No members of public appear during hearing
It took almost exactly a minute on Jan. 18 for the Sarasota County commissioners to unanimously approve a Coastal Setback Variance for construction of a pool, spa and deck about 46 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line at 99 Beach Road on Siesta Key.
That setback line, which was established in 1979, is the figurative demarcation in the sand put in place to protect coastal habitat and dunes, which, in turn, protect landward properties from storm surge and other flooding events.
No speakers had signed up to address the Sarasota County Commission on the issue on Jan. 18, and no board members asked questions or offered comments.
Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to approve the variance petition, and Commissioner Joe Neunder seconded it. Neither offered any comments.
As The Sarasota News Leader reported last week, 99 Beach LLC, which bought the property at 99 North Beach Road in March 2021, demolished the house on the site that had been the residence of the late Capt. Ralph Styles, a Pearl Harbor survivor who died in October 2008.
The county staff memo about the Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) application, which was included in the Jan. 18 agenda packet, explained that the new owner is redeveloping the site with a single-family residence. However, even though the proposed swimming pool and spa would be located partially within the footprint of the new structure, no such amenities existed along with the previous house. Therefore, county staff did not have the authority to approve them on an administrative basis.
Staff explained in its memo to the commissioners for the Jan. 18 hearing that it did issue a Written Conditioned Exception (WCE) on Nov. 29, 2018, allowing a new single-family residence on the 9,763-square-foot parcel. A PowerPoint presentation also included in the agenda packet said that 99 Beach LLC is having the new house constructed in accord with that 2018 WCE.
County permitting records note that the application for the residential structure was submitted to staff in early December 2021. The construction permit was issued on April 26, 2022; it expires on May 20 2023.
The application for the variance included exhibits from 2018, showing that the footprint of the new house is 1,573 square feet landward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). The total footprint of the structure is 3,023 square feet, the application noted. Styles’ house had a total footprint of 2,259 square feet, the application showed.
That application further explained that the pool would be 40 feet long by 24 feet, 5 inches in width. Its depth would range from 3 feet to 5 feet. The spa would be 10 feet by 13 feet.
The application also pointed out that the pool and spa “are consistent with the current real estate market for nearby Beach Road properties and are comparable in size to these other pools and spas recently approved and/or constructed on Beach Road properties.”
Moreover, referencing state law governing private property rights, the application said the variance is the “minimum … necessary to permit reasonable use of the Property …”
The county staff report also noted that the site is more than 500 feet landward of the Mean High Water Line (MHWL), with no impacts anticipated on the protected beach habitat in conjunction with the construction of the new house.
Nonetheless, staff did reference other considerations for the commissioners, as they reviewed the proposal. Among those, the staff report explained, “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.”
Additionally, the report said, “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.”
Identical letters of support
In response to a public records request, the News Leader did learn of numerous written comments to the commissioners in support of the 99 Beach Road CSV.
Among those in favor of the application, Jay Lancer, who owns the parcel located at 94 Columbus Blvd., indicated that both he and his wife, as neighboring property owners, had reviewed the public notice for the hearing. “[We] believe this request is a minimal request for reasonable use of [the] property and therefore we fully support their request,” Lancer added.
Other neighbors — Don M. Casto III of Sunset Beachfront Resort LLC; Dave Balot of 61 Beach Road; Michael Bisbe of 95 Columbus Blvd.; Amy L. Dudgeon, trustee of a trust for the property at 110 Avenida Veneccia; and Paul G. Lukeman of Sunset Beach Resort LLC sent the commissioners letters that appeared identical to Lancer’s. In fact, Casto sent three of those letters, using different addresses or company names on them.