County Commission could pursue policy change to allow for rebuilding of voluntarily demolished structures, such as deteriorating condominium complexes, with same residential density, staff says in report

No board discussion scheduled yet on staff response to Siesta architect’s Jan. 11 request in wake of Champlain Tower South collapse

This is a view of Sea Club V looking west. Portions of the property were constructed in 1957 as a hotel, with additions built over the years, county staff points out in a Feb. 7 memo. The parcel is home to three buildings: a three-story structure holding 15 units, a two-story building with 11 units on the north side, and a two-story building on the south side with 15 units. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

During their regular meeting on Jan. 11, the Sarasota County commissioners directed county staff to research an issue proposed by a Siesta Key architect on behalf of a condominium homeowners association on the barrier island.

Mark Smith, whose eponymous firm is located on the outskirts of Siesta Village, talked about the desire of the owners of Sea Club V to demolish their complex, which has suffered deterioration since its construction decades ago, and construct new buildings that would have the same residential density.

The zoning at Sea Club V, which is located at 6744 Sarasea Circle, on the southern portion of the Key, is Residential Multi-Family 3, Smith noted. Although the complex has 41 units, county regulations would allow only 18, if new construction took place.

This is an engineering drawing that Mark Smith provided to the commissioners in January, showing more details about the reconstruction issues, based on current zoning regulations. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

Additionally, he said, all of the condominium buildings are on ground level. Yet, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, as well as those of the Florida Building Code, require construction in flood zones — such as the entire island of Siesta Key — to be built above what FEMA calls “base flood elevation.”

Smith further referenced the county’s 2015 Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan, which said, “Current zoning regulations allow any residential structure or structures in any residential zoning district to be rebuilt after destruction to the same height and density of units per acre regardless of the percentage of destruction, except when the destruction has occurred by the voluntary act of the owner.”

That document was created to provide a process for facilitating the community’s recovery following a major disaster, including a hurricane strike.

Yet, Smith explained to the board members, the Sea Club V owners were eager to prevent a disaster comparable to the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside June 2021.

Smith told the commissioners that a structural engineering report prepared by Sarasota architect C. Alan Anderson and Snell Engineering Consultants of Sarasota pointed out of Sea Club V, “Structural components are corroding. This deterioration became significant after 20 or 30 years.”

Thus, Smith added, the Sea Club V owners have been “putting Band-Aids on their buildings for years.”

The resulting board report, completed on Feb. 7, explains that the county’s initial zoning regulations were adopted in 1955. At that time, “There was no density set forth [for residential construction] …” Instead, the report noted, the regulations specified only that “‘lots or building sites in Multiple Family Residential District (R-3) shall have an area of not less than 7,500 square feet with a minimum width of 60 feet measured along the front property line. Not more than 40% of the lot area shall be occupied by structures or buildings and there shall be no limitation on height, so long as the remaining provisions of the regulations are complied [with].’”

Then, in 1960, the report continues, a density limitation was established. That resulted in Sea Club V’s becoming what staff characterizes as a “nonconforming” building.

Article 15 of the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations, does address nonconforming structures, the report points out. “Ordinance No. 2006-050,” the report says, “specifically provided development standards for [nonconforming Residential Multi-Family] RMF properties … allowing for voluntary demolition while limiting future density.”

This is a section of Article 15 of the UDC with regulations about nonconforming structures. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That ordinance allowed owners of properties on the county’s barrier islands to voluntarily tear down structures with “nonconforming density” and redevelop them “with either a single-family residence or one two-family (duplex) structure. A cap of two units was given to any parcel with multiple units.”

During an analysis of properties with nonconforming density, the report continues, staff discovered that “some parcels may contain structures with greater nonconforming density than the two-family structures. At that time, the Board did not provide direction for staff to further analyze the number of properties containing greater density and/or nonconforming structures on the Barrier Islands.”

“Allowing for non-conforming structures to be re-built voluntarily is a Board Policy decision,” the report adds. “The intent behind regulations relating to nonconformities is that eventually the non-conformity will cease. Therefore, there are staff concerns that changes in the code to allow redevelopment after voluntary destruction will allow nonconformities to … exist in perpetuity.”

