County Commission unanimously accepts Special Magistrate’s recommendation in 636 Beach Road case

Saba Sands LLC yet to submit to staff a revised proposal for a smaller condominium complex on Siesta Key site

A graphic shows the property at 636 Beach Road and the line of construction (in green) for that parcel and adjoining ones. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During their regular meeting on March 23, the Sarasota County commissioners unanimously accepted the recommendation of a Special Magistrate in a case involving the property owner’s contesting of their August 2020 denial of a petition for new construction at 636 Beach Road on Siesta Key.

In a March 10 memo to the board members, County Attorney Frederick Elbrecht explained that Special Magistrate Kenneth A. Tinkler, a Tampa attorney, found that the commissioners were not unreasonable in denying Saba Sands LLC’s proposal for a six-unit condominium complex in the place of a single-family home on the Beach Road site.

Saba Sands had filed a petition under the guidelines of the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act (FLUEDRA) process, seeking to overturn the commission’s decision.

In accord with that process, Elbrecht pointed out in his memo, the commissioners were required to accept the Special Magistrate’s recommendation, modify it or reject it. Whatever its decision,” he added, “the Board must issue a written decision that describes as specifically as possible the use or uses available [for the 636 Beach Road parcel].”

None of the commissioners commented on the FLUEDRA decision before they took their vote on a motion by Nancy Detert, seconded by Chair Alan Maio.

Saba Sands, whose principal is Sarasota attorney William A. Saba, sought to build a three-story-over-parking complex with about 17,106 square feet of living space and a total building footprint of 5,226 square feet under roof.

The plans also called for that new structure to stand slightly further west than adjacent residences. In addition, Saba Sands needed commission approval for encroachments into the Beach Road street setback and the rear yard setback, as specified in the zoning regulations for Siesta Key.

This graphic shows distance from the proposed condominium complex at 636 Beach Road and from the pool deck to the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). This was presented to the County Commission in August 2020. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The structure also would have been completely seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). The GBSL was established in 1979 to protect dunes and coastal vegetation, which, in turn, protect landward structures during flooding events, such as tropical storms.

Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and Robert Luckner, a director of the Siesta Key Association, were among opponents of Saba Sands’ plans who addressed the board members during the Aug. 26, 2020 public hearing on the Coastal Setback Variance that Saba Sands was seeking.

Both Johnson and Luckner talked of the potential of further disruption to the wildlife that lives on the barrier island, if the board were to approve the variance and the new condominium complex were to be built.

Luckner showed the commissioners a graphic depicting the numerous snowy plover nests identified in the area seaward of the construction site in recent years.

Siesta Key Association Director Robert Luckner showed the County Commission this image during the Aug. 26, 2020 public hearing. The yellow triangles, he said, mark snowy plover nests discovered on Siesta Key in the past 10 years. The majority are seaward of the house at 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy of Robert Luckner

The snowy plover is classified as a state-designated, threatened species. None of the birds’ nests have been successful on Siesta Key in the past three breeding seasons, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Shorebird Stewardship and Monitoring Program in Sarasota County, has pointed out to The Sarasota News Leader.

Nonetheless, Tinkler did agree in his recommendation that Saba Sands could file a revised application with county Environmental Permitting staff for a four-unit condominium complex.

Attorney Saba told the News Leader in a March 10 email that he planned to do that.

In response to a March 25 News Leader question, Bethany Higgins, a county public records specialist, wrote in an email that Howard Berna, manager of the Environmental Permitting Division, had reported to her that he had not yet received the new application from Saba Sands.

After the County Commission vote on March 23, Chair Maio said he wanted to “compliment our staff for delivering us another win.” He added that he saw Assistant County Attorney David Pearce in the audience.

Pearce and Deputy County Attorney Joshua Moye represented the county during the Feb. 22 FLUEDRA hearing in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.

Handling such cases entails a lot of work, Maio pointed out. “So thank you, all of you,” he told representatives of the Office of the County Attorney.