Concerns growing about added traffic congestion, more garbage and lack of county requirement for fire suppression systems in the multi-family dwellings
Call it a “tale of four houses.”
In a two-block span, three new towering residences and one under construction epitomize for longtime Siesta Key residents the unwelcome changes that have been taking place on the island in recent years.
The four-story structures at 547 and 551 Beach Road are advertised on rental property sites as being capable of sleeping 24 people each. Just a bit south of them, at 645 Beach Road, another multi-story house is well underway. The Sarasota County application for that project says it will have eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms.
Yet, even though the house at 641 Beach Road is four stories, as well, it has only four bedrooms and four baths — and, the builder tells The Sarasota News Leader, it really was designed as a single-family home.
One-story, decades-old cottages on the Key increasingly are being replaced by multi-level dwellings whose owners advertise them on websites such as VRBO and Airbnb as being capable of sleeping far more people than the number of family members who occupied the previous dwellings.
Although most residents with whom the News Leader spoke declined to be quoted, they expressed dismay about how the guests of these houses translate into additional traffic congestion, and — on numerous occasions — piled-up garbage that sits at the curb for days, awaiting the weekly stop by the Waste Management truck.
Concern also has been aired that these new houses brimming with tourists mean far more people would have to be evacuated from the Key in advance of a threatened hurricane strike.
Yet, arguably the greatest cause for alarm, people point out, is the potential for a raging fire in a structure built as a home, without the mandatory sprinkler systems and other safeguards upon which hotel guests can rely.
One person who has been willing to comment publicly about her worries is Margaret Jean Cannon, who lives on the Gulf side of Beach Road. Cannon formulated her concerns into a four-page document she shared with Siesta Key Association leaders and the News Leader.
She and her husband have been full-time Siesta residents for 20 years, she writes. “We believe citizens should have the right to purchase, update or replace residences, operate rental properties.” They also believe property owners should be able to rent out houses, she adds, as long as the people are complying with the appropriate zoning and building codes, and other legal requirements.
“We need growth to remain vibrant and viable as a community,” Cannon continues. “At the same time, we need to work to manage our growth, so we don’t overwhelm our environment, resources, infrastructure, or lose our ‘community-residential’ culture. We need management of our zoning and building codes to ensure the quality and culture of Island life continues to support our needs. All of us and our visitors want to enjoy our beautiful environment and Island Beach.”
Matt Osterhoudt, Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Services director, has explained to the News Leader that the new multi-story houses — with enough bedrooms for a wedding party, as Cannon describes them — are permissible under the county’s zoning and building regulations. He did point out in an email, however, that “as those properties move through [the] licensing process, Emergency Services staff may be needed to conduct a fire review, as [residential single-family house construction] does not require a fire inspection.”
In response to a public records request, the News Leader received copies of applications and construction permits for all four houses.
The Michigan owner of the properties at 547 and 551 Beach Road did incorporate a “complete wet pipe fire sprinkler system” into both of them, the News Leader learned. In contrast, no such separate forms were submitted for the houses at 641 and 645 Beach Road.
In a July 13 telephone interview, Daniel Gerdes, the registered agent of the limited liability company that owns 641 Beach Road, told the News Leader he did not consider installing any fire suppression systems in the new structure there, because he planned it as a single-family home. “It’s not required by any code,” he also noted, referring to a sprinkler system.
However, Gerdes said, he is well aware of other developers packing multiple bedrooms into new houses. Without fire sprinkler systems, he pointed out, “Those are a hazard.”
The News Leader was unable to reach the owners of the property at 645 Beach Road.
Through a county spokesman, the county fire marshal declined a News Leader request for an interview.
The zoning issue
Both the houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road have been the focus of county Code Enforcement complaints, the News Leader learned through a public records request. For example, since May 12, Code Enforcement has kept open a case regarding the number of vehicles parked in front of 547 Beach Road. In July 2015, a Code Enforcement officer found six cars in the driveway, according to county documentation. Then, on Aug. 3, 2015, the officer who re-inspected the property reported “multiple vehicles in the driveway crossing the sidewalk,” adding that law enforcement personnel should be notified about that.
Almost identical complaints were investigated at 551 Beach Road in 2015, Code Enforcement records say.
Although rental listings for the houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road describe them as single-family homes, the county property records list their zoning as RMF1 — “Residential, Multi Family.”
The same zoning applies to the houses at 641 and 645 Beach Road.
In response to the News Leader’s inquiries, Osterhoudt wrote in his email, “Planning and Development Services staff has reviewed the concerns brought to their attention. The properties researched are zoned Residential Multi-Family, and meet the requirements to be considered short-term rentals, which is consistent with zoning regulations. In addition, the structures are permitted for Residential Single Family (RSF) homes, but the code does not regulate the number of bedrooms in any RSF structure.”
Osterhoudt added, “We understand that the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) [has] been in touch with representatives of the subject properties, and informed them of state licensing requirements for vacation rentals.”
Side-by-side, the houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road are owned by two separate limited liability companies, Clodog LLC and Livdog LLC, respectively. Both of those companies list the manager as Brian Brandt of Grand Ledge, Mich. The 547 property was sold to Clodog for $350,000 in 2012, and the new house was constructed in 2014, county property records show. The 6,731-square-foot lot and structures — including a pool — have a 2017 market value of $1,393,000.
Livdog LLC also acquired the property at 551 Beach Road in 2012, paying $400,000. The 6,662-square-foot parcel with its multi-story house and a pool has a 2017 market value of $1,415,800.
The 5,141-square-foot house under construction at 645 Beach Road is owned by James and Dorothy Waid of Sarasota, who bought the property for $675,000 in March 2014, according to county property records. This year, the market value of the land alone is $588,300, the county records show.
The 4,960-square-foot house at 641 Beach Road — completed earlier this year and owned by an eponymous limited liability company — is on the market for $2,999,000. The listing on the Premier Sotheby’s website does note the “very liberal zoning if the owner needs to rent out part/full time — estimated annual gross income for weekly rental is $200K – $250K depending on availability, easy to see!!!!!!”
The registered agent of 641 Beach Road LLC —Gerdes — owns a construction firm in Sarasota. The limited liability company purchased the property in March 2014 for $600,000. The new house replaced a one-story, 3,000-square-foot duplex, according to a demolition permit Sarasota County staff issued on Aug. 13, 2014. The market value of the house and land is $1,433,400, based on county property tax records updated on July 13.
Even though he has the house at 641 Beach Road listed for sale, Gerdes told the News Leader, he has had people approach him about renting it. Thanks to the Tivoli by the Sea condominium complex’s open parcel across the street, he pointed out, “the views are incredible” in his house. “You can actually see the beach from every level.”
Both the houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road are advertised for rent on various internet sites. A listing on siestakeyluxuryrentalproperties.com says that, thanks to their four stories, both offer an “Ocean View.”
The website Vacation Rental By Owner (HomeAway.com) shows an aerial map of the two structures, with Siesta Public Beach just a stroll away. The listing provides identical descriptions for them, noting that the 10-foot vaulted ceilings” make each residence “feel even larger than it is, and a group of 16 people can stretch out easily here with plenty of space.” The listing also points to the “elevated patio spaces with tremendous Beach and Gulf of Mexico views.”