This is a table in the county’s Unified Development Code showing regulations for Residential Multi-Family zoning districts 1, 2 and 3. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Nonetheless, the report points out, “If the Board wishes to move forward with a policy change and allow for the rebuilding of a voluntarily demolished structure at the same height and density of the originally-built structure,” staff has a number of recommendations:

  • Consider allowing the redevelopment to occur only in the RMF districts within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations.
  • “Consider requiring that the demolition/reconstruction must be within the same footprint of the existing building except as necessary to comply with life safety codes and [the need to] conform to all other requirements (e.g. Daylight Plane, zoning requirements, etc.).”
  • Consider requiring certification from an engineer “demonstrating that the building requires substantial repair to remain structurally safe, or the building is flawed and the stability of the building is questionable.
  • “Consider an effective date of the ordinance limiting the applicability of the code to those structures voluntarily destroyed after the effective date.”
Mark Smith addresses the commissioners on Jan. 11. News Leader image

After reviewing the report, architect Smith pointed out to The Sarasota News Leaderthat he never had suggested the same footprint for Sea Club V if it were rebuilt. In fact, he continued, one of the buildings is seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). That figurative “line in the sand” was designed to protect beaches, including their native vegetation, as those areas, in turn, will protect landward property in the event of storm surge and other flooding events.

Smith emphasized in a Feb. 14 email to the News Leader that the goal would be to reconstruct Sea Club V behind the GBSL, “within the current [SKOD] building setbacks, and to the allowable heights as regulated by FEMA and the FDEP [Florida Department of Environmental Protection].”

The report further advised the commissioners, “Please note that any proposed reconstruction will be required to be in compliance with FEMA regulations and the Florida Building Code.”

Smith also expressed frustration to the News Leader that county staff had not sufficiently addressed the height issue, given those state and federal regulations, as well as the height restrictions in the SKOD.

In response to a News Leader inquiry of county staff on Feb. 14, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, confirmed that the report had been submitted to the commissioners, but he was not aware of its being scheduled as a discussion item on an upcoming agenda.

The commissioners will conduct a regular meeting on Feb. 23, so it is possible one of them could bring it up for discussion.

The Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan

The report also noted that when architect Smith addressed the county commissioners on Jan. 11, he referenced sections of the county’s 2015 Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan (PDRP).

“The plan emphasizes seizing opportunities for hazard mitigation,” Smith told the commissioners. Reading from the document, he said, “‘The intent of all PDRP activities is to improve the community’s ability for long-term recovery and redevelopment. Implementation of these activities, however, may occur pre-disaster.’”

The Feb. 7 staff memo about the condominium issue pointed out that the commissioners approved an updated version of the PDRP on Oct. 26, 2021.

That item was on their Consent Agenda of routine business matters. None of the board members addressed it before approving the Consent Agenda that day.

This is the cover of the 2021 Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Feb. 7 report cautioned, “Please note that although the updated [PDRP] supports residents in rebuilding their homes to be more resilient to future disasters, the language referenced during [the Jan. 11] Open to the Public session is no longer in the updated PDRP.”

Under the Goals heading, the revised PDRP does say, “Sarasota County will guide future development and long-term post disaster redevelopment to ensure that the County is more resilient and sustainable and that the land is being utilized intelligently and beneficially.”

A staff memo provided to the board members in the Oct. 26, 2021 agenda packet explained that one primary goal of updating the PDRP was “to streamline and simplify the document, taking advantage of other planning and preparedness documents and processes.”

Moreover, the memo said, an annual “Action Plan” will be developed “and implemented administratively. The PDRP establishes an annual process by which the County and its regional partners develop, prioritize, and implement actions that will serve the County, its citizens, and visitors to redevelop after a disaster more effectively and efficiently.”

“As a result of the update process,” the Oct. 26, 2021 memo continued, the 2021 PDRP has “significant changes,” compared to the 2015 PDRP. Among them are the following:

“1. The implementation structure has been revised to correspond to existing County and state governance structures rather than a stand-alone PDRP-specific structure.

“2. Vulnerability assessments and analysis refer to separate documents developed by Sarasota County, County consultants, and other agencies. This approach takes advantage of the data in those other studies, referring to them and building off them.

“3. The content has been significantly streamlined, with the focus now on the Action Plan. This allows regular evaluation and emphasis on the actions compared to content that has limited relevance in applying the actions.

“4. A set update cycle has been removed, with updates planned as needed.”