by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Island Taxi was granted a conditional use permit Tuesday by Sanibel Planning Commission to rent its vehicles when they are not in use as a taxi. But the application raised traffic concerns.
Longtime Sanibel Resident Larry Schopp spoke in opposition of the application and asked commissioners to deny it because it was “not in accord” with the Sanibel Plan. He said “the obvious intention is to keep more vehicles on the road more of the time.”
Island Taxi, located on Rabbit Road, was permitted a total of 10 vehicles – five per unit and the business occupies two units of the commercial center – under its original conditional use permit as a taxi business. The permit approved on Tuesday does not increase the number of permitted vehicles, but essentially converts the existing fleet to dual use.
Sanibel has combated high traffic throughout the years and Schopp said this permit would have the “exact opposite effect” intended by the transportation element of the Sanibel Plan. “A dominate theme of that element,” he said, “is the need to reduce auto ridership on Sanibel.”
Schopp also asked commissioners to be consistent with prior rulings and referred to a similar conditional use permit denied in 2018, a decision that was upheld on appeal by the city council. The business, Sanibel Carts, proposed renting seven street-legal, low-speed carts.
The Planning Commission’s final resolution cited Sanibel Cart’s failure to meet sections of the Sanibel Plan and Land Development Code as basis for the rejection.
“This commission should reach the same conclusion in this case,” said Schopp, who pointed out the carts are battery powered and environmentally friendlier than automobiles. He also pointed out there was a deep traffic analysis done in the Sanibel Carts case, but that was not done in this one.
Sanibel Carts is owned by Commissioner Laura DeBruce and she abstained from the public hearing. “The outcome of this hearing could be to the betterment or detriment of my business, so I do need to recuse myself” she said.
City Planner Craig Chandler said he would not comment on the Sanibel Carts case because of material differences in the applications and he was not involved with it. But he said the city staff’s report on Island Taxi focused on future land use first instead of traffic.
Commissioner Karen Storjohann raised concern over regulating the number of permitted vehicles. She wanted assurance Island Taxi could not operate more than 10 vehicles. Community Services Director Keith Williams said regulation falls on code enforcement and self-certification through business tax receipts.
Island Taxi Owner Tom Jones said renting cars will be a minor part of the business. “The bulk of our business will be our taxi service,” he said. “We don’t see this as a big money-maker for us, but an additional service to our customers.” Jones added that they will not always have a vehicle available to rent, especially during high tourist season.
Island Taxi’s attorney Gus Simmons said rental cars would reduce traffic more than a taxi that is constantly out on the road.
Commission Vice-Chair Eric Pfeifer made the motion to approve the application without the resolution returning to the commission despite City Attorney John Agnew suggestion to bring it back before commissioners due to the opposition from Schopp.
“Traditionally, when there was opposition to, not just a conditional use permit, but any application, the planning commission resolution was brought back before the full body to review it and confirm what it says is consistent with what was stated during the actual hearing,” explained Agnew.
Commissioners unanimously approved the application. Commissioner Matt Kirchner was absent from the hearing.
I don’t see a problem with this type of rental. Sanibel and Captiva should be more concerned about the cart rentals. This is causing a major traffic hazard especially on San-Cap Road where they travel at slow speeds (under 35mph, sometimes under 30) and cause traffic jams. The result of this is that you have people that pass in no passing zones or with not very much time to get in before the oncoming traffic gets to them. Numerous times I have had to slow way down so that cars can get it without hitting me head on. Carts should be able to reach a speed of at least 35mph and if they are going slower than this with a build up of traffic behind them they should be pulled over and given a warning. The least these people should do is pull over to let traffic go by. Cart rental companies should be required to verbally inform the renter that they can be a safety hazard on roads where they are not able to get up to the posted speed limit. Carts are a serious danger during off season but are even more dangerous during season when traffic is a problem to begin with.
Sanibel/Captiva needs to address this major problem and not worry about a slim possibility of 10 more cars on the road.
My gosh, whenever we read that Sanibel has made efforts to manage traffic, we laugh. Year after year tourists are strongly encouraged to visit the island. We have no issue with that. We want our businesses to thrive. But never do we read about any planning that will mitigate the overwhelming traffic that results. Nothing. We have an island that I call a 5,000 vehicle parking garage that invites 10,000 vehicles to fill those spaces.
Ft Myers Beach and Lee county built a transfer parking lot near Walmart to help in the traffic and parking congestion. It is a bit successful. But the island? Simply keep encouraging more visitors.
Does Sanibel have a traffic planning office? If so, we never see a result other than increased parking fees. Add to the mix the elimination of visitors having to pay an actual fee when coming on island. Oh sure, visitors have to pay a toll, but they never see cash being transacted so mass numbers of vehicles flock to paradise because they won’t feel the effects of their visit till the bill comes due each month. Thus, ever more increasing traffic.
Sanibel needs to wake up before traffic makes it impossible to visit if that hasn’t already happened. Residents should have some reprieve too of course. It seems as if traffic planning on island needs some outside planning expertise. Raising parking fees is not a a plan.