In spite of her contention that commission needs to be stricter in regulation of coastal construction, her colleagues agree on continuing to allow new non-habitable amenities
During public hearings on Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) petitions, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert has talked more frequently in recent months about the board’s need to be stricter in adhering to county regulations governing construction on the shoreline.
On Oct. 6, she was quick to make a motion to deny a request by the owner of the property at 6510 Manasota Key Road in Englewood to build a pile-supported, in-ground swimming pool and pool deck that would be seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).
“This is a chance for us to stop a bad precedent,” Detert pointed out to her colleagues. “This house is fine,” she continued of the residence at 6510 Manasota Key Road. However, she said, “It’s not part of our rule that you have to have a swimming pool. … This would be the first house with a swimming pool past the [GBSL],” she added, in that area of the barrier island.
The GBSL, which was established in 1979, is figuratively the county’s “line in the sand” for construction on the county coast. The GBSL was implemented, staff has explained, to protect dunes and native vegetation on the beaches, which, in turn, protect landward property from storm surge and other flooding events.
If the owner of the 6510 Manasota Key Road parcel does not have room for the pool landward of the GBSL, Detert added, “[The CSV petition] deserves a denial.”
No commissioner offered to second Detert’s denial motion, so it died.
“Fully respect the points made by Commissioner Detert,” Commissioner Charles Hines said after making the motion to approve the Manasota Key CSV petition. “Where I’ve settled on these [requests],” he added, is to approve those that do not involve destroying dunes or bird-nesting areas and those that pertain to structures that will not be habitable. “If the pool was 50 feet from the public beach,” Hines said, “I really would have said, ‘No.’”
Detert further objected to the fact that the property is located in what staff dubbed “the gap” in advance of the beach renourishment project the county completed on part of Manasota Key in the spring. The homeowners in the gap section declined to participate in the renourishment initiative; they said they had plenty of sand in front of their homes, so they did not want to pay assessments for seven years to help the county cover its expenses for the project. (The commission did end up agreeing to smaller payments for the gap owners, nonetheless, to lessen the percentage of the project cost that would be borne by property owners who did get new sand in front of their homes.)
An abbreviated staff presentation
Then, though the Oct. 6 item was listed on the agenda as “Presentation Upon Request,” indicating that staff had not thought it would be controversial, Detert called for a streamlined version of the staff presentation.
County Environmental Specialist Staci Tippins showed the board members a series of slides depicting the location of the property at 6510 Manasota Key Road and adjacent structures. She also presented them a graphic with details of the proposed site plan for the pool and deck, as well as a dune walkover.
The maximum distance seaward of the GBSL for any of the construction the homeowner wanted to pursue, Tippins pointed out, would be 173.88 feet, and that would apply to the walkover.
Tippins noted that the parcel fronts on both Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico; it is about 2,000 feet south of the public beach at Blind Pass Beach Park. Of the nearly 47,000 square feet the parcel encompasses, she added, approximately 65% is seaward of the GBSL.
A three-story, single-family residence on the property was built in 1999 and renovated in 2019, she continued. It is entirely landward of the GBSL.
The swimming pool would comprise 581 square feet, while the paver deck for the pool would encompass 979 square feet, Tippins noted. The pool would extend a maximum of 41.56 feet seaward of the GBSL, while the paver deck would be a maximum of 45.5 feet seaward of the GBSL.
The staff report prepared for the agenda item also explained, “Among the neighboring 24 properties within 2,000 feet north and south of the subject site, several contain swimming pools located landward of the GBSL. … [N]o other swimming pools exist seaward of the GBSL in this area.”
The house is about 240 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line (MHWL), the report noted. On the Gulf side are approximately “100 feet of a remnant coastal hammock and 140 feet of protected native dune and beach habitat.”
No native vegetation would be removed for the construction, Tippins pointed out during her presentation. Moreover, the petitioner — Turtle Gulf LLC, whose principal is Judy Lee Graner of Minnetrista, Minn., according to the Florida Division of Corporations — has proffered a plan, Tippins said, to plant about 4,142 square feet of coastal hammock understory and dune vegetation.
(Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show Turtle Gulf LLC bought the parcel in August 2018 for $3 million. This year, the market value of the property is $2,958,400.)
Tippins also presented the board members a series of slides depicting the parcel over the decades, beginning in 1948. “This section of shoreline has experienced some erosion and accretion throughout the years,” she said.
In 1948, for example, Tippins noted, the slide showed “a fairly narrow beach” with some coastal hammock. By 1986, she continued, vegetation was filling in on the Gulf side of the property, but in 1995, “quite a bit of erosion [is evident], and the beach is pretty narrow.”
Since 2008, Tippins added, a trend of stability has been evident, as illustrated by the slides.
Referring to the 2020 aerial, Commissioner Alan Maio reiterated a comment TIppins made — that the house is landward of the GBSL.
The renovated house likely has been elevated to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards for development in flood zones, Maio replied, “so the house is protected.” If the commission approved the CSV petition for the pool, Maio continued, and the pool ended up being lost because of shoreline changes, the owner should know the board would not approve a replacement pool.
More cons and pros
Responding to Maio’s comments, Commissioner Detert pointed out that she used to have thoughts similar to his. However, given the fact that the parcel is on a narrow portion of the barrier island, she continued, and the homeowner plans to take up even more land with a pool and deck, “You’re narrowing the walkability of the area. … You’ve limited public access to a natural resource.”
Detert added, “It’s not just a matter of ‘Your pool could or could not fall in the Gulf.’ We keep breaking our own rule … There is no urgent hardship to not having a swimming pool,” she said, “especially when you live on the beach [and can swim in the Gulf].”
Her mention of “hardship” refers to state and county coastal construction regulations regarding whether a local government board’s denial of a coastal construction petition constitutes a violation of the property owner’s right to make the best possible use of the land at the heart of the petition.
“I think we need to start thinking about the fact that natural resources belong to everyone, not just the people in this row,” Detert added, referring to a staff slide.
Then Chair Michael Moran asked whether Rodney Jacobson of The Island Building Co., who was representing the homeowner, wanted to address the board.
After Jacobson stepped to the podium, he pointed out, “The pool area is as far landward as possible. It is literally butting up against the [GBSL].”
He also noted the expanse of “healthy dune area” that would be seaward of the pool. Further, Jacobson said, the construction would not be “encroaching on any of that existing dune vegetation. In fact, we are removing all of the non-native species …”
Moreover, Jacobson continued, referencing Detert’s earlier comment about setting a bad precedent, “A variance [petition] has to stand on its own.” The fact that other pools in the immediate area are landward of the GBSL, he said, was no reason to deny his client’s request.
After Commissioner Hines made his motion to approve the request, and Commissioner Maio seconded it, the vote was 4-1 in favor of the motion.