Latest Saba Sands plans for new residential structure at 636 Beach Road to be focus of Dec. 7 public hearing

Revised application submitted to county Environmental Permitting staff following dispute resolution hearing conducted in March

This dimensioned site plan shows how the proposed new residence at 636 Beach Road would compare to the adjacent, single-family home at 644 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Dec. 7, representatives of a Sarasota attorney who has endeavored for years to construct new dwellings on Beach Road property on Siesta Key will have another opportunity to convince the County Commission to let him do so.

During their afternoon session that day, the board members will hear about revised plans that an agent for Saba Sands LLC submitted to county staff this summer, along with further details provided to the Environmental Permitting Division on Sept. 1, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In early March, following a Feb. 22 dispute resolution hearing, a Special Magistrate from Tampa found that the County Commission was not unreasonable, in August 2020, in denying a petition for Coastal Setback Variance for a residential structure that attorney William Saba — principal of Saba Sands — wanted to build on property he owns at 636 Beach Road.

The plans then called for a six-unit building to replace the single-family home standing at that address on the Key. At the time, the design called for 17,106 square feet of space.

This August 2020 graphic shows the distance from the condominium complex proposed at that time at 636 Beach Road, and from the designed pool deck, to the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). Image courtesy Sarasota County

The formal resolution of denial that the commissioners approved in regard to that application — dated Oct. 20, 2020 — pointed out, among the board’s Findings of Fact, that the ”Gulf shore area” seaward of the GBSL [Gulf Beach Setback Line] near the property is subject to rapid and severe fluctuations resulting from erosion and accretion in this coastal high hazard area.”

The Gulf Beach Setback Line was established in 1979 to protect dunes and native vegetation, which, in turn, protect landward structures from storm surge and other flooding events.

Further, the Findings of Fact said that the testimony and evidence presented during the August 2020 hearing demonstrated that the prohibition of construction seaward of the GBSL “would not impose an unreasonable and unjust hardship on the land,” referencing state and county regulations regarding private property rights. The Findings of Fact noted the single-family home already standing on the property.

The Special Magistrate’s ruling in March cleared the way for Saba Sands to submit a revised Coastal Setback Variance petition to the county.

This 1974 aerial shows the shoreline at 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This 1995 aerial shows the accretion of the beach at that time in front of 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The new application, filed with county Environmental Permitting Division staff in June, calls for with four dwelling units with a total habitable area of approximately 13,320 square feet of habitable space in a three-story structure over parking. The building footprint would encompass 5,226 square feet, including the driveways and walkways, the document says.

The proposed driveway will be “a pervious paver system,” according to details in supplemental materials that county staff received on Sept. 1.

Further, the new design extends approximately 168 feet and 9 inches seaward of the county’s GBSL.

In August 2020, the new house proposed to the County Commission would have extended 191 feet seaward of the GBSL.

The existing house at 636 Beach Road, which has a total footprint at ground level of 3,763 square feet, is two stories over parking; it was built in 2,000, the application says. It is approximately 160 feet to 166.7 feet seaward of the GBSL, the application notes.

This is a cross section comparing the proposed new structure to the house standing at 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The proposed new structure also would have a pool and deck area on the roof, and the maximum height of the building would be 33 feet, 6 inches “to the top of the upper roof deck slab,” which is below the 35 feet allowed, plus “additional height as permitted for decorative architectural appurtenances. (Trellis or shade structures to be determined),” the application notes.

Additional information attached to the application says that — unlike the previous proposal — the new plans would comply with the existing street-yard and side-yard setbacks for construction on the site.

Further, it would stay “within the current established line of the most seaward allowable construction,” the application points out.

During the August 2020 hearing, part of the testimony focused on the fact that the design at that time would extend seaward of that established line.

Further, the application emphasizes that the new structure “MEETS ALL THE SAME CRITERIA under the County’s Coastal Setback Code which had been applied and found for approval” of the residential building standing at 610-612 Beach Road.

This is a street view of the structure at 610-612 Beach Road. Image courtesy Google Maps

During the August 2020 public hearing on the earlier petition for the Coastal Setback Variance, attorney Stephen D. Rees Jr. of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota, who was representing Saba Sands, also pointed out that the design proposed at that time would be almost identical to that of the structure at 610-616 Beach Road, for which the owners won a variance from the County Commission in 2011.

