Petition for boat dock and lift on Siesta Key’s Grand Canal denied after County Commission agrees site is too constrained for the construction

Petitioners’ boat is 27 feet, but staff says 17 feet would be appropriate for the space

The Beckers’ boat is adjacent to the shoreline at their Lotus Lane home in this county staff photo. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Adjacent neighbors refused to support the plan, and a county environmental specialist explained why it did not conform to standards for such projects. That led the Sarasota County Commission to unanimously deny the request of residents on Siesta Key’s Lotus Lane to construct a dock and boatlift on the canal in front of their house.

Testifying during the May 24 public hearing, neighbors pointed out that the boat the petitioners own is too big for the petitioners’ segment of shoreline. Moreover, speakers added, if the couple built a dock perpendicular to their parcel, the structure would create navigational problems for other boaters using the canal.

One neighbor on the same canal — Larry Redell of Mangrove Point Road — told the board he has been in his home 24 years. When he and his wife saw the petitioners’ boat on the water, “we were quite bewildered” because of its size, at 27 feet. Then, when they learned of the request for the dock and lift, Redell said, “frankly, we were stunned.”

Robyn Marin — another Mangrove Point Road resident — faced the petitioners in the audience when she said, “You knew the property couldn’t accommodate the dock.”

A graphic shows the proposal for the boat dock and lift. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Given the length of the petitioners’ shoreline and the need for buffers between the property at 601 Lotus Lane and the parcels on either side, the appropriate size of the vessel would be 17 feet, Chance Steed of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division staff explained.

One adjacent neighbor would have to back his boat out of its dock, Steed said, and then take care in turning around, to avoid hitting the petitioners’ pier or boat.

In his rebuttal, Derek Rooney, the attorney for the petitioners — Steven J. Becker and Sherri L. Fowser — told the board he had seen or heard nothing in the testimony or in correspondence from the public that he would “deem competent substantial evidence” in calling for the board to deny the permit request.

Commissioner Alan Maio took exception to that statement in making the motion. Having read the documentation from staff “many times,” Maio said, “I think there’s ample findings by our staff … for this denial. … I wish people would do a better job of due diligence.”

In seconding the motion, Commissioner Michael Moran called the decision “very difficult,” saying he traditionally supports the rights of taxpayers to use their property to the fullest. However, Moran added, “I can just tell you what’s before us today is just much too aggressive for my liking.”

In a June 2 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Rooney said, “The Beckers are considering other design options. … Unfortunately, because of the very narrow space [on the canal] … they will pretty much have to get neighbor sign-off for any proposal.”
He added, “We don’t really know what remaining options there are.”

The request

A graphic shows the constraints of the site on the canal. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As a May 24 county staff memo explained, Becker and Fowser purchased the property at 601 Lotus Lane in 2011. The parcel “is located on the interior of Siesta Key and has shoreline fronting a canal within the Grand Canal System,” the memo adds.

On Dec. 13, 2016, the memo continues, staff received an application for the construction of the dock and boatlift. However, it notes, the structures would exceed the maximum area allowed for them under the county code. Therefore, staff could not make an administrative-level decision on the necessary permit, the memo says; the work could be authorized only by the County Commission sitting as the Water and Navigation Control Authority.

As the memo explains, the shoreline of the property at 601 Lotus Lane is about 33.4 feet in length at the terminus of the man-made canal. The proposed dock would be 23.67 feet long, perpendicular to the shoreline, the memo says, and it would be about 4 feet wide. The boatlift would be approximately 21 feet from the Mean High Water Line, and it would be 12 feet wide by 12.17 feet long. The proposed mooring area would be 12 feet wide by 27 feet long, the memo adds.

