by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
A new era appears to be dawning on Sanibel as a group of 41 individuals – comprised of council members, city staff and citizens – gathered Saturday, March 12 at the Recreation Center to look at the future of the island, as a city and a community. It was day one of a two-day strategic planning retreat, the first one in nearly 50 years.
Groups were broken out among seven tables at the strategic planning retreat
in the Pelican Room at the Sanibel Recreation Center.
There have been significant changes in the past year – a new city council with three first-year members, a first-time mayor and vice-mayor and a new city manager in two decades. There are even many fresh faces in the community as real estate has rapidly changed hands in that time.
But before planning for the future got underway, Porter Goss gave a brief history lesson on why Sanibel was founded as a sanctuary island, making it the special place it is today. He was among the pioneers of incorporation and elected as the first mayor.
Sanibel took control of its destiny when it incorporated as a city in December 1974, after it became clear the island was being viewed by Lee County Board of County Commissioners as a “golden egg.”
There was talk of major development and financial success when the causeway was built and the island was being discovered as “a really neat place,” explained Goss. The county was not well acquainted with needs of island residents and their voices were not being heard.
The community was faced with three options to control growth on this finite island and protect its precious natural resources from overdevelopment: persuading the county to control the growth, regain zoning guidance which had no authority or acquire home rule through incorporation as a city.
Then came the work of creating a comprehensive land use plan or the Sanibel Plan. It was initially adopted in July 1976 and extensively revised in 1985, 1997, 2007 and 2013. It has been the guide for “orderly development to preserve the island’s natural features.”
The Sanibel Plan marked a substantial departure from the county’s zoning and development standards, which would have permitted about 30,000 residential units on the island. The Plan reduced that figure to 9,000 units and two-thirds of the island’s 18 square miles is devoted to conservation, which means developed areas must be used judiciously.
Goss said measuring dwelling units instead of the number of people was a good metric then, but not now. There are more people per dwelling than was originally calculated. He also pointed out seasonality has changed.
Winter months were considered high tourist season with slow summer months. Now, the island is busy with visitors all year long, as shown by the record-breaking traffic and beach parking sales last year.
Goss discussed the need for good communication, partnerships and relationships within the community, across the bridge, and at the state level. In addition, he said there is “a wealth of resources in the community to help fight for Sanibel.”
Day One: SWOT Analysis
Dr. Bob Lee facilitated a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Priorities identified by the group were:
Strengths – The Sanibel Plan, a city manager form of government, non-partisan officials, and community support systems
Weaknesses – Lack of information technology and workforce housing, overtaxed infrastructure and congestion on the roads and shared use path
Opportunities – hiring additional city staff, improving infrastructure, collaborations and partnerships, and transportation
Threats (mentioned but not yet prioritized) – Sea level rise, water quality, dangers to home rule or an overreaching state government, a competitive job market, lack of education on the Sanibel Plan and traffic. One group discussed apathy to opportunities as a threat.
Other agenda items: View both presentations
Finance Director Steve Chaipel provided a financial picture, which showed a healthy status for the city in FY2022.
Community Services Director Keith Williams and Natural Resources Director Holly Milbrandt gave an overview of past major projects and future projects, which include:
• Water Quality – Wulfert Plant Reclaimed Tank, Phase 4B Sewer Construction, Captiva Sewer
• Resiliency – Drainage improvements at Tradewinds, Bailey Road and Dixie Beach Boulevard, East Rocks/West Gulf Drive and dredging of the Sanibel Slough
• General Improvements – Construction of a police facility, Center 4 Life, addition of Shared Use Path on the west side of Palm Ridge Road and north side of Periwinkle Way, Middle Gulf Drive path and roadway relocation to eliminate utility conflicts and reconstruction of Donax Street and adjacent Shared Use Path to increase width and add safety buffer
• Aging Infrastructure – replacement of box culverts at East Periwinkle Bridge and Clam Bayou-Dinkins Bayou, Beach Road water control structure rehabilitation, sanitary sewer collection system pipe replacement and pipe lining
Day two of the strategic planning retreat will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 16 in the Pelican Room at the Sanibel Recreation Center, 3880 Sanibel Captiva Rd. On the agenda are: Vision statement, mission statement and strategic goals derived from the SWOT analysis.