The Sanibel City Council discussed a proposed extension of the island's Dark Sky Ordinance on May 6.
During the first reading on Tuesday, they focused on what date would be appropriate to replace the current deadline of Jan. 1, 2015. The ordinance was originally passed in 2000 -- after 18 separate revisions -- with the goal of eliminating light pollution on the island and protecting wildlife by requiring "dark sky" light fixtures to be installed at all buildings.
Sanibel properties on the Gulf of Mexico and San Carlos Bay are already in compliance due to stricter measures put in place for nesting sea turtles and other protected species.
Objections against it have come from condominiums on the island as well as residents who claimed they haven't been able to satisfy the law's requirements due to a lack of appropriate fixtures on the market and a misunderstanding of compliance.
Council voted 3-2, on May 6 to extend the deadline five years to Jan. 1, 2020, but Mayor Kevin Ruane pointed out that as the process unfolds the term can be changed in the ordinance's second reading and final adoption. Ruane and Council Member Mick Denham voted no.
Ruane said the city needs to focus on educating the public about the ordinance.
"We need to really think about the campaign, about how we move forward with this ordinance and how we educate people, so there isn't a burden of enforcement that we may or may not have to meet," said Ruane.
Council Member Jim Jennings described how he had attempted to reach compliance at his own house, but was surprised to find out that the fixtures he had installed weren't correct. Not only has the technology not caught up as quickly as expected in 2000, but there seems to be a lack of understanding in the community.
"I bought a lot of fixtures with the light bulb pointed down and they still don't comply," said Jennings.
Vice Mayor Doug Congress, who investigated the issue for the council, said there is over 80 percent non-compliance in the City of Sanibel and dozens of new code enforcement officers would need to be hired in order to deal with all of the incorrect fixtures, which isn't practical.
Council Member Marty Harrity said he suspected that a vast majority of islanders didn't know a Dark Sky Ordinance existed, adding that he supported the five year extension and a public education campaign.
Denham said he would prefer more of a minimal extension, one to two years, rather than five.
Sanibel residents also addressed council about how extending the deadline was a bad idea.
Barbara Joy Cooley, chair of the Environment Committee for Committee of the Islands (COTI), said many islanders have spent their money to be compliant and are pleased with the overall effect of the ordinance.
"To extend the deadline for compliance by five years is ridiculous. It's really just a way to gut the Dark Skies rule because it's a way of saying that people don't have to comply with that law," said Cooley.
Other residents pointed out that 15 years was an adequate time frame for reaching compliance and that extending the deadline would be penalizing those residents who followed the law.
Council will hold another public hearing on this issue during the June 3 meeting at 9 a.m. inside MacKenzie Hall. For more information, visit mysanibel.com.