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.