By Rachel Brown Hackney, SarasotaNewsLeader.com
In early March, in the aftermath of a Feb. 22 dispute resolution hearing, a special magistrate found that the Sarasota County Commission was not unreasonable in denying a petition for new construction on property located at 636 Beach Rd. on Siesta Key.
Nonetheless, Tampa attorney Kenneth Tinkler also agreed that the petitioner, Saba Sands LLC of Sarasota, could submit a revised building plan for the commissioners’ consideration.
On June 1, the county’s Environmental Permitting Division staff finally received Saba Sands’ new application for a coastal setback variance.
Then, on June 22, the manager of Environmental Permitting, Howard Berna, responded to Saba Sands, noting staff members’ requests for additional information to supplement the company’s petition package. Berna wrote that staff had deemed the application incomplete at that time.
Filed by Sarasota attorney Stephen Rees, the revised application materials say that the new proposed residential structure would entail 12% less total lot coverage than the existing single-family residence occupies on the 636 Beach Rd. parcel. Moreover, the documents note, the new, four-unit condominium complex would be located no farther seaward of the “current established line of the most seaward allowable construction as previously permitted by Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection” for the existing single-family residence.
The condominium complex also would conform to the county’s Residential Multi-Family 1/Siesta Key Overlay District zoning requirements in regard to daylight plane criteria, allowable density, building setbacks and maximum height, the application points out.
The house standing at 636 Beach Rd. was built in 2000, the application says. It contains 4,090 square feet in two stories over parking, and its distance seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) “varies from approximately 160 [feet] to 166.7 [feet],” the application adds.
The Gulf Beach Setback Line was established in 1979 as the county’s figurative “line in the sand” to foster and protect beach habitat and vegetation which, in turn, protect landward structures during storm events and other incidents involving flooding.
The new structure would extend about 168 feet, 9 inches seaward of the GBSL, the application points out. Its four dwelling units would have a total habitable area of about 13,320 square feet.
The total building footprint, the document notes, would be 5,226 square feet under roof. The planned driveway and walkways would be pervious, the application adds.
A pool and deck area would be located on the roof, the application says.
The new design would have a maximum height of approximately 33 feet, 6 inches “to the top of the upper roof deck slab,” which is below the 35-foot maximum for the zoning district, the application continues. Additional height would be added, as permitted by county regulations, “for decorative architectural appurtenances,” the application points out, noting, “Trellis or shade structures to be determined.”
The previous coastal setback variance application
In August 2020, the County Commission denied Saba Sands’ petition for a six-unit structure that would replace the house at 636 Beach Rd. The design at that time called for 17,106 square feet of living space.
Saba Sands’ representative during that hearing, attorney Stephen Rees of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota, pointed out that two parcels Saba Sands owns seaward of the existing single-family house would remain in their natural state.
However, Commissioner Nancy Detert voiced concern that if the board approved the coastal setback variance petition, that would set “a horrible precedent.”
Saba Sands had cited the “unity of title,” combining those two more seaward lots —which are protected by a conservation easement — with the two lots on which the single-family home stands, in contending that the allowable density for the new construction would be 11 dwelling units.
Referring to other Beach Road property owners, Detert asked Berna, the Environmental Permitting manager, “Do they own their lots in front that probably used to be underwater and now through accretion have sand? Couldn’t they do the exact same thing (as Saba Sands desired)? Or at least ask permission to do it?”
“I imagine they might be able to ask,” Berna replied, as some Beach Road property owners do have undeveloped lots seaward of the county’s Tenacity Lane right of way that are not protected by conservation easements. Construction is not allowed on those easements, he noted.
“Can you in good conscience say (that the owners of the 636 Beach Rd. parcel) would absolutely be the only [ones] out of this group to do that, ever?” Detert asked, referring to the application for the variance.
“I can’t make that definitive statement,” Berna told her.
Following the formal, published denial of the variance petition, Saba Sands filed a claim under the guidelines of the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act (FLUEDRA). Referencing state law, Sarasota attorney William Saba, principal of Saba Sands, claimed that, in denying his petition last year, the commissioners inordinately restricted his use of the property located at 636 Beach Rd.
In his ruling in the FLUEDRA case, special magistrate Tinkler pointed to Section 54 of the County Code, which “prohibits construction or excavation activities seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line and waterward of the Barrier Island Pass Twenty-Year Hazard Line except as otherwise permitted by the code. The code, in part, permits reconstruction of existing homes through a conditional exception permit process.”
Ultimately, Tinkler ruled that the commissioners’ denial of the Saba Sands petition did not appear to be unreasonable or unfair.
In its new application, Saba Sands contends, “Since 1999, there has occurred substantial accretion of the Beach.” It also says that the undeveloped lots seaward of the house at 636 Beach Rd. have come to comprise “a habitat dune system.”
Further, it points out, the mean high water line is about 859 feet seaward of the proposed site of the new construction. In 1998, the two lots on which the existing house stands were approximately 400 feet landward of the mean high water line.
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