Despite objection by Smith, waterfront condo approved

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By ChrisAnn Allen

Despite the objections of the commissioner who resides on Siesta Key, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners on July 12 approved a variance request relating to a plan to build an 11-unit condo complex at 77 Beach Rd. It will replace the nearly 100-year-old structure that is the current six-unit Sunset Beach Resort, built in 1925.
It will be knocked down, along with a single-family structure behind it at 70 Avenida Veneccia that was built in 1977.

The property at 77 Beach Road that will be demolished. (photo by John Morton)

The coastal setback variance that was approved allows the new complex to extend a maximum of 75 feet further seaward of the gulf beach setback line – a line established in 1979 as a representative boundary line limiting seaward construction for the protection of structures landward of the coastal habitat.
The project will occur in a coastal high hazard area. According to the county’s comprehensive plan, in part, it “is the area below the elevation of the Category 1 storm surge line … and is an area particularly vulnerable to the effects of coastal flooding from tropical storm events.”
District 2 Commissioner Mark Smith, an architect of 40 years who represents the area on Siesta Key where the project will take place, cast the only dissenting vote. Smith motioned for a denial of the resolution, which was not supported beyond a second by District 4 Commissioner Joe Neunder, for the purpose of discussion.
Smith asserted the requested variance extends beyond what is necessary for the project and the proposed plan would increase density and intensity in an area which aerial photographs show was under water in 2012.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It just so happens that the Lord’s been giving sand to Siesta Key recently,” said Smith, who noted that the area, based upon historical data, “is temporarily above water.”
He said his biggest issue with granting a variance is based on minimizing the amount of construction seaward of the gulf beach setback line, and on a barrier island in general. The variance, Smith said, would increase the habitable area seaward of the line by 514% and create a 175% increase in non-habitable space, on what are shifting sands.
Smith suggested that the applicant build a structure that is smaller.
“Again, going from six motel units to 11, somewhere in between that would be more reasonable,” he said.
Attorney Matt Brockway of Icard and Merrill, representing applicant Sunset Beach Resort LLC who bought the two parcels for a combined $10 million in 2021, emphasized that the current structures are nonconforming and do not meet the modern county code, the Florida building code, and FEMA and Florida Department of Environmental Protection requirements and regulations. He also said his client’s request is the minimum variance necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.
Brockway said that not allowing the variance would “impose an unreasonable or unjust hardship on the land,” and stated the requested use would not impact native or sea turtle habitats or coastal systems and the applicant voluntarily prepared and submitted a dune enhancement and preservation plan for the area.
Additionally, Brockway said the proposed development would be a less intense use as the current six-unit motel and event venue is occupied 90% of the time, turns over every four days and, on average, hosts 24 events per year with approximately 200 guests per event with 50 vehicles.
He said, based on the size of the property, 14 dwelling units could be built, but the applicant is proposing 11, and all construction will take place on previously developed land about 450 feet from the mean high-water line.

The property at 70 Avenida Veneccia. (photo by John Morton)

As part of his presentation, Brockway also showed aerial images which included the neighboring properties and pointed out the commission granted similar variances to the six closest parcels.
“It’s common sense,” Brockway said. “You’re replacing these aged structures that don’t meet modern codes with a new, modern structure that is able to better withstand storm events.”
Smith disagreed. “This is not the minimum use of this property,” he said, adding that with a different design the entire property could likely be constructed landward of the gulf beach setback line.
“I believe this is too much and not in the spirit of a coastal setback variance,” Smith added.
District 1 Commissioner Mike Moran motioned to approve the variance, which was seconded by District 3 Commissioner Neil Rainford, and it passed 4-1.
Moran said he understands Smith’s concerns, but the parcel is not only already developed but is so with something noncompliant and nonconforming. He said new construction would meet current criteria with no impact to the surrounding habitat, and stated he stands behind the previous variance approvals to the neighboring properties.
Rainford agreed, stating he had a residence on a barrier island with a neighboring nonconforming structure and during a hurricane part of the home blew apart, damaging an adjacent structure.
“I think it is very important we bring as much as we can up to the current standard of building code,” Rainford said.

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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