Chair Nancy Detert, who objected to a similar petition in 2017, voices no concerns this time
Typically, over the past several years, when the Sarasota County Commission has considered any petition for a Coastal Setback Variance, it has conducted a public hearing.
On Nov. 7, however, the board members used their “Presentation Upon Request” option in addressing plans for a one-story, elevated residential structure with a garage and storage area, a new deck, walkways, stairs and a paver driveway at 811 Casey Key Road in Nokomis. The construction would be a maximum of 56 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line, the agenda noted.
Slightly more than a year ago, a public hearing regarding a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) for improvements to a related parcel also was on the agenda under “Presentation Upon Request.” As the title implies, no staff report or presentation by an agent of the petitioner is provided unless one or more commissioners asks for it.
Public hearings put on agendas under “Presentation Upon Request” are generally those for which staff and the commission foresee no controversy.
On Oct. 10, 2017, however, Commissioner Nancy Detert said she wanted a full report from staff. That involved a petition for construction at 819 Casey Key Road.
In the end, she was the only board member to cast a “No” vote. Her objection, she told her colleagues, was that the plans included a kitchen.
The petitioners for the Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) in that case were James S. and Molly Resch; they own the property to the north of 811 Casey Key Road. In fact, the petitioner in the Nov. 7 situation — Valli Lukeman — bought the southern half of a parcel at 815 Casey Key Road in 2014, while the Resches ended up purchasing the northern half of that land.
Lukeman’s parcel is the one located at 811 Casey Key Road.
The Resches were seeking a CSV so they could renovate and add to a kitchen on the site, totaling 217 square feet. Their variance also authorized them to build a 674-square-foot garage, a redesigned swimming pool with spa and deck, two new gazebos, a paver driveway and a walkway. Those structures were to be a maximum of 68.4 feet seaward of the GBSL, a Nov. 7 county staff memo pointed out.
During the October 2017 hearing, Detert especially objected to the plans for the kitchen. Approving a pool was not problematic, she said. “If the pool falls into the Gulf, I don’t really care, and they can build a new pool.”
Conversely, she pointed out, a kitchen is considered habitable space, and she found that in conflict with the county’s policy about not allowing such space seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).
The GBSL is a figurative county line in the sand designed to protect coastal habitat, such as vegetation and dunes on the shoreline. Those natural features, in turn, protect private and public properties that lie landward. Anyone who desires to build any type of structure seaward of the GBSL has to get a county permit.
In past years, commissioners were reluctant to approve residential structures on the water side of the GBSL.
On Oct. 10, 2017, when Commissioner Charles Hines sought clarification from staff about Detert’s assertion regarding the Resches’ kitchen plan, Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, confirmed that the kitchen would be considered living space because it would be under air condition and “[a kitchen] is a habitable area.”
“If [the Resches’ construction plan] just had a pool and decking,” Detert continued, “I [would not] love it, but I could live with it. The fact that [they] have a kitchen there … is a problem.”
In fact, in a table county Environmental Permitting staff provided the board regarding the Lukeman proposal at 811 Casey Key Road, staff explained that the variance would result in an increase of habitable area of 800 square feet seaward of the GBSL.
On Nov. 7, nonetheless, Detert did not voice any objection on to the fact that the Lukeman petition involved a residential area.
The staff memo did note though, that to conform to the county’s zoning regulations, that new residential structure in the Lukeman plans “shall not contain a kitchen.”
Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the Coastal Setback Variance for Lukeman, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it after Detert asked whether any of her colleagues desired a full presentation.
“There’s no public input on Item 27,” she announced, meaning no member of the public had signed up to address the petition that morning.
Details about the proposal
The Environmental Permitting Division staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the Nov. 7 meeting explained that the property at 811 Casey Key Road is on the Gulf of Mexico. The petitioner, Lukeman, purchased the parcel in 2005, the memo added. “At that time, the property contained a single-family residence originally built in 1953,” the memo continued. The home has been remodeled since then, the memo noted.
“The existing residence at 811 Casey Key Road is located almost entirely seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line,” the memo pointed out. However, staff found no history of a Coastal Setback Variance ever having been requested for construction on the site, the memo said. Nonetheless, staff has issued Written Conditioned Exemptions (WCE) to allow paving, decking, a walkway, a breakaway wall and a privacy wall, the memo added.
On June 5, 2014, the memo continued, Lukeman purchased the southern half of the neighboring property to the north, located at 815 Casey Key Road. On July 1, 2015, Lukeman filed a “Unity of Title Covenant,” formally combining that part of the 815 Casey Key Road parcel with his property, the memo explained.
With the unity of title, the staff memo said, Lukeman had a total of 1.118 acres.
The 815 Casey Key Road property had been vacant, the memo noted, with the previous owner having failed to obtain County Commission authorization to build a new home. A residential structure on the site was demolished in 2008, the memo added.
The only correspondence about the Lukeman petition in the board’s Nov. 7 agenda packet pointed out that plans previously submitted for the property at 815 Casey Key Road involved a house and garage comprising nearly 12,000 square feet, plus auxiliary structures and a gulf-side pool. Altogether, the writer — who was James Resch, Lukeman’s neighbor — noted that the improvements would have totaled 15,000 square feet. “Such plans would have resulted in construction of a structure nearly three times the size of the homes in the immediately surrounding neighborhood and one of the largest homes on Casey Key,” Resch wrote.
On Aug. 30, the staff memo said, Lukeman submitted his Coastal Setback Variance application, seeking authorization to add an 800-square-foot, pile-supported, standalone “residential accessory structure” with a garage and storage area at the ground level, which would have a building footprint of about 655 square feet. The improvements would stand primarily on the land Lukeman acquired out of the 815 Casey Key Road parcel, the memo added.
Lukeman also wanted to construct a 430-square-foot deck and walkway extension; a 530-square foot elevated deck; 102 square feet of breakaway stairs; and 1,607 square feet of paver driveway.
The table the Environmental Permitting staff provided to the commissioners in advance of the Nov. 7 meeting noted facts regarding the Lukeman proposal that were consistent with county policies and facts that were not.
For example, just as Berna, the manager of Environmental Permitting had explained with the Resches’ proposal last year, Environmental Permitting staff noted in the table for the Lukeman project that denial of accessory structures “would not result in an unreasonable hardship on the land.” The hardship issue is one of the most critical in the handling of CSV petitions. A person whose petition is denied might appeal the board decision on the basis that the person believed the requested improvements would be the least disruptive to the coastal environment while allowing the person use of his or her property.
The table did note in the Lukeman case, “No protected native habitat or dune vegetation will be directly impacted by the proposed construction.”
Furthermore, it says, “No impacts to public access along the beach are anticipated as a result of the proposed construction.”
It also points out that the construction would be on private property, “and any expenditure for flood and erosion control measures would likely be the responsibility of the property owners.”