Casey Key petitioners turned down in attempt to rezone property

County commissioners concur with Planning Commission that the change would not be compatible with the existing land pattern

An aerial view shows the property at 3000 Casey Key Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County
An aerial view shows the property at 3000 Casey Key Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the end, Commissioner Charles Hines said he had to agree with an opponent’s assertion that a request for the Sarasota County Commission to rezone Casey Key property so it could be divided into two parcels with a new house to be built on each was an example of “pretzel logic.”

John Patterson, a partner in the Shutts & Bowen law firm in Sarasota, pointed out that the applicants for the rezoning petition realized they could not meet the requirements of the county’s Zoning Code in an earlier effort to get the Casey Key property rezoned to a different designation. Therefore, Patterson continued, they chose to seek another designation that they felt would meet the guidelines of the county’s Comprehensive Plan regarding density on barrier islands.

That second initiative — which the County Commission was considering during an April 13 public hearing — made him think of the title of a 1974 Steely Dan album, Pretzel Logic, Patterson said. “We’ve had an employment of pretzel logic to get you to this consistency [with the Comprehensive Plan] that is claimed by this petitioner here,” Patterson added.

Hines seconded a motion by Commissioner Carolyn Mason to deny the petition by CK Gulf to Bay LLC — whose managing member is John Eldred of Holland, OH — for the county to rezone approximately 1.13 acres at 3000 Casey Key Road in Nokomis from RE-2 (Residential Estate, 1 unit per acre) to RSF-1 (Residential, Single-Family, 2.5 units per acre) with stipulations.

Jason Utley. News Leader photo
Jason Utley. News Leader photo

Both county Planner Jason Utley and Michael J. Furen — chair of the board of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota, who was representing Eldred and Eldred’s wife, Margaret — explained that the couple wanted to demolish three existing buildings on the original parcel that date to the 1930s. Furen argued that the rezoning would end up with less density on the barrier island.

The Sarasota County Planning Commission voted 4-3 on March 3 to deny the petition, Mason pointed out in making the motion. She concurred with that board’s findings, she said, adding that she recognizes the fragility of the county’s barrier islands.

The other commissioners joined Mason and Hines, making the decision unanimous.

Several speakers who offered comments during the public hearing represented the Casey Key Association. Both that organization and the Siesta Key Association opposed the Eldreds’ request.

The petition

Michael J. Furen. News Leader photo
Michael J. Furen. News Leader photo

As part of the petition, CK Gulf to Bay offered four stipulations:

  • The property at 3000 Casey Key Road would not be divided into more than two lots. Each of those new parcels would have more than 24,000 square feet, Furen told the County Commission.
  • The resulting lots would comply with the maximum density, minimum lot area, minimum lot width, maximum building coverage and maximum height requirements of the RE-3 zone.
  • The density of the property would be reduced from three units to a maximum of two.
  • The three existing, non-conforming houses would be demolished or removed prior to the issuance of a building permit for new construction on the site.

The county staff report explained that the total land area at 3000 Casey Key Road is 48,966 square feet. It also pointed out that “the entire site is located in the 100-year floodplain.”

In response to a question from Hines, Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson said that the Zoning Code would allow only one new structure to be built on the site under the current zoning designation if the three existing buildings were demolished.

A graphic shows the Casey Key property in the hurricane storm surge zone. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the Casey Key property in the most vulnerable hurricane storm surge zone. Image courtesy Sarasota County

County property records show that CK Gulf to Bay bought the property in May 2013 for $1,650,000. In 2015 the county Property Appraiser’s Office set the just value of the parcel at $1,451,800.

When he addressed the board, Furen explained that he had sought comments from both Allen Parsons, the county’s Planning Division manager, and Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy about whether the proposed rezoning would comply with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

In a Jan. 22, 2015 letter, Furen continued, Parsons wrote that the county’s Future Land Use Policy 3.1.1 “provides that residential density on the Barrier Islands ‘shall not exceed the maximum gross density zoning requirements existing as of March 13, 1989.’” Further, Parsons wrote, the rezoning proposal “would result in a reduction of actual [Parsons’ emphasis] density of a property that exceeded the allowable [Parsons’ emphasis again] density in 1989 [and] would be consistent with [the Land Use Policy].”

However, Parsons pointed out that the County Commission ultimately would decide whether the rezoning is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

The opposition

Dale Thomas. News Leader photo
Dale Thomas. News Leader photo

Among those who joined Patterson in opposing the rezoning, Dale Thomas told the board he lived for about 15 years in one of the structures at 3000 Casey Key Road. What they are, he pointed out, are kit houses from Sears, which were assembled on concrete blocks on the site in the 1930s. One is the main home, he said, while the other two are guest cottages.

“It’s rather misleading to suggest … that you’re reducing density from three to two,” he added, “[because] they are uninhabitable.”

Art Wood, president of the Casey Key Association, told the County Commission that his board was unanimous in opposing the petition, while Constance Davis, vice president of the association, noted that its board members “typically don’t like to go against” the island’s residents’ development plans. This case, however, she continued, represented “a serious enough risk to the key” that they chose to do so.

Davis stressed the potential for storm damage on that barrier island, including road washouts. If the commission approved the rezoning, she added, the action would not set a legal precedent, but “it would set a perceptual precedent.”

A county staff photo shows the property, looking to the northeast. One structure is visible in the upper right corner. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A county staff photo shows the property, looking to the northeast. One structure is visible in the upper right corner. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In a letter to the county board dated April 12, Michael Shay, president of the Siesta Key Association, pointed out that his organization supported the Casey Key Association’s request for the denial of the petition.

Rebuttal and discussion

Art Wood. News Leader photo
Art Wood. News Leader photo

During his rebuttal, Furen explained that in granting the rezoning, the board would not be setting a precedent, because “each zoning request has to be considered on its own merits …”

He also referenced Casey Key Conservation District guidelines approved in the 1970s, which call for a minimum lot area of 15,000 square feet on the island. “And we’re proposing two lots, each in excess of 24,000 square feet.”

In response to a question from board Chair Al Maio, Zoning Administrator Thompson reiterated that if the property zoning was not changed, the owners could construct only one new building if the three existing structures were demolished. No guesthouse would be permitted, she added.

When Maio asked for a motion, a couple of moments passed before Mason finally spoke.

In seconding her motion to deny the rezoning, Commissioner Hines told his colleagues, “This is tough,” as the Eldreds wanted to replace three buildings with two, albeit through the division of the property.

With no other comments, the motion passed 5-0.