Variance for new tiki hut at Sea Shell condominiums on Siesta Key wins County Commission approval

Homeowners at adjacent Crescent complex object to plans, citing worries about structure’s height and potential for noise

Although the president of the homeowners association for the adjacent, Crescent condominium complex objected to the proposal, the Sarasota County Commission has voted unanimously to approve a Coastal Setback Variance that will allow construction of a new tiki hut about 85 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line at the Sea Shell condominium complex on Siesta Key.

The Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) was established in 1979 to protect beach habitat and dunes, which, in turn, protect landward structures from flooding and storm surges.

The county staff report regarding the proposal noted that the Sea Shell is located at 6500 Midnight Pass Road, next to Beach Access 12 and south of the Stickney Point Road intersection. Comprising five floors and 49 units, it was constructed in 1974, before the county’s Coastal Setback Code was implemented, the report added. About 34% of the site is seaward of the GBSL, the report pointed out.

The seaward edge of the proposed structure would be approximately 295 landward of the Mean High Water Line, the report noted. “Much of the area between the condominium and the water is the beach that is routinely groomed, preventing colonization of dune vegetation,” the report continued. “Along the northern property line, there is a larger dune area that remains unimpacted by the tiki hut demolition activities. This dune community also contains invasive beach vitex, which will be removed as part of the dune restoration plan [proposed by the condominium association]. Both dune areas will be maintained free of invasive species in perpetuity.”

Further, the staff report said, the area of affected beach is “not considered critically eroded” in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s 2022 report, Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida.”

The proposed tiki hut will be 24 feet long and 24 feet wide, the application added. The previous structure was 16 feet by 24 feet wide. The new tiki hut will extend 8 feet more landward than the earlier structure, backing up to a fence and brick paver driveway, the application pointed out.

The structure also will have a paver floor, two propane grills and two picnic tables, the county staff report pointed out.

Opposition and rebuttal

The Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) issue was listed on the Jan. 18 commission agenda as a Presentation Upon Request. No board member sought staff or applicant remarks. However, Loren Lichty, president of the Crescent Siesta Key Condominium Association Inc., voiced his opposition to the Sea Shell application. “As you can imagine,” he told the commissioners, “I have received many comments and concerns from our owners …”

First, he pointed out, the proposed new structure would be 4 feet taller than the previous tiki hut on the Sea Shell beach. The height, he continued, would have an adverse effect on the views of owners of Crescent condominiums on the second and third floors. People purchase units on the water for the view, Lichty added. Thus, he said, the presence of the new tiki hut could lead to loss of property value for Crescent condominiums.

Second, Lichty continued, “The new tiki hut is going to be expanded in size. It will be only about 100 feet from the Crescent’s swimming pool, he noted, and approximately 125 feet from the front of the Crescent building. Therefore, residents also are concerned that more people will frequent the tiki hut, leading to a greater volume of noise, Lichty said.

A “calm, peaceful environment on Siesta is what people want,” he stressed.

One resident had remarked, “I should not have to lose my enjoyment of my area due to a change in the adjacent property,” Lichty quoted from a document.

Then he told the commissioners, “We are trying to be good neighbors. We don’t want to be obstructionists.”
Thus, he said, he and other leaders of the Crescent’s homeowners association would be willing to discuss with Sea Shell representatives an acceptable new tiki hut design.

With no other cards from members of the public, Chair Ron Cutsinger offered the standard 5 minutes of rebuttal to the agent for the Sea Shell, Weiqi Lin, whose company — Port and Coastal Consultants — had filed the application for the variance.

Lin pointed out to the commissioners that the prior tiki hut was 14 feet tall; the new one would be only 2 feet higher. He also stressed that the structure would be no farther seaward than the previous one.

As for concerns about Crescent homeowners’ views of the Gulf of Mexico: Lin showed the board members a photo depicting palms taller than 20 feet tall in front of a Crescent building. Those would block the view instead of the new tiki hut, he said.

Moreover, Lin pointed out, the Crescent was built later than the Sea Shell — in 2006 — so its first habitable floor had to be elevated 18.3 feet to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations regarding construction in flood zones. That factor also led him to question how the Sea Shell tiki hut could affect the views of Crescent condominium owners, he added. “I disagree with them strongly,” Lin said of those persons who had cited that concern.

As for the noise issue: Lin emphasized that the new structure will be used only by Sea Shell owners, renters and their friends. “We do not believe this new tiki is going to create a problem for the neighbors.”

After Chair Cutsinger closed the hearing, Commissioner Mark Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, made the motion to approve the Coastal Setback Variance, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

“I reviewed the submittal,” Smith said of the application. “Because the new tiki is literally in the same location seaward, and more landward,” he added, he “didn’t find [its proposed construction] to be an egregious act.”

With no more comments, the motion passed unanimously.