Nov. 20 Neighborhood Workshop set on proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendment that would allow voluntary demolition and reconstruction of condo complexes on Siesta Key

Event to be conducted virtually

This is the cover of the first volume of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, which was updated in October 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20, Sarasota County staff will host a Neighborhood Workshop on proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Code regarding the voluntary demolition and reconstruction of Siesta Key condominium complexes built before 2000.

The virtual workshop will be held via the Microsoft Teams software, a county advisory says. Persons may log in through the Microsoft Teams app or join the meeting on the internet after logging in with the meeting ID and the passcode, the advisory adds.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, 2022-D, “would not allow an increase in density,” the advisory stresses.

Further, the new complexes would have to comply with all modern construction standards, including the Florida Building Code and floodplain regulations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

The last time the commissioners discussed the proposed amendment — on Sept. 12 — Commissioner Mark Smith won approval of his colleagues to modify several sections of the language that county Planning staff had written for review that day. Among them, Smith stressed that, contrary to the staff proposal, the new buildings should not have to be constructed in the footprints occupied by the original ones.

He has pointed out that many of the older complexes are located seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), which was established in 1979. The GBSL is intended to protect dunes and other coastal habitat, which, in turn, protect landward structures from storm surge and other flooding events.

Yet another county proposal that Smith characterized as “ridiculous” called for each rebuilt condominium to have the same square footage of the original. The square footage of every unit should be determined by the allowable size of the building, Smith said, based on the size of the lot. County regulations stipulate that a structure planned on a parcel zoned Residential Multi-Family (RMF) can take up no more than 50% of the lot, he pointed out.

This is the log-in information for the Nov. 20 workshop. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A third proposal that Smith noted called for a structural engineer to make a determination about the need to tear down a complex, even if the members of the condominium association had voted in support of the demolition and reconstruction. In response to a question from Commissioner Joe Neunder on that point, Smith explained that if a complex was built later than 2000, and faulty construction was suspected, FEMA’s 50% Rule would apply. That means that if the cost of making repairs is 50% higher than the market value of the building, the structure has to be modified to come into full compliance with modern FEMA floodplain construction regulations.

“It would cost [the owners] more to repair than knock it down and build new,” Smith summed up such a situation.

Commissioner Mark Smith. Image courtesy Sarasota County Government

“Again, this is voluntary,” Smith emphasized of the proposed amendments. “This is not something willy-nilly that folks are going to do, to tear down your building and build new. If you have a rental program,” he added, “you’re not going to make any money for at least two years, and people are going to be out of their condominiums for two years, at least, during construction.”

An architect with a longtime practice on Siesta Key, Smith first brought the idea of voluntary demolition/rebuilding to the commissioners seated in January 2022, before his November 2022 election to the board. At that time, he was representing the owners of the Sea Club V condominiums at 6744 Sarasea Circle on south Siesta Key.

In the wake of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside in June 2021, the Sea Club V residents had commissioned an engineering report, which had found that structural components of their buildings were corroding.

During the Sept. 12 board discussion about the proposed amendments, county Planner Everett Farrell did note that a number of stakeholders with whom county staff had met had expressed objections to the proposed amendments.

Among their concerns, he said, were the following:

  • Allowing what formally are called “nonconformities” to exist in perpetuity. The proposed amendments would enable complexes to rebuild with the same residential density, which likely would be higher than allowed in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations as they exist.
  • Allowing the new structures to contain the same number of residential units they had prior to demolition.
  • The potential use of the new units for “transient accommodations,” which is the county term for hotel and motel rooms.
  • The insistence that any “commercial or ancillary uses that would not be residential in nature” would be prohibited.

The leaders of both the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Siesta Key Condominium Association had sent county staff correspondence detailing their objections.