Neighbors protest loss of public access to Little Sarasota Bay
In early June, Todd Logan of Osprey protested the first proposed vacation of Sarasota County right of way along a water body since a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ruled in October 2019 that a County Charter amendment, approved by voters in November 2018 to forbid such actions, was invalid.
Nonetheless, following the June 3 public hearing involving the vacation of a 9,655.8-square-foot county right of way on Dona Bay, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the petition.
Logan tried again last week to prevent a similar board vote. This one pertained to the vacation of two alleys that were included on the 1915 plat of the Osprey neighborhood where he lives. The alleys comprise 13,007 square feet, a county staff memo said.
And, once again, the commissioners voted unanimously to grant the vacation to the petitioner.
During the Nov. 17 public hearing, which was listed on the agenda as “Presentation Upon Request,” Chair Michael Moran asked Hayley Baldinelli, manager of the county’s Property Management Division, to offer brief remarks about the proposal. Moran added that he wanted her to do so because Logan had signed up to speak on the petition.
Baldinelli explained that the two 20-foot alleys, which were a portion of the platted right of way in the Osprey neighborhood, “were not improved.” She acknowledged that they abutted a water body. In this case, Little Sarasota Bay.
The petitioner, Simon Beemsterboer of Chicago, had applied to county staff to build a new subdivision. The vacation of the alleys, Baldinelli noted, would allow for “a more congruent development,” which would be located at 50 W. Bay St. in Osprey.
Attorney Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who was representing Beemsterboer, explained that his client bought the 3.56-acre site about a year ago. (Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show Beemsterboer paid $3.1 million for the parcel in November 2019. A single-family home stands on the site, those records note.)
The alleys were shown in the 1915 plat, Bailey continued on Nov. 17. One of them runs east/west for 533 feet; the other, about 119 feet in length, runs north from approximately the midsection of the other alley.
“Those alleys have never been constructed, and the county never accepted them for maintenance,” Bailey pointed out. They never had been used for public access, he said.
The vacation petition points out, “[T]he location of the alleys [is] inconsistent with the subdivision’s proposed layout of lots and street.” It further notes that the alleys “never have been used for access to, or egress from, the site.”
In 2008, Bailey continued, the County Commission at that time rezoned the property where his client plans to construct the new subdivsion, though no binding development concept plan was a facet of that approval. The 2008 project “looks substantially identical to the one that we’re proposing now,” Bailey noted. Instead of 13 dwelling units, however, he said, “We’re now proposing nine units.”
Moreover, Bailey told the commissioners, “The existence of those alleys … did not even come up in 2008.” He listened the previous day to a recording of that public hearing, he added.
“We’re going to be dedicating considerably more right of way than we’re asking you to vacate,” Bailey pointed out. Further, the development is “going to add to the ad valorem tax roll,” Bailey added.
After making the motion to approve the vacation of the alleys, Commissioner Nancy Detert said, “In reading all the in-depth backup material that we’re provided, I always put more emphasis on what our professional staff says,” than what a petitioner’s attorney says.
County staff, Detert added, “has no objection” to the vacation petition.
“I’m very familiar with the area, living in South County, and I have no objection myself,” she noted.
Newly elected Commissioner Ron Cutsinger of Englewood, who seconded the motion, said he believed the fact that the 2008 rezoning of the property did not consider the issue of the alleys was an oversight.
Commissioner Alan Maio then said that he initially had planned to vote against the petition. However, he pointed out, “I’m extremely familiar with this area, extremely.” People would continue to have access to Little Sarasota Bay from West Bay Street, which will be the new subdivision’s southern boundary, and from the northern boundary, which is Main Street, he noted. In fact, he said, a pier extends into the bay near the West Bay Street access.
The public access factor, from a neighborhood perspective
During his comments — which he provided via remote technology — Logan of Osprey explained to the commissioners that he lives about two blocks from the site of the planned subdivision.
While the petition may be legally sufficient, Logan continued, “What it really lacks is both history and context.”