Therefore, the dock and boatlift would take up about 418 square feet, the memo points out. “The standard siting criteria for a staff-administered Minor Work Permit would limit the subject property to no more than 334 square feet of preempted area …”

Furthermore, the memo explains, “for shorelines less than 65 feet in length, a proposed dock and mooring area are required to be centered within the middle 50 percent of the shoreline, unless an Affidavit of No Objection from each affected neighbor is obtained. In this case,” the memo continues, “the middle 50 percent of the shoreline is 16.7 feet with a required buffer of 8.34 feet to each adjacent … property. Due to the curvature of the shoreline,” the memo adds, the proposed dock and boatlift would encroach on the neighboring parcels’ access to the waterway.

An aerial map shows the location of the Beckers’ property on the Grand Canal. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Steed showed the board members several slides, so they could see the 27-foot vessel Becker and Fowser have been keeping on the canal. “When it is parked here,” Steed said, “it is too long for the site.”

During his presentation, Rooney pointed out, “There’s no consideration [in the county code] for unusual standards,” such as those existing with the property at 601 Lotus Lane.

Additionally, he said, if the dock were built perpendicular to the shoreline, the boat no longer would encroach on the neighbors’ access to the water.

Becker explained to the board that he and Fowser moved permanently to Siesta Key in 2013 “and expect to retire here.”

Over the past year, he continued, they had built a new house on their property, making it only the second one in the neighborhood to conform to modern building codes.

Furthermore, Becker said, “We love to boat. We love to enjoy the natural resources that we have in the area. We really just want to get the boat out of the corrosive seawater that you know exists.”

When he returned to the podium, Rooney told the commissioners, “It’s truly unfortunate that this has become a place of distrust and issue with the neighborhood.”

Then Jay Johnson of Florida Shoreline, whose firm designed the dock and lift, pointed out that he and his staff went through “six or seven different designs, trying to work within the pre-empted area. … There was going to have to be permission from both [adjoining] neighbors, regardless of what we built …”

More protests

The Beckers rebuilt the house at 601 Lotus Lane. Rachel Hackney photo

Among the other Siesta residents who protested the Beckers’ proposal, Gregory Montwill of Higel Avenue told the board he has no access to the davits on his shoreline because the Beckers’ boat encroaches on his property.

“This is about a community of respect and kindness, so we do work with our neighbors,” he added. “But what [the Beckers are] requesting is beyond respectful.”

If the board allowed the couple to build the perpendicular boat dock, Montwill continued, other boaters who come into that part of the canal would have no way to turn around so they could leave it.

Before buying a 27-foot boat, Montwill said, the Beckers should have thought about the fact that they had only 33 feet of shoreline.

“The turnaround basin is basically going to be negated,” Larry Redell added.

Another Lotus Lane resident, Jerry Jackson, told the commissioners, “I selected a house that had enough seawall for a boat. … This house doesn’t,” he pointed out of the Beckers’ property.

‘The most constrained site’

A county photo shows the Beckers’ boat (left) in proximity to a vessel owned by a neighbor. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Following the public comments and Rooney’s rebuttal, Chair Paul Caragiulo looked at an aerial map of the Beckers’ property. “It is clearly the most constrained site out of any of those sites [on the canal],” Caragiulo said. Moreover, noting that the boat was visible in that aerial view, he continued, “The amount of space that it consumes is pretty conspicuous.”

Rooney, who told the board he has expertise in riparian rights, said that because the canal is man-made, the property owners do not have the same right of access to it that they would if the waterway were a natural one.

“There’s actually no shortage of artificial canals in Florida,” Caragiulo replied.

As a general rule in Florida, Rooney responded, property lines are run out to the center of a channel “in an equitable manner,” so each user has full use of riparian rights. “The site may be constrained,” Rooney said, but the Beckers’ request to moor their vessel “fits within those riparian lines.”

In making his motion to deny the Beckers’ request, Commissioner Maio indicated he was pleased that they at least followed the county procedure in applying for the permit. “But I think we are well within our rights to say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

“What we can offer everyone,” Caragiulo said, “is the same due process that they are entitled to if they fill out an application. … We play by the rules, I believe, very closely.”