Sanibel Island has about 18.1 square miles of land – similar in size to Manhattan, which has 22.8 square miles. Two-thirds of Sanibel’s land is designated as conservation land, owned by the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Federal government, or the State of Florida.
The island’s biggest landowner and land manager is the Federal government, with 8 of those 18 square miles. The land use of the remaining 10 square miles is strictly regulated by the City of Sanibel. The guiding document for that control of land use and development is Sanibel’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, better known simply as the Sanibel Plan.
|Sunrise on Dinkins Bayou, on Sanibel Island (photo by Barbara Joy Cooley)
From its beginning in 1976,
the Sanibel Plan has recognized that “unlimited future population growth would
be hazardous to health, safety, and welfare of the public.” The plan also notes that restriction of
development is needed for “adequate delivery of services and natural resource
protection.” This is the rationale for
Sanibel’s limit on the total number of dwelling units to 9,000 units. That includes everything residential, from
individual hotel rooms to single-family homes.
Sanibel also controls the intensity of use of the land, and
it strictly regulates permitted land uses as well as density and coverage of developments
on the island. (These controls do not
apply to Captiva, which is an unincorporated area governed by Lee County.)
All of that may seem cumbersome, but it is what sets Sanibel
apart from most other coastal Florida communities. This special, sanctuary quality that
Sanibelians have worked so hard to protect is what draws most visitors to the
island. So, Sanibel citizens naturally
gasp in horror when an uninformed visitor suggests that the island needs developments
such as a miniature golf course or other attractions.
Sanibel citizens have kept a watchful eye over Sanibel. When citizens saw the need for further
protections from overdevelopment, they passed charter amendments like Forever
Wild, and the People’s Choice amendments.
Forever Wild (2000) protects undeveloped lands designated as
environmentally sensitive, and the People’s Choice amendments (2005) added the
Sanibel land development restrictions on density, coverage, and building height
to the city charter so that they could only be changed by the voters, not by a
vote of just three members of a city council.
Of course, the Sanibel Plan and land development code could
have been inappropriately changed over the years to weaken the approach to
controlling development. But that has
not happened, because of Sanibel citizens who defend the Sanibel Plan and its
Many island visitors, particularly ones who are involved in
their own communities, recognize the efforts of Sanibel citizens over the past
several decades – efforts that have maintained Sanibel as the sanctuary island
that it is. Fortunately, most island
visitors are not clamoring for the development of a miniature golf course or
Sanibel Plan is available online. It
has been updated several times over the years; the most recent update was in
May 2013. If you live on Sanibel full-
or part-time, and you’ve never read it, take some time to peruse the plan – the
policies that protect our island. I
think you’ll be glad you did.
The Sanibel Plan was initially Adopted July 19, 1976 – Ordinance no. 76-21.