Logan referenced three attachments he sent the commissioners with a Nov. 10 letter that urged them not to approve the vacation of the county rights of way.
The first attachment, he noted during his remarks, showed the 1915 plat, which, he pointed out, “is much larger than just the petition area.”
The majority of the neighborhood, Logan said, “has developed exactly as platted,” with small homes in most of the blocks.
The “two public roadways … were an integral part of the neighborhood plat done in 1915,” he added. They were designed as roads, providing access to the lots.
Logan also pointed out that Beemsterboer has proposed a new street that would overlay much of the area of the rights of way under consideration for abandonment. Logan depicted that in another attachment with his letter.
“[This] is probably the real crux of the matter,” he told the board members. “What immediately becomes obvious [in that attachment] is that [Beemsterboer] plans to overlay his public road on top of right of way … to provide access to his new lots.”
Further, Logan said, a 5-foot-wide private sidewalk is planned for residents of the new subdivision.
When Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked whether the homeowners on Pine Avenue would have access to the bayfront through the subdivision, attorney Bailey replied that they would not.
In response to a question from Commissioner Maio, Bailey said that he was not aware of any plans to erect a gate across the private sidewalk.
“If it’s not a gated community,” Ziegler asked, “I don’t know how you’re planning on stopping [public] access.”
Logan also told the board members, “I am somewhat dismayed that staff has recommended that you go ahead and approve this. I think any objective observer would be hard-pressed to find how giving away 20 feet of public bayfront could in any possible way be in the public interest.”
In the Nov. 10 letter that Logan sent the commissioners from himself and his wife, Marie, he noted that the county right of way proposed for vacation “has a value of around $81,000, based on the County’s $34/square foot appraised land value of the similarly situated property immediately to the north.”
One other speaker addressed the commissioners during the hearing, joining the Logans in protesting the proposal.
Gerald J. Donella III, said he lives directly across from the proposed entrance/exit to the new subdivision.
“I find it very difficult to understand how this would not have a tremendous impact on an existing community that’s been around since 1915,” he stressed.
His wife bought their house in that neighborhood in 1985, before they married, he noted.
“We’ve seen another development go up with zero impact to the community, right next door,” Donella added.
Residents enjoy the oak canopy roads in their neighborhood, he continued. If Beemsterboer’s petition were approved, Donella said, the commission would be “literally [letting him] abscond with 20 feet of our easement,” which is a facet recorded in all the deeds of the homeowners in that neighborhood.
In online comments for the public hearing, four residents — including Christine Hormuth of Main Street in Osprey and Joanne Longval of West Bay Street — also asked the commissioners to deny the petition. Hormuth called for the board members to direct “[Beemsterboer] to include public access to the bay.”
Longval wrote, “I understand that [Beemsterboer desires] to maximize the profit of the public land but disagree on the current proposal to privatize what is truly a public gem to this historic neighborhood, bay access. … Please do the right thing not only for us but all of the property owners who … love the bay.”
The Charter amendment factor
A county staff memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting reminded the commissioners about the County Charter amendment voters approved in November 2018, which prohibited the vacation of any county right of way that had so much as a waterfront view.
Written by Siesta Key resident Michael Cosentino, it was a response to the 2016 County Commission vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that had been closed to vehicular traffic since 1993, as a result of damage inflicted on the pavement by numerous storms.
The Nov. 17 staff memo noted, “The County ultimately challenged the validity of the charter amendment as inconsistent with authority expressly delegated to the Board of County Commissioners by general law to sell or transfer park property or vacate roads. Through various summary judgments,” the memo continued, “the County prevailed in this lawsuit, defeating all counts in the complaint and obtaining a declaration that the operative parts of the charter amendments were inconsistent with state law. However, on April 23, 2020, a notice of appeal was filed.”
A second amendment Cosentino wrote, which won passage, too, in November 2018, called for the vacated segment of North Beach Road to be returned to the county.
Cosentino has maintained that he will prevail in his appeal of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling. His reply brief in the case was due this week, based on a Sarasota News Leader review of the online docket.