City tells waterfront homeowners, we can build docks but you can’t

For more than 20 years, waterfront homeowners living along the city of Sanibel, on Florida’s San Carlos Bay, have been barred from building boating docks.

It’s tough luck for homes not grandfathered in, as resale values in the gulf community — where boating is in part a way of life — are directly affected.

It’s even tougher for owners who believe the reasoning for the ban doesn’t hold any water.

So when the city government decided to build its own dock in the restricted area eight years ago, some residents started speaking up. Their stop could be the U.S. Supreme Court.

Photo credit: Pacific Legal Foundation

According to Mark Miller, managing attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Atlantic Center, the dock ban violates basic property rights. It limits what homeowners can do with their property based on the city’s desire to protect submerged sea grasses. That’s not to say area sea grasses aren’t important, acknowledges Miller.

San Carlos Bay sea grasses are valuable habitats for the marine ecosystem, Eric Milbrandt, marine lab director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, told

“It serves as nursery grounds for invertebrates and fish species, like red fish, grouper and snook,” Milbrandt said.

“Sea grass holds sand in place. Loss of sea grass allows for sand to move around and that negatively affects everyone, not just the dock owner,” he added.

What if there’s no submerged sea grass next to a home in the restricted area? Could a homeowner build a dock?

The answer, unfortunately, for David and Susan Kentner, is an unequivocal “no.”

But the city government can.

“It’s a monstrosity. It’s concrete and it has multiple boat slips. It’s not an ordinary wooden-plant dock,” said Steve Gieseler, a local attorney representing the Kentners and Robert and Diane Williams, about the taxpayer-funded dock constructed in the restricted area along San Carlos Bay.

Sanibel City Attorney Kenneth B. Cuyler told in an email the city council determined its dock was necessary “for public health and safety purposes.”

“The city did not build a residential boat dock for recreational purposes and did not construct the dock adjacent to, connected to, or for use by a residential parcel, which was the prohibition in the 1993 ordinance,” he said.



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