Despite concerns, beach house approved

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By Ned Steele

Going against a staff recommendation and the vote of commissioner Mark Smith, the Sarasota County Commission has greenlighted construction of a two-story, one family home on the beach side of Beach Road, just off Access 4.
With its 3-1 decision after a Nov. 28 hearing, the board accepted the applicant’s argument that the property is safely far enough from potential storm waves, and rejected two key concerns raised by opponents: that future beach erosion could jeopardize the proposed house, and that its construction would destroy too much dune habitat.
Third time was the charm for the plan to develop 168 Beach Rd. Twice before, in 1991 and 2012, the commission had opposed proposals to build a home on the site.
This time, principal owner Rebecca Keiver and her representatives submitted evidence to show that the beach just beyond the property has been expanding by 18 feet a year since 2001, placing the planned house 504 feet from today’s mean high-water mark.
But county environmental staff, looking back farther, cited historical evidence suggesting that over time the beach could just as likely erode as expand. “Sand comes and sand goes,” said the environmental official, Howard Berna. He also cited technical objections to the development request in recommending that the board reject the application.

An artist’s rendering of the beach house proposed by Rebecca Keiver,

But Keiver’s representative, William Galvano, called Berna’s concern about future erosion “speculative.” The 21st century trend of beach growth “appears to be continuing,” he said.
Additionally, commissioner Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, noted that the property is currently the site of expansive dune growth, some of which would be lost by the development.
“The entire site is a dune habitat,” he said, and building the house would “basically destroy several thousand square feet” of the beach vegetation.
But ultimately the board majority sided with the owner’s right to develop the site and accept the risk of future storm damage. Commissioners cited not only the beach expansion trend, but the revelation that the county has already labeled the site developable, assessing it at $1.58 million and taxing the owner for $22,383 yearly – “for a parcel that is essentially unusable,” Galvano said. “That makes it a fairness issue.”
The development plan, Galvano said, moved the home’s location 12 feet back from a prior application, and made other concessions to environmental concerns.
One of the application’s apparent strengths was the architectural design’s appeal. While Berna noted the house would be larger than some neighboring ones, Keiver flipped that coin with an alternate perspective. Calling the proposed home’s style “in keeping with Sarasota’s architecture,” she voiced hope that it would influence future low-density residential development on the Key.
“If I can start a trend and start building a beautiful home that is more modest, not a hotel home, maybe other people in this area will help me keep the beach as pretty as it is,” she said.

The location of the proposed house is highlighted in red. (image courtesy of Sarasota County)

The site is currently zoned multi-family residential, and Keiver maintained that similar sites along the same stretch of Beach Road already were, or could legally become, multi-family “hotel homes.”
Indeed, the design for the property was such that not even the application’s critics could object to it. Siesta Key Association representative Catherine Luckner said she was “very impressed” by the renderings, although she made clear the civic group could not support the plan because of concerns about erosion and flooding.Renderings submitted with the application show the house as a two-level rectilinear affair with clean, simple lines rising above a pool and pool deck, with an adjacent driveway.
If built as proposed it will be, according to Keiver and her representatives, a more attractive, appropriate and storm-resilient structure than many of its neighbors. Alternatively, say the plan’s opponents, it could be a disaster waiting to happen someday.
The Gulf of Mexico holds the deciding vote.

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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