Commissioner Charles Hines emphasizes the stress applicants endure, even when non-habitable structures are the focus of their requests
With their most recent public hearing on a petition regarding building beyond Sarasota County’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), county commissioners again voiced a willingness to provide staff more flexibility to approve certain types of projects.
The same day, the board also unanimously approved a Coastal Setback Variance for new construction at 6100 Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key. On Dec. 14, 2016, the commissioners won agreement from the owner of that property to modify his request, so a proposed new multi-family structure would be entirely landward of the GBSL.
In the latest case — heard on Feb. 7 — David Jecmik and his wife were seeking permission to reinforce the foundation of an existing pool deck and install a new pool and pool cage at their home at 4005 Casey Key Road. All the work would be within the footprint of the existing structures.
In making the motion to approve the Coastal Setback Variance petition, Commissioner Charles Hines referenced a Jan. 11 public hearing, during which the board unanimously agreed to allow a couple at 1312 Casey Key Road to build a chickee hut over a deck beyond the GBSL.
“We don’t want to encourage new [structures seaward of the line],” he added. However, “we’ve got to think about scenarios like this,” he continued, referring to the petition before them.
Weiqi Lin, a staff member in the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, had explained that almost two-thirds of the Jecmiks’ residential and ancillary buildings stand seaward of the GBSL; the 2,544-square-foot house on a slab-on-grade foundation dates to 1968, before the county established that line as a means of protecting coastal property from damage. (During a Dec. 14, 2016 public hearing, Lin referred to the GBSL as the county’s “100-year storm erosion line.”)
“I just know, for these types of applications, the cost and the stress that homeowners are put through,” Hines added. “It’s been hard [for the board] to have a consistency.”
When petitioners — such as the Jecmiks — are seeking to replace non-living structures seaward of the GBSL, Hines pointed out, a simpler process needs to be in place for them. Having served four years on the board, Hines continued, “I believe there’s some precedent in regards to things like this that can maybe make things easier on applicants and not so costly.”
On Jan. 11, Hines made similar remarks in regard to a variance request regarding a chickee hut on Casey Key Road. In that case, as well, a non-living structure was the focal point. “If it gets blown down in [a] storm, so what. … There’s no harm to the public here.”
During that hearing, Hines told his colleagues he wanted to work with staff to try to expand the types of variance petitions staff can handle. On Feb. 7, he suggested the possibility of staff’s putting requests regarding non-living structures beyond the GBSL on board agendas as “Presentation Upon Request” items; those provide for a formal public hearing only when people show up to address the board and/or the request has become controversial.
Commissioner Nancy Detert told her colleagues on Feb. 7, “I have a problem with the pool,” including the fact that two-thirds of the structures on the Jecmiks’ property are seaward of the GBSL.
The staff report said the pool and deck were constructed in 1996 by a previous owner of the property, but staff could find no record that a Coastal Setback Variance was approved for the work.
“If we keep allowing pools to go past where they’re supposed to be, and then they crumble … it’s no surprise,” she said. “So I wish we could have an ordinance that would disallow swimming pools [in such situations].”
Still, Detert continued, “If you want to go to the expense of building one, fine, and if it falls in, I don’t think you should be able to rebuild.”
Nonetheless, she said, in this case, because the new pool would be only 4 feet further seaward than the existing pool, she was willing to approve the variance.
Commissioner Alan Maio was the first to raise the issue of the board’s having to address that type of petition, noting Hines’ previous comments during Coastal Setback Variance public hearings: “Seems like it’s torture.”
In this case, Maio noted, the construction will not be expanding the current dimensions of the pool and deck. He asked Howard Berna, manager of the Environmental Permitting Division, “It’s still required to come before us?”
Because of language in Chapter 54 of the county’s Coastal Setback Code, Berna explained, staff is limited to making decisions on smaller projects only. Even though this petition regards construction within the existing footprint of the pool deck, Berna added, the new pool still will be 4 feet further seaward of the current one. “That’s kind of walking … that fine line” for the staff threshold to make a decision, based on the code, Berna said. This petition just did not meet the criteria for staff approval, he told the board.
A memo Lin provided to the board in advance of the Feb. 7 public hearing explained that the Jecmiks had proposed converting 82 square feet of non-habitable area to habitable area by adding to the existing foundation of the pool deck and then replacing the pool of irregular shape with a rectangular one of similar size — 277 square feet. The new pool would be a maximum of 43.6 feet seaward of the GBSL and 113.1 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line. Additionally, a new 1,185-square-foot pool deck would replace the existing 1,194-square-foot deck, and a new patio of 417 square feet would be added to replace an existing paver and planter area of 104 square feet.
Jerry Sparkman, a principal with Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota, told the board his firm is working with the Jecmiks on the project. The couple — who are from the Czech Republic, Sparkman noted — bought the property in 2008 “and would like to improve it. We asked them to work through this process.” Sparkman added, “[County] staff has been incredibly helpful.”
Lin’s Feb. 7 memo to the board said David Jecmik filed the application for the variance on Feb. 15, 2015.
No members of the public had shown up to make comments, Chair Paul Caragiulo told his colleagues.
Lin also noted that he had received no correspondence on the petition since county staff published the agenda packet the previous week. No letters or emails were included in that material, either.
6100 Midnight Pass Road
As part of its unanimous approval of its Feb. 7 Consent Agenda, the County Commission adopted a resolution regarding the 6100 Midnight Pass Road construction on which it held a public hearing in December 2016.
The property owner originally applied for a variance that would have allowed him to demolish two existing houses and replace them with an eight-unit structure that would have been 32.7 feet seaward of the GBSL. However, Commissioner Maio suggested the new dwelling units be moved completely landward of the GBSL, but the pool and deck could be seaward of that line.
Attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota conferred with his client before agreeing to the suggestion.
A staff memo prepared for the board’s Feb. 7 meeting said the revised plans the petitioner submitted on Jan. 9 showed the proposed swimming pool would be 17.1 feet farther landward than previously planned; that would put it 38.3 feet seaward of the GBSL.
The deck, the memo noted, would be about 193 square feet larger than the originally proposed deck of 2,638 square feet, but it would be a maximum of 72.7 feet seaward of the GBSL. That will be no further seaward than the original design of the deck, the memo noted.