County approves setback variance for beachfront pool

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By Phil Colpas

Score another round for the developers.

Despite objections from Commissioner Nancy Detert and the Siesta Key Association, county commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a coastal setback variance to allow a swimming pool to be built a maximum of 230 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line at 104 Beach Rd.

Although this portion of the March 8 meeting of the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners was declared a public hearing, no speakers were present. Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to pass the coastal setback variance, which was seconded by Commissioner Ron

Cutsinger. The motion carried 4-1, with Detert as the only dissenting voice.

“Once again, I think we are opening Pandora’s Box [by] not keeping our own rules,” Detert said.

“I intend to vote no on this because it’s a proposed swimming pool and a pool deck, which are accessory structures. If you’re not able to have a swimming pool, that’s not recognized as an unreasonable hardship on yourself or the land.

Sarasota County Commission members have said yes to a variance to allow for a beachfront pool at this Beach Road property. (photo by John Morton).

“This is the first pool to be in that row,” Detert continued. “Once again, we always say we’re not setting a precedent, but we are, because everyone uses the prior as their rationale to have the same thing. And we have sand that comes and goes, and I’m just going to consistently vote no, and hope you do, too.”

Siesta Key Association president Catherine Luckner echoed Detert’s concerns in a letter that was shared with the commissioners, but not read aloud at the public hearing.

“The Siesta Key Association of Sarasota (SKA) supports property rights on Siesta Key,” Luckner wrote. “We note the property is within a State of Florida defined area of Critical Beach Erosion.

The seawall, defined as an enclosure for an accessory pool structure, could become a high impact point of wave energy, resulting in ‘wash out’ as well as over-wash of property, with accompanying changes in beach profile and sand loss.”

Although accretion has been noted since 2016, this beach area is prone to severe erosion, with gulf front wave action and wind. Surrounding streets continue to be flood prone with a westerly storm approach.

“We do not find that strict enforcement of the code would impose unreasonable or unjust hardship upon the land itself,” Luckner continued. “In fact, enforcement supports benefits to the land, beach accessibility and property security.”

The original GBSL/Coastal Setback Variance, granted in 1999, established the minimum reasonable use of the existing property, and redevelopment of the site was permitted. According to Luckner, the county commission at that time exceeded the criteria by expanding the footprint, allowing the current “beautiful structure” to be built.

“Therefore, minimum reasonable and ‘just use’ criteria of this property is attained, and presently occupied by the same owners (2005) under that 1999 Coastal Setback Variance. Approval of this variance would create a singular property of its kind within this section of beach front along Beach Road. Based upon the fluctuating beach profile, open to Gulf storms, the history of erosion and over-wash vulnerability, wisdom and guidance of environmental regulation suggests denial of this accessory structure on the beach front.”

Despite objections, this is the latest in a slew of county commission decisions supporting both private and commercial development on Siesta Key.

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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