by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday, May 12, to allow vacation rentals for a minimum of 30 days effective May 16, which reduces the previous limitation from six months. Council likewise voted unanimously to allow hotels, motels, resorts and timeshares to rent at a 50 percent occupancy.
Council members had a lengthy deliberation over whether to authorize 25 or 50 percent capacity. Councilwoman Holly Smith initially proposed 25 percent as a measured first step. “It’s time to open the door a little, but I’m concerned about stepping in too quickly,” she said.
“I think if we take a small measured step for a couple of weeks and then another step at a different percentage, we are allowing opportunity for our proprietors and also saying to our citizens ‘we are hearing you,’” Smith said.
Councilman Richard Johnson took the position that 25 percent would be too difficult for the businesses to operate and said a “big surge of visitors won’t happen” because travel has not fully resumed. Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane agreed that quarter occupancy would be tough.
“From a business point of view, I struggle with 25 percent getting them back in the black,” said Ruane. “We are not necessarily allowing them to pay their bills and bring back furloughed people, which doesn’t accomplish what we are trying to do – have a balance and pay their bills.”
Island Inn General Manager Chris Davison told council members during public comment he would not be able to bring back employees at a 25 percent occupancy limitation and hoteliers were not looking to have sick people as guests. He added that Island Inn will take temperatures and give extensive questionnaires to guests who are checking in. “We’re in this together,” he said.
However, reservations can not be accepted from COVID-19 “hot spots” identified by Governor Ron DeSantis, which includes the New York tri-state area and Louisiana, as well as Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida. Accommodations are also strongly encouraged to follow the Sanibel-Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce “SanCap Safe” guidelines.
In other decisions, council voted to incorporate a strong encouragement of wearing face masks as part of the emergency proclamation, effective immediately and until further notice. Although there were several members of the public who called for wearing face masks mandatory.