Casey Key property owners win county variance to repair deck and retaining wall damaged repeatedly by storms

Running behind schedule, commission unanimously approves petition in less than 5 minutes

A graphic shows the location of the property (outlined in yellow) at 2016 Casey Key Road. The Gulf Beach Setback Line is in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During their next-to-last regular meeting of 2019, the Sarasota County commissioners took less than 5 minutes to offer full support of a Coastal Setback Variance petition from the owners of the property at 2016 Casey Key Road in Nokomis.

As county Environmental Specialist Staci Tippins explained, the request was for the relocation and repair of a portion of a concrete paver deck and retaining wall at a maximum distance of 47.5 feet seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).

The structures would be reinforced through the installation of helical support pilings, according to the staff memo provided to the board in advance of the Dec. 10, 2019 meeting.

The GBSL is the county’s figurative “line in the sand,” designed to protect native dune habitat and other beach vegetation, which, in turn, protect landward property from storm surge and other potential damage related to weather events. Thus, county regulations require commission approval of any project that would be undertaken seaward of the GBSL.

When Tippins took her place at the podium shortly after noon on Dec. 10, 2019 in the Commission Chambers of the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, the county commissioners already were running behind schedule for the meeting. They had listened to numerous remarks that morning during the Open to the Public period, and they had engaged in detailed discussion with staff after hearing the remarks of another group of speakers on the latest issues related to a joint Manasota Key Beach renourishment project with Charlotte County.

Photos show damage to the Gulf side of the 2016 Casey Key Road structures after an October 2019 spring tide event. Image courtesy Sarasota County, via the property owners

At the outset of the 2016 Casey Key Road public hearing, Chair Charles Hines pointed out that he had no cards from members of the public signed up to address the petition, which had been submitted by Casey Key Road 2019 Land Trust. The only card he had, Hines added, was from Rodney Jacobson of Island Building Co., who was representing the property owners.

Tippins was about one-and-a-half minutes into her presentation — her first on a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) petition, to the knowledge of The Sarasota News Leader — when Hines interrupted her. She had just announced, “I’m going to go through a few photos now.”

“Hang on one second,” Hines told her.

He then asked whether any of his colleagues had questions about the proposal, as they had had the materials to review several days before the meeting.

No one indicated he or she wanted to direct questions to Tippins.

“Sorry,” Hines then told Tippins, “but, you know, maybe hit the conclusion … This is just a repair?”

She confirmed that that was accurate.
His concern, he explained, was that representatives of the City of Sarasota were present to hear a board discussion — and potentially offer information — regarding a request involving the county-owned Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key. Making them wait even longer, Hines continued, “wouldn’t be right.”

Tippins then told the county commissioners that a table provided in the petition agenda package explained the findings of the Environmental Permitting staff after its review of how the proposed project at 2016 Casey Key Road would or would not conform to county policies.

“They’re not expanding [structures]?” Hines asked.

“Correct,” she replied.

A graphic shows a cross section of the property with the proposed construction. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Hines then moved to close the hearing, a whisper from another commissioner prompted him to ask Jacobson whether he wanted to speak on behalf of the applicants.

“I don’t want to rock the boat,” Jacobson responded from the audience.

“I wouldn’t rock the boat,” Hines told him with a laugh.

Commissioner Michael Moran promptly made the motion to approve the CSV, and the motion passed unanimously. (Hines did not announce who seconded the motion, but the News Leaderthought the voice was that of Commissioner Christian Ziegler. The meeting minutes will not be approved until next week, at the earliest.)

Just before the vote, Hines did note for the record — with another laugh — that Jacobson had waived his right to a presentation.

Last year, the County Commission handled several petitions for Coastal Setback Variances on Casey Key, which were submitted to staff in efforts to deal with ongoing beach erosion. Generally, the commission has approved projects seaward of the GBSL as long as they have involved what are known as “accessory” structures — those in which people will not be residing.

