Commissioner references erosion on southern part of the island and fact that those structures are not necessary for couple to enjoy reasonable use of their property
With Commissioner Nancy Detert casting the only “No” vote, the Sarasota County Commission has approved plans for construction of a pool and paver deck on south Siesta Key, with the deck to be a maximum of 50.4 feet west of the Gulf Beach Setback Line.
David and Gail Rubinfeld submitted a petition to county staff in early March for a Coastal Setback Variance for the project at their home, which is located at 1182 Horizon View Drive.
The Rubinfelds live just north of Turtle Beach Campground and Turtle Beach Park on south Siesta Key, Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, explained during the Aug. 27 public hearing.
Rubinfield told the commissioners that, up until about a year ago, he swam regularly in the Gulf of Mexico. “Apparently, this year, I contracted blood poisoning.”
He added that “within days, it almost killed me.”
The presumption, he continued, was that he became ill from contact with human waste in the Gulf. He spent almost half a year in the hospital, Rubinfeld said. Since then, his wife has insisted he remain out of the Gulf, he told the commissioners.
“All my neighbors got pools,” he pointed out. “I would like to have my own pool.”
Detert acknowledged, “I feel sorry for the petitioner, but this property’s been controversial since it was built in 1980 …”
She was referring to an Aug. 27 staff memo about the petition for the variance, which explained that 62% of the property at 1182 Horizon View Drive is located seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).
That boundary, Environmental Permitting staff has explained, is the figurative line in the sand designed to protect property close to the shoreline. The goal is to maintain dunes and natural vegetation west of the GBSL, to reduce the negative effects of storm surge and other flooding events.
The staff memo also pointed out that no Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) history exists for the 1182 Horizon View Drive parcel. “However, neighboring properties at 1162, 1172 and 1192 Horizon View Drive each obtained CSV approvals for installation of a swimming pool between 1980 and 2013,” the memo said. “The property at 1152 Horizon View Drive was denied a CSV in 1995 for a swimming pool.”
Berna further explained that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has designated the south Siesta Key shoreline a critically eroded beach, and the county has undertaken two renourishment projects on that shoreline since 2007.
“It’s always a tough call,” Detert added of petitions for Coastal Setback Variances. She told Rubinfeld and his wife, “We can grant you a variance if your house is in jeopardy of falling into the gulf. … But to allow you to build 50 feet seaward of a setback just for a swimming pool and a deck, I don’t think that constitutes an emergency. … Our job as the County Commission is to protect the majority of the people who live here.”
Moreover, Detert continued, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) had sent a letter to the board, asking that the variance be denied. (Berna and Rubinfeld both mentioned that in their remarks to the commission.) “I would think that they know pretty much how property goes on Siesta Key,” Detert said of the SKA leaders.
The letter, which Berna said was sent to the commissioners late on the evening of Aug. 26, explained that the SKA Board of Directors had reviewed the Rubinfelds’ application for the variance. “We support the rights of private land use by owners whenever it falls within ordinance,” the letter added, as well as in circumstances in which the proposed use “has no adverse impact to other property owners or the barrier island environment.”
Because the Rubinfelds’ plans entail ancillary structures, not their primary residence, the letter indicated, the couple’s proposal did not comply with state criteria for the minimum variance necessary to permit “‘reasonable use’ of the property …”
Berna did refer the commissioners to a table staff had prepared, which provided details about whether the petition for the variance was consistent with county environmental policies. One of the “Facts Demonstrating Inconsistency” explained that about 38% of the parcel “is located landward of the GBSL … [Therefore,] strict enforcement of the provisions of the Coastal Setback Code would not likely impose an unreasonable or unjust hardship on the land.”
That language, as indicated in the SKA letter, refers to whether a property owner can enjoy reasonable use of his or her property.
Details of the project
During his Aug. 27 presentation to the commission, Berna, the environmental permitting manager, explained that the area where the Rubinfelds live “is a small cul-de-sac community with six parcels that are on the Gulf front.”
A county parcel is located between the property at 1182 Horizon View Drive and the Gulf of Mexico, Berna noted; it is predominantly a dune area.
The area behind the couple’s home “has been mowed and maintained for many, many years,” he continued. Additionally, the Rubinfelds have “a historic at-grade wooden path through that dune, giving them access to the beach,” he said.
The plans call for putting the pool in at an angle, Berna noted, so it would be 11.5 feet from the house on one end and 23.5 feet away on the other. The pool, he said, would encompass 610 square feet, while 465 square feet of the paver deck would be outside the roofline and another 495 square feet would be under the roofline of the house.
The construction would be about 290 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line.
Berna also pointed out that, as a result of recent changes in state regulations, the pool would not have to be built on pilings.
Showing the board members an engineering diagram, Berna explained that the depth of the pool would range from about 12 inches where a person would step into it, up to 5.5 feet.
Finally, Berna told the commission, “Siesta Key certainly has a number of sea turtle nesting events along Turtle Beach,” as indicated in a slide indicating nest and false crawl locations from 2014 through 2018. (“False crawls” refers to evidence that turtles have come ashore but have returned to the water without laying eggs.)
Berna added that the figures he was showing the board did not include any numbers reflecting the record nesting season this year on the county’s shoreline.
The number of nests on the beach west of the Rubinfelds’ property ranged from one in 2015 to five in 2018.
The Aug. 27 staff memo also noted, “County beaches provide important nesting habitat for threatened and endangered sea turtle species, including loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas).”
Nonetheless, memo said, “Due to the distance from the beach and the expanse of dune vegetation, the proposed pool construction should have no impact on sea turtle nesting habitat.”
After the public hearing, Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion for approval of the variance, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded it.