Hearing scheduled for Jan. 18 County Commission meeting
The new owner of the Siesta Key property that was home for decades to the late, beloved Capt. Ralph Styles is seeking a Coastal Setback Variance from the Sarasota County Commission to construct a swimming pool, a spa and a deck that would be a maximum of 46.3 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) on North Beach Road.
Established in 1979, the GBSL is the county’s figurative line in the sand, designed to protect beach habitat and dunes, which, in turn, protect landward properties from storm surge and other flooding events.
Over the past several years, the county commissioners have taken various stances on allowing home construction seaward of the GBSL. However, they generally have agreed on variances for “accessory structures,” such as pools and decks. As Commissioner Nancy Detert has pointed out, the applicants in the latter cases need to be aware that they will have no recourse with the board members or county staff if such structures end up destroyed by storms.
Nonetheless, since she joined the board in November 2016, Detert often has cited the need for the board members to abide by the county’s coastal protection regulations. She has cast the lone “No” vote following a number of hearings on petitions for Coastal Setback Variances.
The 99 Beach LLC item is scheduled as a Presentation Upon Request during the commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 18, which will take place at the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.
Consideration of the board’s Consent Agenda of routine business matters, plus three discussion items and three other Presentations Upon Request are listed ahead of the 99 Beach Road issue on the agenda.
Because the commissioners no longer divide their meetings into morning and afternoon sessions, The Sarasota News Leader cannot predict when the board members will consider the Coastal Setback Variance (CSV). Moreover, if no commissioner wants a presentation, and no members of the public are present to address the variance petition, the vote could take place without any discussion.
Generally, county staff members schedule non-controversial items as Presentations Upon Request, though public comments always are allowed.
The Jan. 18 commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m.
As the News Leader has reported, Siesta Key resident Michael Holderness sold the property at 99 Beach Road in March 2021 to 99 Beach LLC, which has a Lakewood Ranch Boulevard address. The limited liability company paid $3.5 million for the house and land, which stand at the intersection of North Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard.
The Florida Division of Corporations record for 99 Beach LLC identifies the managers of the company as Anthony Martin and Marijo C. Martin of Suite 100, 5391 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. in Sarasota. The Manatee County Chamber of Commerce says that that Lakewood Ranch Boulevard address belongs to Casto Southeast Realty Services LLC. Casto’s website explains that the company is “a leader in real estate development, leasing and property management …”
On Feb. 11, the new owner of the 99 Beach Road property demolished the Styles’ house, which Holderness purchased from one of Styles’ heirs for $3 million in July 2016. Island residents who used to attend formal flag-lowering and raising ceremonies at the residence when Styles was alive expressed dismay at seeing the demolition, as shown in social media posts.
Styles was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He died in October 2008 at the age of 98.
Details of the variance application
The Sarasota County staff memo in the Jan. 18 agenda packet explains that the property located at 99 Beach Road encompasses 9,763 square feet; it is zoned Residential Multi-Family-1 (RMF-1). The memo adds that the site is being redeveloped with a single-family residence under a Coastal Setback Written Conditioned Exception (WCE) that staff issued on Nov. 29, 2018.
“Under the WCE,” the memo explains, “only structures existing on the property can be demolished and reconstructed.” Because no pool was present, the memo continues, “[O]ne could not be authorized under the WCE.” Thus, the owner had to apply for a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV).
“The proposed swimming pool and spa are located partially within the footprint of the new single-family residence,” the memo says. “The uncovered portion of the proposed swimming pool measures 526.5 square feet. This variance petition also includes the addition of 150 square feet of the new pool deck and 160 square feet of paver walkway.”
Further, the memo notes, the site is more than 500 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line, “and no impacts to protected habitats are proposed.”
Nonetheless, the staff report on the application points out that the proposed construction site “is in direct line of sight with the open beach and dune areas that sea turtles utilize during their summer nesting season. Artificial lighting directly or indirectly visible from the beach can disrupt sea turtle nest behaviors and cause disorientation in hatchling turtles.”
To protect the turtles, the report continues, the county adopted regulations in October 1997 that require “all lighting visible from the beach [to] be designed to minimize adverse impacts to sea turtle nesting behaviors.” However, while those requirements help reduce adverse effects on the turtles, the report does point out that “any additional artificial lighting near the beach has the potential to disrupt sea turtle nesting.”
A slide in the PowerPoint presentation regarding the petition for 99 Beach Road explains that the commissioners “may grant variances to the prohibition of construction if [they] determine the following:
- An unreasonable or unjust hardship on the land. That language refers to state law. The slide notes, with emphasis, “Hardship on the Land means the property cannot be used for the purpose for which it is zoned. The staff report on the application for the variance points out that since a new “pile-supported single-family residence” was constructed on the property, “[d]enying this variance petition for a new accessory structure may not be considered an unreasonable or unjust hardship on the land.”
- “Minimum variance necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.
- “Does not adversely affect the Coastal System.
- “Not in substantial conflict with the attainment of the purposes of the [County] Code.
- “Consistency with Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan.”
Environmental Permitting Division staff did include historical slides of the affected area of Siesta Key to show that the shoreline has changed over the decades. The oldest slide in that group dates to 1995.
The Environmental Division staff members have pointed out that Siesta Beach has accreted substantially in recent years. However, they also have reminded the commissioners during past CSV hearings that the shoreline is dynamic. In other words, just because the beach is several hundred yards wide at one time, the sand could erode in the future.
In fact, the staff report on the 99 Beach LLC petition notes, “The subject site is located on one of the most dynamic portions of the Siesta Key shoreline and is immediately south of [the] Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) Coastal Range Monument Number R-47. Periodic [Mean High Water Line] MHWL surveys at R-47 have shown the beach accreting at an average annual rate of 8.8 feet per year between 1987 and 2015. Despite this trend of accretion, the beach seaward of the subject site has been narrowed for many years based on a review of available aerial imagery. Beginning in 2013, a large slug of sand broke off an ebb shoal outside Big Sarasota Pass and began traveling down the shoreline of North Siesta Key, widening the beach as it moved southward. Due to sediment transport systems’ dynamic and transitory nature along barrier islands, the current site conditions cannot be considered stable and are likely to change.”
The report also says, “Based on the historic shoreline trends, the beach area between R-46 and R-48.4 is designated a ‘Critically Eroded Beach’ in FDEP’s June 2022 report entitled Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida.”
Leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) often have urged the county commissioners not to approve any construction seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line for the reasons county staff has cited.
The News Leader found no written public comments provided in the backup material for the Jan. 18 agenda item.