Detert warns that board again is setting bad precedent
With only Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert voting “No,” the board members have approved plans for construction of a swimming pool at 104 Beach Road on Siesta Key.
That pool will be built a maximum of 230 feet seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line, according to documents provided to the commissioners in their March 8 meeting packet.
The Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) is the figurative “line in the sand” designed to protect dunes and native beach habitat which, in turn, protect landward structures from hurricanes and other storm events that produce flooding. It was established in 1979, as noted in the county’s Coastal Setback Code.
Because the public hearing was listed on the March 8 agenda as “Presentation upon Request,” board members had the option of asking for staff comments on the application. None did. However, Chair Alan Maio did point out that they had received a letter, also dated March 8, from Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).
“It’s been distributed to you all,” Maio told his colleagues. “It’s part of our record.”
During the March 3 SKA meeting, Director Robert Luckner, husband of Catherine Luckner, mentioned the March 8 hearing would be conducted on the application for the pool; he told those present that the nonprofit would oppose the project.
As Luckner explained in her letter to the commissioners, “We note the [104 Beach Road] property is within a State of Florida defined area of Critical Beach Erosion.”
She also referenced the fact, as stated in the application for the Coastal Setback Variance, the pool and pool deck would be built between the existing residential structure “and the existing concrete seawall.”
The application said, “The entire property is seaward of the GBSL. The proposed project will have no adverse impact to the beach environment, and the existing seawall will remain intact.”
Luckner then wrote in her letter, “The seawall … could become a high impact point of wave energy, resulting in ‘wash out’ as well as overwash of property, with accompanying changes in beach profile and sand loss.”
Photos that county staff had included in the agenda packet for the public hearing “show this beach area to be prone to severe erosion,” Luckner added with emphasis. “Since 2016, accretion is noted. However, with gulf front wave action and wind,” she pointed out, “surrounding streets continue to be flood prone with westerly storm approach.”
Further, Luckner wrote, “Approval of this Variance would create a singular property of its kind within this section of beach front along Beach Road.” The county’s own environmental regulations suggested that denial of the accessory structure would be appropriate, she indicated.
After Maio closed the public hearing, Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to approve the Coastal Setback Variance for construction of the pool, and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it.
Then Commissioner Detert told her colleagues, “Once again, I think we’re opening Pandora’s Box, not keeping our own rules.”
“It’s a proposed swimming pool and pool deck, which are accessory structures,” Detert added, using a term associated with construction in which a person will not be living.
“If you’re not able to have a swimming pool,” she continued, “it’s not recognized as an unreasonable hardship on yourself or the land.” With that statement, she was referencing language in state law and county regulations regarding private property rights.
Detert also pointed out, as Luckner had, that the pool would be the first “in that row [of residential buildings] and, I expect, once again … we always say we’re not setting a precedent, but we are.”
If her colleagues voted to approve the variance, Detert added, other property owners in that area would be more inclined to petition for accessory structures that also would be designed seaward of the GBSL.
“We have sand that comes and goes,” Detert said. “I’m just going to consistently vote ‘No’ and hope you do, too.”
The result of the vote was 4-1, with Maio and Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents the northern portion of Siesta Key in District 2, joining Moran and Cutsinger in supporting the motion.
The owner of the four-unit condominium complex, the application noted, is Water’s Edge Condo Association of Siesta Key Inc., whose registered agent is Gary D. Green of 104 Beach Road.
Kent Kimes of Kimes Engineering in Bradenton was named as the representative of that association.
A county staff memo in the March 8 agenda packet summarized key facts and considerations for the commissioners.
That list included the note that the property located at 104 Beach Road is in an area of Siesta Key that is subject to flooding. “The existing seawall has a crest elevation of 5.7 feet NAVD and is likely to be overtopped during a storm event such as a Category 2 hurricane or greater.” (NAVD refers to base elevation in flood zones.)
Further, the list pointed out that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had designated the stretch of beach as “critically eroded.”
Additionally, the memo noted that while periodic surveys of the Mean High Water Line in the area of 104 Beach Road “have shown the beach accreting at an average annual rate of 8.8 feet per year between 1987 and 2015,” the beach seaward of the subject site has been narrow or non-existent for many years, based on a review of available aerial imagery.
In fact, the memo continued, in 2013, “a large slug of sand that broke off of an ebb shoal outside Big Sarasota Pass … began traveling down the shoreline of North Siesta Key, widening the beach as it moved southward.”
Because of the “dynamic and transitory nature” of the transport of sediment along barrier islands, the memo added, “the current site conditions cannot be considered stable and are likely to change.”
Further, the memo said that the pool and deck would result in a 594-square-foot increase in impervious area seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line.
The memo did add that the proposed project would include drainage improvements that would be implemented “using material excavated during construction of the swimming pool.”
The pool will be built “in the common area seaward of the residential units in an existing landscaping area,” the memo noted. The pool will measure 25 feet in length and 12 feet in width, the memo said, and a paver deck will border it on three sides.
“It is unclear,” the memo pointed out, whether Gary Green, the registered agent of the condominium association, would be the only person to use the pool.