Saba Sands’ attorney says county and FDEP representatives raised no objections to new plans
A hearing originally set for Feb. 3 on a petition regarding the Sarasota County Commission’s denial of plans for a new house and accessory structures at 636 Beach Road on Siesta Key has been rescheduled for Feb. 22, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
The decision came after the petitioner — Saba Sands LLC — revised its construction plans and presented them to state and county environmental staff members, according to documents the News Leader obtained through a public records request.
“A Zoom meeting was held to present and review the proposed new schematic design plans for the future development of a four-plex condominium building on the subject properties,” a Jan. 25 revised Special Magistrate hearing petition points out.
Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, and Staci Tippins, an environmental specialist in that division, participated in the session, along with Rolando Gomez of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Saba Sands’ attorney, Stephen D. Rees Sr. of Sarasota, pointed out in the revised Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act (FLUEDRA) petition.
Neither the county staff members nor Gomez “raised … objections or issues with the proposed new design for the future development,” that document says.
On Nov. 23, 2020, Rees filed Saba Sands’ first FLUEDRA Request for Relief petition. That followed the County Commission vote against the original plans for the condominium complex and then the board’s Oct. 20, 2020 formal adoption of a resolution affirming the decision. The principal of Saba Sands, attorney William Saba, contended that the County Commission’s unanimous vote on Aug. 26, 2020 was unreasonable or unfairly burdened his use of the Beach Road property, even though the construction would have been fully seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).
The petition language referenced the state’s Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which provides property owners a process for seeking relief when they feel their property “is unfairly affected by government action,” the Florida Bar Journal explains.
During the August 2020 public hearing on the Saba Sands petition for a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV), attorney Stephen D. Rees Jr. of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota told the commissioners that the CSV the company was seeking “is the minimum variance necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.”
Nonetheless, Commissioner Nancy Detert, who made the motion to deny the request, said that the construction would set “a horrible precedent.”
While she stressed, “I’m not anti-property owner,” Detert also said, “To me, you’ve got what you bought. … It does take a lot of nerve to ask for multiple units on this property.”
The proposal called for two parcels seaward of the area planned for the new construction to remain in their natural state. Detert asked Berna of Environmental Permitting about the potential for owners of “all the other houses on [Beach Road]” with property covered by dunes and vegetation seaward of those homes to seek commission approval for larger structures if the board members that day agreed to the Saba Sands request.
Berna noted that some of the other nearby homeowners have undeveloped lots seaward of the county’s Tenacity Lane right of way that are not protected by conservation easements.
“Can you in good conscience say [that the owners of the 636 Beach Road parcel] would absolutely be the only [ones] out of this group to do that, ever?” Detert asked, referring to the application for the CSV.
“I can’t make that definitive statement,” Berna told her.
The new proposal
Stephen D. Rees Sr. filed the revised FLUEDRA petition on Jan. 25, documents show.
In that petition, Rees pointed out that Saba Sands had modified its plans so the proposed new condominium complex would contain four dwelling units, comprising about 13,320 square feet of habitable space. The original design called for six dwelling units containing approximately 17,106 square feet of living space.
The new structure would replace a two-story-over-parking, single-family residence comprising 3,990 square feet of habitable space that was built in 2000.
The revised petition says, “The new design proposes a total building footprint of 5,226 sq. ft. under roof. The proposed driveway and walkways shall be pervious ‘Environmental Turf Block’ similar to what was used on the adjacent property. The total lot coverage [would be] approximately 12% less than currently exists on the subject properties.”
The design the commissioners considered in August 2020 would have been a maximum of 191 feet seaward of the GBSL. The new plan, the revised petition points out, would extend no further than 167.9 feet seaward of the GBSL, and it would be “within the current established line of the most seaward allowable construction as previously determined by Sarasota County [staff] and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Rees wrote.
Established in 1979, the GBSL is the figurative line in the sand designed to protect coastal habitats and dunes, which, in turn, protect landward structures from storm surge and other flood events.
Further, the revised petition notes that the earlier proposal also sought setback variances. The first involved an encroachment that would have extended 13.4 feet from the curbing of Beach Road into a “guest parking setback.” The second would have been a 6-foot, 9-inch encroachment into the unimproved Tenacity Lane right of way, while the third would have been necessary for the design of the ground-level pool and deck area.
Subsequently, the revised petition notes, “The new proposed design conforms to the RMF-1/SKOD [Residential Multi-Family 1/Siesta Key Overlay District] zoning district requirements for the Beach Road front yard setback and guest parking setback, the unimproved Tenacity [Lane] setback, and the side yard setbacks and stays within the current established line of the most seaward allowable construction.”
Further, the new plans call for a pool and deck on the roof of the complex, and the maximum height of the building would be 33 feet, 2 inches “to the top of the upper roof deck slab,” plus additional height “as permitted for decorative architectural appurtenances [a trellis or shade structure].” That would keep the complex below the 35-foot maximum allowed in the Siesta Key zoning regulations, the revised petition says.
The structure also would meet the 2017 Florida Building Code requirements — the current ones in effect, the revised petition points out — and it would comply with the provision that it be able to withstand a 160-mph wind load.
Additionally, the revised petition says, the elevation of the bottom of the lowest portion of the building would be 19.4 feet NAVD, which is 2 feet above the requirement for the existing single-family residence on the site.
NAVD refers to height above ground level in flood zones.
The Feb. 22 hearing on the Saba Sands FLUEDRA petition will begin at 9 a.m. in the County Commission Chambers in the County Administration Center standing at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
The Special Magistrate assigned to the case is Kenneth A. Tinkler of Tampa, who is an attorney with the Carlton Fields firm. His Feb. 2 notice of the continuance of the Feb. 3 hearing said that he is setting aside seven hours for the Feb. 22 proceeding.
The hearing “will be informal and open to the public,” the notice says.
“The Special Magistrate shall first attempt to mediate this dispute,” the notice continues. If that proves impossible, it says, “the Special Magistrate shall consider the facts and circumstances in order to determine whether the decisions of the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners are unreasonable or unfairly burden the real property and shall prepare and file with all parties a recommendation.” Then the commissioners will have an opportunity to consider that recommendation, the notice points out.
Owners of property contiguous to the 636 Beach Road parcel “and any substantially affected person who submitted oral or written testimony” in objection to the Saba Sands Coastal Setback Variance petition in August 2020 “may request to participate in the proceeding,” the notice also says.
A separate document points out that the hearing notice was mailed to 18 contiguous property owners.
On Jan. 6, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce, who is handling the FLUEDRA case, received a letter from an attorney representing the couple who own one of the homes next to the Saba Sands parcel, Lisa and Amir Arbisser.
The attorney, Patricia A. Petruff of the Bradenton firm Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, requested that the Arbissers be allowed to participate in the FLUEDRA hearing.
The couple also addressed the County Commission during the August 2020 CSV hearing, urging the board members to deny the Saba Sands plans for the new construction.