County staff directed to draft amendment to land-use regulations to allow for voluntary demolition and reconstruction of condominium complexes found to have serious structural problems

Action follows Siesta Key architect’s third appearance before County Commission on behalf of Sea Club V property owners

This aerial map shows the location of Sea Club V on south Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

Although it appears the measure will apply just to Siesta Key, instead of countywide, an amendment to Sarasota County’s land-use regulations will be crafted by staff to provide for voluntary demolition and rebuilding of condominium complexes with structural problems.

That was the direction that the County Commission unanimously gave Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Planning and Development Services Department, in a March 29 motion.

The action followed yet another appearance before the board by Siesta Key architect Mark Smith, who first raised the voluntary demolition issue during the commissioners’ Jan. 11 Open to the Public morning comment period.

Representing the Sea Club V condominium complex on south Siesta Key that day, Smith talked about the need for county land-use regulations to allow owners of condominium complexes with serious structural problems to take down the buildings before they collapse, and then reconstruct the same number of units. The only allowance for such reconstruction, he pointed out, was in the county’s regulations concerning destruction of property during a disaster.

Article 15, Section 124-282(a)(3)a, of the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) of land-use and zoning regulations says, “Any residential structure or structures in any residential zoning district may be rebuilt after destruction, except when destruction has occurred by the voluntary act of the owner, to the same height and density of units per acre regardless of the percentage of destruction.”

Richard Ulrich. Image from the Ulrich Scarlett Watts & Dean website

That was a major impetus for his advocacy for modifications to the UDC to allow for voluntary demolition and reconstruction, Smith pointed out in his Jan. 11 comments to the commissioners. The goal should be to prevent the collapse of structurally damaged condominium buildings before they collapse, he added, as the Champlain Towers South did in Surfside in 2021.

Along with Smith, attorney Richard Ulrich, of the Sarasota firm Ulrich Scarlett Watts & Dean, addressed the commissioners on March 29, telling them that he represents Sea Club V. “I wholeheartedly agree with [Smith’s statements],” Ulrich said. “The Surfside tragedy … is very paramount with respect to these issues going on with Sea Club V and other older condominiums on Siesta Key.”

The Sea Club V owners had paid for a structural engineering report prepared by Sarasota architect C. Alan Anderson and Snell Engineering Consultants of Sarasota, Smith had pointed out on Jan. 11. That report said, “Structural components are corroding. This deterioration became significant after 20 or 30 years.”

Issues still needing resolution

During the board’s regular meeting on March 8, Chair Alan Maio expressed frustration with the first report that Planning and Development Services staff provided in response to the concerns Smith had raised. With the consensus of his colleagues, Maio directed staff that day to prepare a revised report.

Yet, as Smith pointed out on March 29, the second report “would still need work.”

“I took the liberty of underlining and highlighting some of the things [in that report],” he said.

One primary concern, Smith indicated, was staff’s recommendation in that second report that a condominium complex that was voluntarily demolished would have to be built back within the same footprint. Smith pointed out that staff needs to take into consideration the location of structures seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), which was implemented in 1979 to protect dunes and beach habitat which, in turn, protect landward structures during flooding and storm-surge events.

He has noted that Sea Club V’s buildings are fully seaward of the GBSL.

“Nowhere in the existing code right now does it state that we have to rebuild in the existing footprint,” Smith stressed to the commissioners on March 29.

Yet another issue, he noted in his written comments on the second staff report, is the need to deal with modern setback regulations. Finally, he wrote on a copy of that report, which he provided to the commissioners, “Parking garage doesn’t fit in existing footprint.”

This is a section of architect Mark Smith’s comments in response to the first, Feb. 7 staff report. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

During his March 29 remarks, Smith said the footprint of Sea Club V “isn’t conducive to a parking garage … This is a 1950s motel.”

Smith pointed out to the commissioners that the UDC allows for new residential multi-family housing to be constructed 45 feet tall over two levels of parking. Why not allow that stipulation for the voluntary rebuilding of condominium complexes, he asked.

Additionally, referencing the second staff report, Smith contended that the proposed UDC text amendment should not be restricted to Siesta Key.

The report said, “Staff’s analysis of nonconforming structures on the barrier islands did not reveal any existing nonconforming condos on Manasota or Casey Key. With regard to the mainland, staff has not had sufficient time to analyze the large scope of implications for such a UDC amendment.”

Therefore, given that statement, the report continued, “[S]taff recommends that the ability to voluntarily destroy and rebuild a nonconformity be limited to [the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning code within the UDC].”

These are part of the comments that architect Mark Smith wrote on the second, March 23 staff report. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

The commission’s reaction

During his report to his colleagues that afternoon, Chair Maio reminded them about Smith’s comments to them in the morning and then asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis how best to proceed.

Osterhoudt, the Planning and Development Services director, then came to the podium to explain that staff would be able to prepare a publicly initiated UDC text amendment, at the board’s direction, if a motion were approved to that effect. “Staff is also looking for any policy guidance,” Osterhoudt said, especially in regard to the building footprint issue.

This is a view of Sea Club V looking west. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

Maio responded that Sea Club V “should come down, paid for by the owners,” referencing the fact the fact that it dates to the 1950s, as well as the structural engineering report the owners had commissioned.

Then Maio noted the UDC regulations that allow construction of new residential multi-family dwellings over two levels of parking, and he referenced the March 23 staff report’s acknowledgment of the earlier board agreement that Sea Club V could be rebuilt with the same number of units.

Finally, Maio said, “They really couldn’t build back in the same footprint.”

Osterhoudt responded that he understood the implications of Maio’s statement — that the text amendment should deal with reconstruction outside the existing footprint.

Commissioner Nancy Detert ended up making the motion to direct staff to move forward with the processing of the text amendment, and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it. The motion passed 5-0.

The March 23 staff report did note that work on such an amendment typically takes three to six months.