County Commission public hearing set for Aug. 26
The last time the Sarasota County Commission considered a petition for construction of a new home seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback, on land where no structure ever had stood, was in October 2015. On a unanimous vote, the commissioners made it clear they would not allow such a project.
Then-Commissioner Paul Caragiulo noted that he was not on the board when the owners of the property — Ron and Sania Allen of Osprey — made two previous attempts to get a home built there, seaward of North Beach Road. However, he continued, he felt that allowing them to construct even the smaller residence they proposed on their third try would set “a precedent I’m really not comfortable with …”
The site at the heart of that public hearing — 162 Beach Road — had been underwater in past decades, as former Commissioner Nora Patterson of Siesta Key had pointed out before she stepped down from the board in 2014.
“I’ve been particularly hard on coastal variances in the past,” then-Commissioner Christine Robinson said during the October 2015 public hearing. The petition before the board that day, she added, “has tremendous impact on the surrounding residences, especially when you start talking about some of the pictures that we have seen.”
Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, had shown the commission numerous slides to illustrate what Berna called “the dynamic nature of our coastal system.”
Then, and in subsequent years, commissioners and county Environmental Permitting Division staff members have emphasized that the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) is the figurative “line in the sand” established in 1979. As Commissioner Nancy Detert put it during a May 6 public hearing, “The idea of our setback line is to keep houses safe from storms and protect our beaches …”
That day, Detert cast the sole “No” vote after a public hearing regarding a Coastal Setback Variance petition that called for a new home to replace shoreline structures that had been demolished on Sanderling Road on Siesta Key.
Yet, in late August, the commission once again will consider a petition for a new residential structure fully seaward of the GBSL. As in the Allens’ case, this home would stand on land where nothing ever has been built. The residence would be west of the 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission vacated in May 2016.
Acting on behalf of Siesta property owner and manager Michael Holderness, former county Environmental Permitting staff member Weiqi Lin submitted an application to county staff in late January for this new project. It calls for a pile-supported, two-story-over-parking, single-family residence that would be a maximum of 166.91 feet seaward of the GBSL.
Lin noted that the structure would stand a minimum of 22.7 feet “more landward than the line of existing construction …” It also would be 228.37 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line (MHWL), Lin wrote.
Along with the house, the proposal calls for a swimming pool, a pool deck, a driveway and a landscape retaining wall. The swimming pool would be a maximum of 183.66 feet seaward of the GBSL, the application said.
Berna of the Environmental Permitting Division told The Sarasota News Leader this week that the Coastal Setback Variance petition has been scheduled for a public hearing on Aug. 26. The staff report, which will be part of the packet for that hearing, “has not been finalized,” he added.
Lin did acknowledge in the Holderness application that a November 27, 2019 survey performed by Red Stake Surveyors Inc. of Sarasota found that 100% of the parcel is seaward of the GBSL. Officially, the vacant parcel is identified as Lot 14, Block 7, of the Mira Mar Beach Subdivision.
Holderness, who bought that parcel and two others adjacent to it in August 2016, replanted dune vegetation on it, Lin added.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office’s record for the property says the land has no values associated with it.
Comprising 8,909 square feet, the parcel is zoned Residential Multi-Family, the record notes.
In the application, Lin pointed out that that the zoning allows 6 units per acre.
More details of the proposal
The proposed residential structure has been designed “as far landward as practicable” to comply with the side yard zoning setback requirement, which is a minimum of 7 feet, Lin continued. “No room to pull it further back unless a zoning side yard setback variance is granted,” he added.
The proposal also calls for the new home to have a maximum height of 35 feet. However, that would be calculated above the planned ground floor garage comprising 1,266 square feet. The habitable area of the home would be elevated to 18.3 feet NAVD, in compliance with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s 100-year storm modeling for that area of the barrier island.
Lin also pointed out that the house would be located landward of an accreted beach. Historical MHWL data sets from a joint study undertaken for Sarasota and Charlotte counties in 2002, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Historic Shoreline Database, indicate that the beach accreted 95.4 feet from the MHWL from 1987 to 2001, at an annual rate of accretion of 6.8 feet per year, he wrote. Then, from 2001 to 2015, he continued, the beach accreted another 151.41 feet, at an annual rate of 10.09 feet.
The Coastal Setback Variance (CSV), Lin contended, would provide for the “minimal, reasonable, development of the subject property …”
That language references state and county regulations regarding coastal construction and private property rights.
Moreover, Lin noted, the new house would have habitable area of 3,408 square feet, which is smaller than the condominium complex under construction at 89 N. Beach Road. The County Commission also approved the plans for that complex in May 2016, following the same public hearing in which it agreed to the vacation of the segment of North Beach Road.
As Holderness did not own parcels along North Beach Road in May 2016, he was not among the three sets of property owners who petitioned for the road vacation. Holderness bought the land and the other two adjacent parcels from the heirs of the late Capt. Ralph Styles, who lived in the house at 99 Beach Road until Styles’ death in October 2008.
Holderness recently angered beachgoers when he and a neighboring property owner, Andrew Cooper, erected fences on private beach parcels in an effort to try to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Holderness’ fence stood partly on the parcel where he proposes the new house. In mid-May, the fencing came down. That followed county staff’s issuance of Affidavits of Violation because the fencing violated county coastal regulations. The disappearance of the fencing also came after the county reopened the public beaches and beach accesses on Siesta.