Casey Key coastal setback variance denied

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After declining a second chance to move proposed new construction further landward, Casey Key Road property owners fail to win county Coastal Setback Variance

By Rachel Brown Hackney

In January, Sarasota County Environmental Permitting staff gave owners of the property at 3761 Casey Key Road in Nokomis an opportunity to modify plans for construction of a new house and pool. That was because the design would destroy a minimum of 651 square feet of native dune habitat, county staff explained to the County Commission on Sept. 24.

Additionally, the plan would put the new construction a maximum of 92.25 feet west of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). The latter is the figurative “line in the sand” established to preserve dune vegetation and, as a result, provide better protection to structures landward of the line when storm surge events occur.

The county’s environmental policies stress that “beach habitat shall be preserved,” Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, pointed out to the County Commission on Sept. 24.

That day, the commissioners gave the attorney and consultant working for the owners of the 3761 Casey Key Road parcel another opportunity to revise the plans.

“I’m concerned about the beach vegetation,” Commissioner Alan Maio announced after the staff presentation on the request for a Coastal Setback Variance (CSV) for the project. “If I was the petitioner or his representatives, I would ask for a continuance.”

If they were willing to adjust the design to move the new construction further landward, Maio added, the petition for the CSV would “have a better chance at approval,” from his perspective.

“They’re basically rebuilding anyway,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out, referring to the on-grade structure that has been on the property since 1950.

In January, during staff’s first review of the proposal, Berna said, he suggested relocating the new structures more landward. The owners could ask for variances regarding the county’s requirement for a 25-foot setback from Casey Key Road and for a reduction in the setback for the side yard, he added. Yet, they did not change their plans before staff’s second review of their CSV application, Berna noted.

Another issue Berna pointed out on Sept. 24 is the fact that the representatives of the petitioners have maintained that the two-story pool pavilion would be about 77.5 feet from the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). When staff members visited the site, Berna said, “We measured the [distance of the] wet sandy beach from the bottom of the steps [of a dune walkover structure on the parcel] …” They found the wrack line to be only 21 feet away from those steps. Thus, Berna continued, staff estimated that the MHWL actually is only 40 to 45 feet from the westernmost point of the proposed new construction.

The second chance at a redesign

“I normally wouldn’t do this,” Chair Charles Hines announced after Berna’s presentation, but “I think it’s worthwhile to maybe give some hints.”

With Maio and Detert clearly leaning against approving the variance, Hines made it clear that he would cast the third vote necessary to deny the CSV petition.

No one had signed up to address the board on the issue except the representatives of the property owners, Hines added. (Berna had noted that the petitioners were unable to be present for the public hearing.)

While petitions for Coastal Setback Variances always are difficult because of property rights issues, Hines pointed out, in the case of the proposal for 3761 Casey Key Road, “This is almost an entire pool, a significant part of the deck and some living space” that would extend seaward of the GBSL, “plus the destruction of a significant amount of native habitat.”

Hines added, “There’s room on this property” to redesign the project with a “nice home” and allow the owners reasonable use of the land.

In response to a question from Commissioner Maio, County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht explained that the board members themselves could not ask for a continuance. They would need to vote to grant the variance, or not, depending upon the presentation made on behalf of the petitioner, Elbrecht added.

With no comment on the commissioners’ remarks from Weiqi Lin of Port and Coastal Consultants of Sarasota, who was representing the owners, the hearing continued.

At the end of Lin’s presentation, Maio made the motion to deny the request for the variance; Detert seconded it; and it passed unanimously.

Before the vote, however, Lin argued that he should be given an extra 5 minutes for rebuttal.

“What are you going to rebut?” Hines asked him.

He had planned to address some of the commissioners’ concerns during that rebuttal, Lin replied, and offer another proffer from the property owners.

“We’re voting on what’s submitted,” Hines told him, suggesting that Lin had missed an opportunity to offer those other details when Lin made his 20-minute presentation.

(Lin was a member of the Environmental Permitting Division for many years.)

Finally, Maio pointed out, “We got out in front of this, expressing our concerns. They should have been addressed in the 20-minute [presentation], and they weren’t.”

“If we grant this [variance],” Detert added, “we’re setting a bad precedent … 92 feet past the [GBSL].” Such a vote might encourage other residents in the immediate area to begin requesting variances, she added, so they could pursue new construction closer to the beach.

Property ownership

A limited liability company bought the property at 3761 Casey Key Road in 2017. The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that LAK 3761 LLC paid $361,200 for the parcel.

According to records maintained by the Florida Division of Corporations, LAK 3761 was established in September 2017. The manager of LAK 3761 is Lynn A. Kodrick of 3761 Casey Key Road.

The total taxable value of the property this year is $1,400,900, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say.

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