineate protected wetlands and mitigate future encroachment by human activity was eliminated. The resolution will identify the 192 square-feet open body of water center-west and the variance does not apply to the southern open body of water.

Following approval, Commissioner Laura DeBruce told the couple she was sorry for what they have been through. “It’s been a rough and rocky road for you and it’s not always that way. And it’s not indicative of Sanibel or how the community will welcome you.”

Cielo Granted Variance For Generator

Cielo restaurant on Periwinkle Way will be installing a 150-kilowatt emergency electrical power generator on the west side of the building. Planning commission approved a variance application Tuesday by a 6-1 vote.

The variance allows for the generator to be installed atop an elevated platform at less than the minimum required side yard setback of 25 feet. The platform will be a little more than 14 feet from the property line.

Cielo General Manager Marcus Preese said the generator was necessary to his business since there is a consistent loss of power. “We considered adding a generator during our remodeling project in 2019, but the timing didn’t work out to open for season,” he said.

Commissioner Matt Kirchner cast the single vote against the application citing the applicant could have reduced the footprint of the generator and its platform to be more in conformance with standards.

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