Nonetheless, the county staff memo provided to the board prior to the Dec. 10, 2019 the meeting pointed out, “Variances for similar support pilings in the area have not been shown to eliminate the need for additional shore protection measures as evidenced by successive variance applications at these properties. … Opportunities exist for managed retreat from the Gulf of Mexico and restoration of native dune habitat that will serve to further protect public infrastructure and the private residential structures landward of Casey Key Road.”

Details of the project

This is one page of the table with criteria for approval or denial of the CSV petition. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is a second page of the table with criteria for approval or denial of the CSV. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the 2016 Casey Key Road situation, the county staff memo explained that 2019 Casey Key Road Land Trust purchased the property on June 20, 2019. (Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show the company paid $6,725,000 for the property. In 2019, the total value of the structures and land — which comprises 41,560 square feet — was $5,585,300.) County Property Appraiser Office records also show that the owners are represented by the Cohen & Grigsby law firm in Naples.

Tippins noted during her presentation that the property extends from the bay to the Gulf of Mexico side of Casey Key.

The bay side of the parcel, the county staff memo said, “was developed in 2010 with a pile-supported, three-story, 7,508 square foot residential structure with a swimming pool, spa, patio, boat dock, and privacy wall.”

On the Gulf side of the property, the memo continued, a cabana, a concrete paver deck, a wooden deck and bench and a retaining wall seaward of Casey Key Road and the GBSL dated to the 1970s. “In 2000, the cabana structure was remodeled, and a privacy fence was added through a staff-administered Written Conditioned Exception,” the memo pointed out.

The 2016 Casey Key Road property “is located on a critically eroded beach that has experienced erosion over the past four decades,” the memo explained. “Several storms in 2018, including Hurricane Michael on October 11, 2018, severely damaged the concrete paver deck and retaining wall.”

On Jan. 29, 2019, the memo noted, the County Commission approved a Class II Emergency Variance that allowed repair of those structures, “determining this to be the minimum variance necessary for reasonable use of the property.” The latter statement references language in the Florida Statutes relative to property owners’ rights.

This graphic shows existing conditions at the Casey Key Road site. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This graphic shows the proposed changes to the property at 2016 Casey Key Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then, the memo continued, a summer storm “producing sustained southwest winds and increased wave activity resulted in the loss of approximately three vertical feet of sand along the seaward face of the wall and [undermined] the northwest corner of the concrete deck. Further damage occurred the week of October 13, 2019 when a spring tide caused additional erosion at the base of the retaining wall, resulting in failure and collapse of a portion of wall and concrete paver deck.”

Less than a week later — on Oct. 19, 2019 — Tropical Storm Nestor made landfall in the Florida Panhandle, the memo continued. It “delivered high winds and storm surge” to the Sarasota County coastline. “Following the storm, staff documented expanded collapse of the concrete deck involving approximately 15 feet of the seawardmost structure. A portion of the failed deck and wall has been covered with sand which accreted during the storm,” the memo pointed out.

The owners were seeking the CSV, the memo said, so they could “remove the failed portions of concrete paver deck and wall, replace the wall and repair the concrete deck approximately [10] feet landward of the current location, and reinforce the seaward edge of the relocated and existing retaining walls,” using 10 helical pilings.

Further, the memo explained, the proposed construction would be about 9 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line. A staff site inspection on Aug. 25, 2019 found the wrack line from the most recent high tide to be about 12 feet seaward of the retaining wall, the memo said.

This graphic offers sea turtle nesting data for the property at 2016 Casey Key Road. ‘FC’ stands for false crawls, meaning no nests were laid. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Considering the narrower beach and the increased erosion rate seaward of the retaining wall,” the memo continued, “it is also likely that [sea turtle] nests in this area experience higher rates of wash-over and lower hatch success rates … [R]elocating a portion of the wall landward of its existing location may help to abate these effects.”

However, the memo added, “If erosion causes undermining of the relocated and reinforced retaining wall, the gap formed between the bottom edge of the retaining wall and the surface of the sand may pose a potential entrapment hazard for adult and hatchling sea turtles.”