Detert calls for adherence to county coastal construction regulations, but her colleagues outvote her 4-1 to allow new home on Siesta Key beach

Single-family residence to stand about 85 feet seaward of county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line

A county staff graphic shows the plans for the new home and pool at 7808 Sanderling Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Citing her belief that she and her colleagues should enforce the Sarasota County Coastal Setback Code, Commissioner Nancy Detert cast the lone “No” vote on May 6 as the other commissioners approved a petition for new construction on Siesta Key’s Sanderling Road.

The single-family home has been designed to stand about 85 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).

Referring to the GBSL during the public hearing, Detert said, “It’s literally a line in the sand, and we either stick to it or we don’t stick to it.”

As she further explained, “The idea of our setback line is to keep houses safe from storms and protect our beaches, etc.”

“The only time we should, in my humble opinion, be giving variances is if your house is in danger of falling into the Gulf,” Detert added. “You really can’t make a case for that at all,” she told the property owners, who participated in the May 6 public hearing virtually from the East Coast.

As Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, and the petitioners — David and Kathleen Nateman — pointed out, the proposed new construction at 7808 Sanderling Road would be a maximum of 91.75 feet seaward of the GBSL. The new house itself — comprising 4,537 of habitable square feet in a single story over parking — would be 85.1 feet seaward of the GBSL; the pool would extend further past the line, Kathy Nateman pointed out to the commissioners.

Further, the construction would be 76.75 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line, Berna told the board members.

The house design for the CSV that the board members approved in October 2005 would have encompassed 392 more square feet than the design she and her husband plan, Nateman said.

Berna and Nateman also both noted that two rock revetments were built on the parcel before the GBSL was established in 1979. Additionally, a concrete block retaining wall is landward of the second revetment.

This is an aerial view of the 7808 Sanderling Road property, showing the rock revetments and the concrete block retaining wall. The guesthouse no longer stands on the site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Nateman said that she and her husband restored the seaward-most rock revetment and renourished the sand between it and the second revetment to minimize the risk of flooding; their expense was more than $75,000.

“So the likelihood [of damage from flooding] has been greatly diminished,” George Lott of the Lott & Levine firm in Miami, the attorney representing the Natemans, told the board members.

Lott further stressed that, in accord with the county’s Coastal Setback Code, “Should any damage occur,” the homeowners would not be entitled to have the county “make any repairs or improvements to the shoreline area to mitigate [that]. … That’s a risk they are assuming, and it’s built into your code.”

Kathy Nateman also pointed out that, because of the increased height of the rock revetment closer to the Gulf of Mexico, along with the renourishment, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had reclassified the property to a less vulnerable flood zone rating. As part of that change, she added, she and her husband have agreed to the State of Florida’s requirement for yearly inspections of the property by a coastal engineer.

The due diligence issue

This is a rendering of the home planned at 7808 Sanderling Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“I can tell you that David and I have never lived on the water,” Kathy Nateman explained to the commissioners. When they were looking for property on the shore, she continued, “Our Realtor … never pointed out that there might be a problem building on this lot.”
The Realtor representing the seller never mentioned that, either, Nateman added.

Because of the rock revetments, she continued, “and the fact that it was such a high lot … everybody said we could build on it …”

“You probably have a Realtor that’s guilty of Realtor malpractice,” Detert replied. Then, explaining that she owned a mortgage company for decades, Detert told the Natemans the GBSL should have been on the survey of the property that they received before they purchased the land.

In making the motion to approve the variance, Commissioner Alan Maio noted the public hearing testimony of the architect who designed the new home — Steffani Drass, principal of the TROP firm in Sarasota — who pointed out that the habitable part of the structure would be 18 feet above ground level.

Additionally, Lott assured Maio and the other board members that the Natemans would not have any habitable space on the first level, in accord with FEMA rules.

The previous home and a guesthouse on the property were slab-on-grade structures, Lott said.

“I’m not going to get into what a Realtor should have or should not have said,” Maio pointed out during his comments after making the motion. “People need to do their own due diligence.

An engineering drawing the Natemans showed the commission illustrates the area where the new house would stand (with hashmarks), compared to where the previous house and guesthouse stood. The graphic also shows the setback lines imposed by the Sanderling Club homeowners association. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then, referring to the presentation that Berna of Environmental Permitting made to the board that morning, Maio talked about the fact that previous commissions granted Coastal Setback Variances (CSV) for new construction on the site in years past. He was among board members who unanimously approved a petition on Nov. 8, 2014 — his first day as a commissioner, he added — that extended the expiration date of a CSV that also won unanimous approval in October 2005.  That would have allowed a single-story, single-family residence and swimming pool a maximum of 109.5 feet seaward of the GBSL, Berna noted.

