Location: Sanibel, Florida

Highlighted Element: 432.n. Special Flood Related Hazard Coastal Erosion Regulations (CER)

Point of Contact: Craig Chandler, Planner, City of Sanibel, FL

Sanibel is a barrier island off southwest Florida near the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers. It has a population of 6,741 and an area of 33.16mi2—of which only 17.21mi2 is land ("Sanibel, Florida," no date). The Sanibel Causeway, built to allow easy access to the island, has made Sanibel a popular tourist destination ("Sanibel, Florida," no date). Ecological preservation is important to residents and tourists alike. More than half of the island is designated wildlife refuge, the largest of which is the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Sanibel is a relatively new community, incorporated in 1974 ("Sanibel, Florida," no date).

Volunteers plant a living shoreline. Image courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation via Flickr Creative Commons.

Sanibel's success with CRS element 432.n. Coastal Erosion Hazard Regulations (CER) comes from higher regulatory standards for permitting erosion control structures, as well as ecological zone development standards of the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan that include, limitations on developed area, impermeable coverage and required stormwater management. The Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan, originally developed in 1974, was updated in 1985, 1989, 1997, 2007 and 2013. The plan states only the minimum amount of erosion protection should occur and actions can have no adverse impact to dunes or dune vegetation. The plan specifies a preference for beach re-nourishment or beach rehabilitation over the use of sandbags or other hard infrastructure. According to Craig Chandler, a planner for the city of Sanibel, there is only one permanent gulf-side revetment on the island, though other bay front properties have obtained conditional use permits to install revetments or "living shorelines," including at the city-owned Lighthouse Beach Park.

The higher regulatory erosion standards are enforced in each proposed project by first sending the Department of Natural Resources to do a preliminary inspection of the dune area in question. The city asks for a vegetation plan and the original application would have to state approval from Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). While the city has the higher regulatory standards, they do not receive applications for emergency beach erosion control often.

A person walks along a beach in Sanibel, FL. Image courtesy of David Hachen via Flickr Creative Commons.

Sanibel's success seems to stem from other best practices within the community. Chandler said the town excels at public outreach and open space preservation elements within CRS. Sanibel is currently ⅔ open space (some is owned by the city, and some was donated or dedicated by private groups). The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is a leading local organization that acquires and dedicates land to conservation/open space. The city participates in the Lee County Multijurisdictional Program for Public Information, which the city has a responsibility to distribute any relevant flood safety and building information to the public. Other outreach efforts include sending informational materials with bill statements, holding annual hurricane awareness seminars, numerous emails, and webcasting all city council meetings so all residents can stay informed. Sanibel's ecological focus is well understood and supported by residents and tourists.

Learn more about how your community can take credit for higher regulatory standards in coastal erosion hazard areas! Check out the Green Guide profile of element 432.n. Coastal Erosion Regulations.

Sanibel also hired consultants to advise staff on changes to the CRS program and its requirements. The consultants also reviewed the city's past documentation in an effort to maintain its Class 5 rating, and explore the possibility of reaching Class 4. City staff spoke with the consultants on a monthly basis to draft recommendations and options for the City Council to consider. Consultants first reviewed where the city was receiving credit. They then identified areas Sanibel was not receiving credit, but could with proper documentation and formatting. The consultants looked at higher regulatory standards that would boost Sanibel to a Class 4 CRS community and presented the options to the City Council in the form of a decision tree. The council questioned relevant departments to understand how new policies would be enforced and what the benefits/repercussions may be. Through this process, the city was able to determine that higher regulatory standards were not acceptable for Sanibel, such as the prohibition of using fill. However, the process did assist staff in capturing credit to secure its current rating as a Class 5 CRS community.

According to Chandler, the consultants were an asset throughout the process. He found them very helpful as they have worked outside of Sanibel and have greater expertise knowing what has worked in other communities. Also, from a staffing perspective, it allowed city employees to continue to focus on their usual day-to-day job requirements. A staff representative from each applicable department was responsible for attending and conducting follow up research and documentation as needed. Chandler said Sanibel anticipates remaining a Class 5 community and believes leadership thought the consultants were worth the extra expense.

Best practices shared by this community:

  1. Using consultants can save lots of staff time and help identify easy ways to gain more CRS points.
  2. Extensive outreach is important. The community understands why higher regulatory standards are in place and it often attracts new residents and tourists for these reasons. Many people support the regulations because they "keep Sanibel, Sanibel."

Through their higher regulatory standards and other efforts, Sanibel has reached a Class 5 rating in the CRS. This has resulted in an annual $2,860,000 reduction in the cost of flood insurance for policyholders.