Attorney for property owner acknowledges entire area is completely seaward of county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line but contends plans will have no adverse effects on native habitat
Opposition has been lining up in advance of an Aug. 26 Sarasota County Commission public hearing on a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) petition for the property located at 636 Beach Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
The applicant, Saba Sands LLC, wants to demolish a two-story-over-parking, single-family residence with 3,990 square feet of habitable area and replace it with a new, pile-supported, six-condominium structure that would encompass 17,106 square feet, according to a county Environmental Permitting Division staff report.
The proposed dwellings would be a maximum of 191 feet seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), which both staff and commissioners have described as the figurative “line in the sand” designed to preserve dunes and native vegetation that, in turn, will protect landward structures from storm surge and other flooding events.
On numerous occasions, Commissioner Nancy Detert, especially, has stated her opposition to new homes that would be constructed entirely seaward of the GBSL.
Indeed, in one letter of opposition already sent to the county —on behalf of the Tivoli by the Sea condominium association — Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck wrote, “The Petition seeks exception to the Ordinances to add an additional five residential units within the coastal high hazard area of low elevation subject to sea level rise and the threat of severe storms, including hurricanes. The Sarasota County Ordinances are specific to construction seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line to protect both a fragile ecosystem and residents on the County’s barrier islands and should not be casually set aside.”
Saba Sands initiated the CSV process for the 636 Beach Road site in April 2018, as the News Leader previously reported. At that time, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln was representing the company. Stephen D. Rees Jr. of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota is the new agent for Saba Sands in the petition, the latest county documents show. The manager of Saba Sands LLC is Sarasota attorney William A. Saba, Florida Division of Corporations records say.
Rees noted in an April 8 letter to county staff that the most seaward extent of the proposed condominium structure itself would be 185 feet west of the GBSL. “The improvements will be 782 [feet] landward of the mean high water line,” he added.
The property is zoned Residential Multi-Family 1 (RMF-1), Rees added, which allows for six dwelling units per acre. Altogether, he continued, the site comprises 86,049 square feet, or 1.975 acres. Therefore, Rees wrote in an April 8 narrative, “[T]he Subject Property has sufficient area to permit eleven dwelling units …”
The total planned footprint of the condominium structure and a pool at ground level would be 7,754 square feet, Rees added.
“The Proposed Building will have the same site and building footprint approved by the Board of County Commissioners for 610-616 Beach Road [in 2011],” he continued.
“Any permanent impacts from the Proposed Building and associated ground-level features will be east of the existing location of Tenacity Lane,” he continued, “and will not adversely affect existing beach or dune vegetation systems.”
The county staff report for the Aug. 26 public hearing does acknowledge, “Recent aerial images indicate this portion of the beach has remained relatively stable since 2001, with periodic accretion and erosion.”
Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that Saba Sands LLC bought the property in June 2016 for $2,026,100. The limited liability company previously owned the parcel, having sold it in October 2014 to BFSK LLC for $4,950,000. Saba Sands paid $4.1 million for the property when it originally purchased it in January 2012, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say.
This year, according to those records, the market value of the house and land were put at $3,644,100, with most of that attributed to the land — $2,689,400.
Details about the time of day the County Commission is expected to conduct the hearing were unavailable prior to the News Leader’s publication deadline. The session will be conducted at the County Administration Center, located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
More comments from the opposition
In his Aug. 7 letter on behalf of the Tivoli by the Sea Association, whose condominium property is located directly across Beach Road from the Saba Sands site, attorney Lobeck wrote, “The increased height and width of the proposed [Saba Sands] structure will obstruct the beach view of members of the Association.”
The existing house at 636 Beach Road is only 40 feet high, Lobeck emphasized. The new structure would be 17 feet taller.
The height of the house was the subject of negotiations with the Tivoli by the Sea Association before the County Commission approved its construction, Lobeck added. The Association’s goal was to “to preserve the view of the beach from the long picture windows of the common room as well as from units. This is supported by Section 1.5 of Resolution 98-312, in which the [commission] made the finding that the [Coastal Setback Variance] represented a substantial reduction in the height of the structure from the original proposal.”
Moreover, Lobeck pointed out that Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, had noted in the staff report for the Saba Sands CSV petition, “ ‘The Zoning Administrator has confirmed that the proposed height of 35 feet over the minimum required first floor elevation is consistent with Zoning regulations for RMF-1/SKOD zoning district. However, this new construction will change viewsheds of neighboring properties to the east.”
“SKOD” refers to the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations, which apply to the entire barrier island.
“In addition to the increased height,” Lobeck wrote, “the proposed structure will be 7.5 feet wider on both the north and on the south sides compared to the existing structure.”
Further, Lobeck contended, the Saba Sands petition should not be approved, “as it exceeds the density, building setback and lot coverage requirements for residential development in the RMF-1 district for which it is zoned.”
Berna’s staff report says the house standing at 636 Beach Road is about 166 feet seaward of the GBSL. When the previous commission approved the petition for that construction, Berna continued, its members agreed that that “was the minimum variance necessary for reasonable use of the property.”
Berna was referring to state and local regulations regarding private property rights.
In his April 8 narrative, Rees acknowledged on behalf of Saba Sands that the property lies entirely seaward of the GBSL. However, he continued, by approving the 1998 CSV for the house on the site, the County Commission “already determined that strict enforcement of the provisions of the [1979 ordinance that established the GBSL] would impose an unreasonable hardship on the land.”
The proposal also calls for a pool, a pool deck, a driveway, brick paver walkways and privacy walls, Berna pointed out. Altogether, he added, the plans would increase the amount of impervious ground coverage by 3,490 square feet.
Another opponent, Anita Nevyas-Wallace of 625 Beach Road, sent an email to the county commissioners on Aug. 14, noting, “I have a commitment to and interest in our lovely beach …” Among her points, she wrote, “I already am familiar with flooding of the path [from the existing house] to the beach after heavy rains. There are areas that flood and stay flooded for days! Pouring more cement can be expected to exacerbate this situation.”
Further, she told the commissioners, “Water levels changing must affect local protected species including the snowy plover and the sea turtles. Changes in beach ecology affect people, too.”
Another opponent, Dr. Adam Diliberto, wrote that he owns the property at 641 Beach Road. The Saba Sands proposal, if approved, Diliberto noted, would affect the views of the beach from his parcel.
“When searching for a place to purchase a beach house,” he pointed out, “I was immediately drawn to Siesta Key, FL. My deciding factor was its quiet, non-commercial, small town feel.” Although he practices as an endodontist in Swansea, Ill., he noted, he plans to retire eventually to his Siesta Key home.
Another letter, dated July 20, came from Lee Amos, land steward of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which owns the property adjoining the parcel at 636 Beach Road.
“I am familiar with the coastal wildlife and preserve management, and am concerned that the proposed increase in land use may negatively affect wildlife and vegetation on our property and the wider area,” Amos continued.
“Conservation Foundation urges you to consider these potential impacts while evaluating the requested variance.”