Detert once again the only one to oppose the Coastal Setback Variance petition
Once again, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert has voiced her position that “accessory” structures should not be allowed on property seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).
In the latest situation, on July 13, she cast the lone “No” vote on a Coastal Setback Variance petition after telling her colleagues that they need to uphold the county’s coastal regulations.
“We’re either going to keep these rules in place,” she pointed out, “or … keep granting variances for beautification purposes, really.”
The petition in this case involved a request for a pile-supported, in-ground swimming pool and pool deck “within the landscaped area on the seaward side [of] a five-unit low-rise condominium complex named The Place 450,” a county staff memo explained. The pool and deck will extend a maximum of 137 feet seaward of the GBSL, the memo added.
Although neighboring properties have pools, the memo pointed out, this one will be the farthest seaward “in the immediate area.”
The GBSL is the county’s figurative “line in the sand” that was established in 1979 to protect the coastal habitat which, in turn, protects landward structures from storms and other flooding events.
The memo pointed out that, because of the low elevations in that area of Siesta Key, “the subject site is vulnerable to inundation from high-frequency storm events.”
The property is located about one-third of a mile north of Siesta Public Beach, the memo added. Beach Access 8 is on the southeastern border of the property, the memo said.
Four of the units contain three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the memo noted; each comprises 1,386 square feet of habitable area. Unit 5, the memo continued, was designed with three bedrooms and two-and-one-half bathrooms. It has 1,515 square feet of habitable space.
An asphalt driveway and covered parking area are on the east side of the buildings, the memo said. The complex dates to 1977, it added.
“Approximately 53% (12,973 square feet) of the parcel is located seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) and the existing residential structures extend a maximum of 107.7 feet seaward of the GBSL,” the memo explained.
The proposed 6-foot-deep swimming pool “and sand-set paver deck will be located immediately adjacent to the existing residential structures and will have a paver walkway connecting the deck to an existing concrete walkway running along the northeastern property boundary,” the memo noted.
The area of Siesta Key where the property is located “has experienced substantial horizontal [sand] accretion since the site was developed in the late [1970s],” the memo said. That accretion has resulted “in a wide, flat beach with expansive dune habitat separating the open sandy beach from the residential structures along Beach Road,” the memo added.
However, it pointed out, the beach in that area “has experienced periods of both accretion and erosion over the last three decades, resulting in net gain of 251.79 feet of beach by 2015. … The shoreline near the subject site is highly dynamic due to the influence of Big Sarasota Pass to the north,” the memo continued.
The swimming pool and deck were designed to be constructed 947 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line (MHWL), according to a survey, the memo noted.
Given the provisions of Section 54-724(g) of the county’s Coastal Setback Code, the memo explained, the commission “may grant a [Coastal Setback Variance] after a public hearing when the Board determines [the following]:
- “Strict enforcement of the provisions of the Code would impose an unreasonable hardship on the land;
- “The requested variance does not adversely affect coastal systems;
- “The requested variance is the minimum variance necessary to permit reasonable use of the property;
- “The requested variance is not in substantial conflict with the attainment of the purposes of the Code; and
- “The requested variance is consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan.”
As usual, for the hearing, the county’s Environmental Permitting staff included in the agenda packet a table that provided details about how this particular proposal would be consistent and inconsistent with county policies and the Coastal Setback Code. Among the facts demonstrating inconsistency, staff noted that the pool “may not be necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.”
Siesta Key Association opposition to the plans
Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) not only sent a letter to the commissioners on behalf of the nonprofit, urging them to deny the request for the variance, but she also appeared before the board members during the public hearing.
As she had in the letter, Luckner stressed, “The requested variance is not the minimum necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.”
Referring to SKA leaders, Luckner pointed out, “We do have a very long history” of supporting compliance with the GBSL. “We are most concerned about protecting not only the neighbors and their property but the environmental habitat, which, I believe, for the county, has always been a primary focus,” Luckner added.
The SKA does not want to see adverse impacts to the coastal systems, she continued, referencing part of the County Code.
Luckner further pointed out that one of the county’s environmental policies calls for protection of species habitat. The threatened snowy plovers have nested in the location of the proposed swimming pool for the past 11 years, she explained to the commissioners.
In her letter, she emphasized, “Increased human or animal activity adversely impacts nesting.”
After Luckner concluded her remarks, Chair Alan Maio offered the opportunity for rebuttal to attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota. Merrill was representing the owners of The Place 450.
“This is very insignificant,” Merrill stressed of the construction plans. “It’s a 15 by 25-foot pool, and it’s 947 feet from the Mean High Water Line,” he said. It also is 660 feet from the snowy plover nesting area Luckner had referenced, Merrill pointed out.
Commission comments from Detert only
After Maio closed the hearing, Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to approve the variance, and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it.
At first, Maio indicated that no discussion would be forthcoming. Then he saw that Commissioner Detert wished to speak.
“I try to consistently vote against these for the same reasons that Mrs. Luckner mentioned,” Detert said. “We are supposed to offer these variances if your house is close to falling into the Gulf … I don’t think that [a ‘No’ vote] deprives you from being able to live in your home if you don’t have a pool, especially if you live on the beach.”
She noted the comment in the staff report that the pool would be farther seaward than neighboring pools, and she also referred to the fact that the affected area of the beach has seen periods of erosion as well as accretion.
With no comment from any other commissioner, Maio called for the vote. The motion passed 4-1, with Detert in the minority.