In October 2011, the board had voted 5-0 to extend the validity of that CSV to Oct. 26, 2014, Berna added. The November 2014 vote extended the validity period again — to Oct. 26, 2017. The latter finally expired, he said.

Yet another petition, which the board considered in October 2014, was for a two-story, single-family home, swimming pool and paver driveway a maximum of 109 feet seaward of the GBSL, Berna continued. The commissioners voted unanimously to deny that request, Berna said.

This is the Coastal Setback Variance history of the property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Referring to prior property owners, Mail stressed that they had “two precious commodities, in my view”: the rock revetment system and the variance for a bigger house. “That Coastal Setback Variance was allowed to lapse,” he emphasized.

Then, referring to testimony Kathy Nateman had offered about setback constraints imposed on the property by the Sanderling Club homeowner association, Maio said that most people would feel that the 5,276 square feet left for construction of a house over parking would be sufficient. However, he again pointed to the rock revetment system in saying he felt the variance should be approved.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who seconded the motion, concurred with Maio’s statements. “It’s hard to kind of say this property’s at risk,” Ziegler added.

Moreover, he noted, “I’m always going to side on the side of property rights.”

(Referring to language in the county regulations for coastal construction, Kathy Nateman also had told the board members, “It would be an unreasonable, unjust hardship on the land” if they denied the variance petition.)

Yet, Detert stood fast on her earlier comments, stressing that the plans are for new construction. “You’re in danger of falling into the Gulf,” she told the Natemans. Referring to a statement that Kathy Nateman had made, Detert added, “I don’t consider it my job to make your dream home fit on a lot it doesn’t fit on.”

This aerial view shows the property at 7808 Sanderling Road (marked by red balloon), with Point of Rocks to the north. Image from Google Maps

Kathy Nateman had told the commissioners, “Our dream in purchasing this property was to retire in Sarasota.” She and her husband are volunteers for Southeastern Guide Dogs, she noted, adding that they are raising their eighth Labrador retriever puppy for that nonprofit and they hope to host fundraisers for the organization after their new home has been completed.

Other facets of the proposed construction

During his May 6 presentation, Berna of Environmental Permitting explained that the property is south of Point of Rocks and at the northern point of the two beach renourishment projects the county has undertaken on south Siesta Key.

The lot at 7808 Sanderling Road is approximately 37,586 square feet, he said, and about 63% of it is seaward of the GBSL.

Cabbage palms and sea grapes stand on the lot, Berna noted.

Kathy Nateman also pointed out that she and her husband had added 1,700 square feet of native landscaping along the property lines as a buffer, and they had removed all the Australian pines from the parcel, as those trees are considered invasive. The cost for the latter work, she said, was more than $40,000.

This is part of the ‘criteria table,’ showing consistency and inconsistency of the proposed construction with facets of county environmental policies and regulations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Further, the Natemans have filed with the state for a letter from FEMA regarding their plans to comply with the flood elevation requirements, Berna noted; as of that date, they had not received it.

Berna also showed the commissioners a series of aerial slides depicting the property through the decades. The first was taken in 1974, when the rock revetment was visible, he noted. “There’s not a lot of changes you’ll see to the subject property,” thanks to the construction of the rock revetments.

He did point out that, in 2004, “There’s no sandy beach in front of the rocks” at the parcel just to the south of 7808 Sanderling Road. That was prior to the first South Siesta Key Beach Renourishment Project, which was undertaken in 2006-07, he said.

The 2008 aerial slide showed sand once more to the south of 7808 Sanderling Road.

By 2013, he continued, “That sand disappeared again.” After the last renourishment he said, the sand was back.

However, referring to the 2020 aerial, Berna said, “We’re starting to see that depletion of sand there around the northern end [of the project area].”

This is the 2004 aerial of the property, which is outlined in blue. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the 2008 aerial. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the 2013 aerial. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the 2020 aerial. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Much of that erosion, he explained, likely is a result of the rock revetments, as well as the natural Point of Rocks formation north of the Natemans’ property.

“There is no dune or beach habitat on site,” he said of the 7808 Sanderling Road parcel, “and it’s not an area that’s utilized by sea turtles [for nesting because of the rock revetments].”