11-unit condominium complex proposed in place of two decades-old buildings on Avenida Veneccia and North Beach Road on Siesta Key

Maximum distance of the new construction seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line would be 75 feet

The owner of property located at 70 Avenida Veneccia and 77 Beach Road on Siesta Key is seeking a Sarasota County Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) to construct an 11-unit  condominium complex in place of two multi-story wooden frame structures built in 1925 and 1977, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

The new construction would be a maximum of 75 feet seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), according to the application for the variance. The GBSL is the figurative line in the sand established in 1979 in an effort to preserve dunes and other native beach habitat, which, in turn, protect landward development from storm surges and other flooding events.

At its farthest point, the existing structure on North Beach Road is 45 feet 5 inches seaward of the GBSL, according to engineering drawings the News Leaderreceived through a public records request.

Additionally, tables included with engineering drawings note that the enclosed habitable area of the existing structures seaward of the GBSL comprise 3,023.4 square feet. The new structures would contain 18,551.7 square feet seaward of the GBSL.

The agent for the Siesta Key property owner is Matthew Brockway, a partner with the Sarasota law firm Icard Merrill.

The parcels where the proposed project would stand are owned by Sunset Beachfront Resort LLC, which has a Columbus, Ohio, address. The limited liability company paid $10 million in November 2021 for the land, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. Last year, Property Appraiser Bill Furst’s staff determined that the market value of the parcel located at 70 Avenida Veneccia was $1,609,800; for the Beach Road parcel, it was $7,856,100.

The total property area is approximately 2.383 acres, according to the application.

The parcels previously belonged to the Caflisch family, whose members were among the three sets of North Beach Road property owners who won County Commission approval in May 2016 for the county’s vacation of a 363-foot-long segment of North Beach Road.

Florida Division of Corporations records show that Sunset Beachfront Resort LLC has a Lakewood Ranch Boulevard address and that its managers are Brett Hutchens and Don M. Casto III.

During a Jan. 31 public hearing on proposed changes to the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances regarding coastal construction, both attorney Brockway and a speaker who identified himself as John Hutchens urged the commissioners to modify the regulations to provide more flexibility in relation to projects seaward of the GBSL, especially on Siesta Key.

On the card that he signed to speak during the hearing, Hutchens identified himself as being with “Casto Vacation Properties.”

The commissioners that day approved just the tweaks to the ordinance that county staff had proposed.

This week, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Lorenz told the News Leader that the County Commission public hearing on the Avenida Veneccia/North Beach Road variance tentatively is set for July 12, which is the last meeting of the board before it takes its traditional, four-week summer recess.

More details of the proposal

The CSV application says the new construction would comprise three stories over parking, plus a driveway, a swimming pool and spa, a deck “and associated improvements and infrastructure on the Property.”

The dwelling units would extend a maximum of about 57 feet seaward of the GBSL, the document notes, and they would be approximately 452 feet 6 inches from the Mean High Water Line (MHWL).

The most seaward of the existing structures on the site is 45 feet 5 inches from the GBSL, according to a document that attorney Brockway provided to Staci Tippins, an environmental specialist in the county’s Environmental Permitting Division.

“The vast majority of the Property is located seaward of the GBSL, with very little buildable area landward of the GBSL” because the [20-foot] required front yard setback takes up a substantial portion of the Property that is landward of the GBSL,” a revised version of the application, submitted to county staff in February, points out.

Unlike the decades-old structures on the site, the application notes, the new construction will comply with all current county, state and Federal Emergency Management Agency codes and regulations.

Further, the original application — filed with the county in December 2022 — said, “The residential use of the Property contemplated by the Variance is less intense than its present commercial use as an event venue with short-term rentals. Under the current commercial use, there are currently 23 wedding events booked for over the next 12 months with approximately 200 guests per event and up to 40 cars per event.”

The revised application also points out, “Considering the shape, size, setbacks, and other attributes of the Property, strict application of the [county’s] Coastal Setback Code would preclude and prohibit the redevelopment of the Property with 14 multi-family dwelling units, which is the purpose for which it is zoned under the UDC. [The UDC is the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations.] Moreover, the 11 multi-family dwelling units proposed by Applicant would also be prohibited, further illustrating the hardship on the land that would be imposed by the strict application of the Coastal Setback Code.”

The phrase “hardship on the land” is a reference to state law that protects private property rights.

“Finally, three variances to the Coastal Setback Code were recently granted for the immediately adjacent properties at 61 Beach Road, 65 Beach Road, and 89 Beach Road,” the application adds. “The [proposed new] Residences are consistent with the variances granted for the neighboring properties. Applicant is clustering the Residences landward to be consistent with and respect the existing line of construction established by the redevelopment of these neighboring properties.”

Among the Environmental Permitting staff’s responses to attorney Brockway was the following statement, included in a Request for Additional Information about the project plans: “Some areas on the landscape plan that show dune creation are already colonized by dune vegetation. Please clarify whether any impacts to existing dune vegetation are proposed.”

Attorney Brockway replied, “To the extent that, at the time of construction, dune vegetation exists within those areas designated for planting and enhancement on the Dune Enhancement Plan [included with the application materials], such areas will be planted and landscaped in accordance with the Dune Enhancement Plan to create and/or enhance dune habitat.”