County Commission takes less than 5 minutes to vote unanimously to allow the county administrator to undertake the effort
The director of Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department promised to take no more than 3 minutes on Oct. 11 when she stepped to the podium to discuss two Beach Road parcels on Siesta Key that have been the focal point of county discussions for years.
And Carolyn Brown kept to her word. In fact, it took less than 4 minutes altogether from the time she began her presentation to the conclusion of a unanimous County Commission vote authorizing County Administrator Tom Harmer to negotiate with the owners of the 162 and 168 Beach Road parcels for the county to buy the property.
Both lots have 100% beach dune habitat, Brown explained, serving as home to gopher tortoises, beach-nesting shorebirds and nesting sea turtles. The county’s Comprehensive Plan identifies beach dune habitat as “a critical habitat in need of preservation,” an Oct. 11 memo from Brown to the board points out.
If the county is successful in its negotiations, she said during the meeting, its ownership of the property would expand opportunities for public access to the Gulf of Mexico. Among potential improvements on the sites would be limited parking, a designated path to the beach and interpretative educational signage. Brown noted that any such work would have to meet the county’s Coastal Setback Code requirements.
They are “one-tenth and one-half mile from five of the public beach accesses” on Siesta Key, Brown continued, and they are just southwest of Siesta Village. Combined, they are approximately 0.37 acres.
Her PowerPoint presentation to the board also showed that the properties meet guidelines in Chapters 2 and 3 of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The Siesta Key Beach Access Work Plan, a copy of which Brown provided the board, references Environmental Policy 1.16: “Sarasota County shall continue, and whenever and wherever feasible, expand its beach and waterfront acquisition efforts. Priority shall continue to be given to those parcels, which will expand existing public beaches, increase the number of public access points, serve the greatest number of persons, or protect important native habitats.”
The work plan also notes that Environmental Policy 1.3.4 states that the county “shall protect and enhance public access to the wet sand beaches.” The work plan adds, “With Siesta Key expected to remain a destination for Florida residents and vacationers alike, providing adequate public beach access will continue to be a pressing public need.”
Prior to Brown’s presentation, William Merrill III, a partner with the Sarasota firm of Icard Merrill, addressed the board on behalf of the owners of the two parcels, who are his clients, he said.
The County Commission in October 2015 denied a request from Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey to build a three-story structure on the 162 Beach Road property — the third time the board had turned down one of their proposals for construction on the site. Afterward, Merrill said, they and Wendy B. Cooper — trustee of the Burton M. Cooper Shelter Trust No. 1, which owns the 168 Beach Road lot — sought the approval of the county’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council (PARC) for the parcels to be considered for county acquisition under the Neighborhood Parkland Program and Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP).
Both won that approval, Merrill noted, and both were ranked as high priority sites.
“We just want to be here in support [of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources proposal for negotiations],” Merrill added. After urging the board to vote to authorize that action, he said, “We believe a deal can be negotiated and approved in an expeditious manner.”
During the Oct. 6 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Second Vice President Catherine Luckner told the approximately 40 people present that the organization had been fighting the potential for construction on the 162 and 168 Beach Road parcels for the past 10 years. The SKA supports the purchase of the land, she pointed out, because the property would become a permanent part of public beach park on the island.
Expense and planning
In a memo Brown provided to the board in advance of the Oct. 11 meeting, she noted that on Feb. 24, the county received the first set of appraisals for the parcels. The lot at 162 Beach Road was put at $1,335,000, while the 168 Beach Road parcel was appraised at $1,380,000. A second set of appraisals — which the county received on April 18 — set the value at $1,125,000 for each lot. “The second set of appraisals included an Extraordinary Assumption that the Properties are buildable,” Brown pointed out.
Then, on May 24, she wrote in the memo, “staff received adjusted appraisals for each property, with the values of $338,000 under the Extraordinary Assumption they were not buildable.”
An average of the three sets of appraisals put the figures at $1,230,000 for 162 Beach Road and $1,252,500 for 168 Beach Road, the memo said.
Funding for the purchase is available through the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition-ESLPP program, Brown noted in the memo.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that the Allens bought the 7,429-square-foot lot at 162 Beach Road, plus the 7,679-square-foot lot at 168 Beach Road, in late May 2009 for $5.4 million from Brent R. Cooper, trustee for the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1, with an office address in Siesta Village.
In February 2012, the Allens sold the 168 Beach Road parcel to Siesta Miramar LLC for a “recorded consideration” of $100. Siesta Miramar LLC, in turn, sold it back to the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1 for $400,000 in May 2013, Property Appraiser Office records show.
The registered agent for Siesta Miramar LLC is William Merrill III, state Division of Corporation records say. Ronald and Sania Allen are listed as managing members of the corporation.
Brown’s memo also explained that because the parcels are not within an existing ESLPP Protection Priority Site, to be included in the ESLPP program, they would have to meet five criteria: rarity of habitat and species types; connectedness of natural habitats; ecological quality with species richness and ecosystem integrity; water resources for maintaining water quality in a natural system and recharge area; and manageability potential for long-term viability. She added that a new protection priority site and a new work plan would have to be established; both would need approval from the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC) and the commission.