EDITOR’S NOTE: The Santiva Chronicle publishes opinions and letters on topics that are important to Sanibel and Captiva. They may be submitted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the editor of the Santiva Chronicle,
As Sanibel struggles to recover from Ian, it’s a given that regardless of what the Sanibel Plan says about building height, new buildings will be taller because of the need for resiliency. However, as we’ve learned from recent events on Captiva, legislating for resiliency should not be confused with legislating for expansion. Resiliency is required to preserve life and property, while expansion is a matter of choice.
In a previous letter that clarified the meaning of the Sanibel City Charter provision on actions to increase building height, I observed that as accommodations are rebuilt in the wake of Ian, “there does not appear to be a current need to increase the permissible height of buildings in terms of linear feet, even with recent increases in base flood, as long as new buildings continue to be designed with eight foot ceilings.” Mr Lapi `took issue with that observation, so I would like to offer some elaboration.
Much of Sanibel’s appeal as a destination is attributable to the value the city places on limiting building height. “Regulations limiting the height of buildings to be no taller than the tallest tree allows for beautiful views and a naturally secluded feeling.” — well, not literally, but that’s what the website sanibelisland.com says — albeit with a bit of poetic license. More importantly, Section 3.2.5 of the Sanibel Plan, states as an aspiration “(a) limitation on building heights of approximately 45 feet above mean sea level is also important with respect to scenic preservation of the beach zones.”
While a height limit of 45 feet is no longer attainable (the current height limit exceeds 50 feet), let’s hope it doesn’t become a distant memory. The city can strive to honor that aspiration even as it accommodates resiliency, if it takes a critical look at optional increases in building height.
Before Ian, West Wind Inn had been a two story motel with smallish rooms built at ground level. It appears that its replacement will be very different, with three stories (permissible under the Sanibel Plan) and significantly larger rooms (permissible under an amendment to the Land Development Code enacted several years ago) but — on 17 foot pilings (required by the Florida Building Code). On top of that Mr Lapi proposes to add 6 feet to accommodate 10 foot ceilings — 2 feet higher than those in the structure it is replacing. If that requires an amendment to the Land Development Code, as Mr Lapi believes it would — it raises the question whether that should become yet another increase in height limits in the resort housing district?
Mr Lapi’s letter states “Currently our guests and residents may need a few more feet to accommodate higher ceilings.” Is there really such a need? Speaking personally, when I evaluate hotel accommodations I usually look for a sitting area with comfortable chairs and perhaps a sofa and cocktail table, a mini-fridge, up to date air conditioning that doesn’t go clang clang all night and a well appointed bathroom with fluffy towels. If there’s a terry cloth robe, all the better, But I don’t think I’ve ever given a thought to ceiling height and I am not persuaded that would be a priority for visitors to Sanibel either. People have been drawn to Sanibel over the years, even without ten foot ceilings, because of its abundant wildlife, world class shelling and natural beaches devoid of high-rise buildings — and I don’t believe that allure will change.
As with all impacted business owners on Sanibel, I wish Mr Lapi nothing but success in his efforts to remake the West Wind Inn that is “set for the future and not the past” — to use his terms — but hope that with his extensive experience and resources can he find a way to do that with a little additional deference to Sanibel Plan values that make Sanibel the unique place it is.
FOLLOW THE CONVERSATION
GUEST COMMENTARY: Unintended Consequences
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Setting the Record Straight on Building Height
GUEST COMMENTARY: Response to Building Heights
Guest Commentary: Humanity First – Adapt to That!