The revised plans for 636 Beach Road reflect a building site encompassing 10,631 square feet, the application says, while the building site at 610-612 Beach Road comprises 10,618 square feet. Further, it notes, the structure at 610-612 Beach Road is three stories, though it has six units. Its building footprint is 5,736 square feet, the application points out, compared to the 5,226 for the new Saba Sands’ building footprint.

The complex at 610-612 Beach Road is 143 seaward of the GBSL and 750 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line, the application says.

Saba Sands’ design would place the new structure 859 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line.

Opposition past and present

An aerial image provided by the attorney for Saba Sands shows the state’s Construction Control Line in green and the Gulf Beach Setback Line in blue. This was presented to the County Commission in August 2020. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the August 2020 hearing, numerous residents of Siesta Key voiced opposition to the Saba Sands proposal, citing a variety of concerns. Among those was the instability of the shoreline, as shown by a series of historical photos that county staff presented to the board members.

Rob Patten of Sarasota, who worked in a number of environmental and coastal division positions with the county for more than 40 years, stressed that the county has strict rules governing beachfront development because shorelines shift over time.

Moreover, Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, talked about the fact that the Foundation owns nearly 2 acres adjacent to the 636 Beach Road property, and the Foundation “is deeply interested in the well being of all visitors to Siesta Key, whether they be two-legged or four-legged, feathered or furry or sunburnt.”

Johnson added that the proposed increase in residential intensity on the Saba Sands site “has a high probability” of upsetting the balance between public use of the beach and wildlife’s use of the beach. She told the commissioners that six dwellings in place of one would lead to “increased foot traffic, beach use and lighting pollution.”

Siesta Key Association Director Robert Luckner showed the County Commission this image during the Aug. 26, 2020 public hearing. The yellow triangles, he said, mark snowy plover nests discovered on Siesta Key in the past 10 years. The majority are seaward of the house at 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy of Robert Luckner

One volley of opposition to the new plans — so to speak — arrived at the Environmental Permitting Division in the form of an Oct. 1 letter from an attorney representing the Tivoli by the Sea Association. That organization represents the owners of the condominiums located at 625 Beach Road, near the Saba Sands site.

“The increased height and width of the proposed structure will obstruct the beach view of Association members and their guests and invitees,” Dan Lobeck, a partner in the Sarasota firm of Lobeck & Hanson, wrote to Howard Berna, manager of Environmental Permitting.

“The existing house at 636 Beach Road is only 40 feet high, as measured from the ground to the top of the roof crest,” Lobeck emphasized. The new building would be taller by 6 feet 6 inches, he added, noting, “The height of the existing structure was negotiated with the Association at the time [the County Commission approved the Coastal Setback Variance necessary for the house at 636 Beach Road, in 1998].”

Moreover, Lobeck wrote, “Blocking the Association’s beach views with a large rooftop pool area and building structure conflicts with Section 54-721(b)(7) of the Sarasota County Code. This code provision states that one of the public purposes of the construction restrictions beyond the Gulf Beach Setback Line is to ‘[s]upport economic, recreational, and aesthetic benefit to all coastal properties[.]’ The [new Saba Sands structure] does not support the aesthetic benefit to the coastal Tivoli Condominium and its unit owners,” Lobeck continued, so the County Commission should not grant Saba Sands the variance it is seeking.

One other factor

In response to an October public records request for any new materials related to the revised Saba Sands application, the News Leader received copies of online advertisements for the rental of the current house at 636 Beach Road.

As shown on FloridaRentals.com, the property is called “The ‘Belle’ of the Beach.”

This is part of the ad for the house at 636 Beach Road, as it was shown on FloridaRentals.com earlier this year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That ad says the house has sleeping room for 14 persons. The minimum stay is five nights.

“Custom built in the year 2000,” the ad continues, “636 on the Key sits on two beachfront lots offering its guests unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most unique, attractive properties on the Beach, the stylish Key West design encompasses three levels, with high ceilings and over sized living and sleeping areas. The second floor Gulf front balcony spans the entire 60 foot width of the home! There is just no other rental home in Siesta Key like it!”

That ad did say that the listing had expired.

Another ad, identified as being on www.rentbyowner.com, featured similar information. However, this one noted that the minimum stay in the “summer season” is seven nights.

That ad also points out that all of the furnishings in the house were purchased in November and December 2014.

Finally, a Zillow listing included in the materials, dated Sept. 13, estimates the value of the house at $6,781,100, though that listing pointed out that the property was not on the market.

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