162 Beach Road Update
In October 2016, the Sarasota County Commission authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer and staff to negotiate with the owners of the parcels at 162 and 168 Beach Road in an effort for the county to buy the property. As Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained, if staff were successful, the property would expand opportunities for public access to the Gulf of Mexico.
Almost exactly a year earlier, the County Commission for the third time had turned down a request by Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey to build a three-story structure on the 162 Beach Road site. Afterward, William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota — their attorney — sought the approval of the county’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council (PARC) for the parcels to be considered for county acquisition under the Neighborhood Parkland Program and Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP). Merrill was representing not only the Allens but also Wendy B. Cooper, trustee of the Burton M. Cooper Shelter Trust No. 1, which owns the 168 Beach Road lot.
Both parcels won the necessary PARC approval, and both were ranked as high priority sites, Merrill told the County Commission on Oct. 11, 2016.
However, the fate of those lots as county park property appeared to be imperiled, as the County Commission discussed ways to carve out funds to help pay for the North Extension of The Legacy Trail.
During a review of property under consideration for purchase through the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, county staff estimated the expense of the 162 and 168 Beach Road lots at a combined $2,950,000.
Commissioner Alan Maio was the first to tackle the issue on March 29: “I’m reluctant to even talk about [the parcels] because I know the Office of the County Attorney is involved in that.”
Commissioner Nancy Detert added that she did not believe the property should be under consideration for county purchase, also referencing Merrill’s threat of a lawsuit after the October 2015 board denial of the Allens’ petition for a Coastal Setback Variance.
Commissioner Charles Hines concurred with Maio’s remark, while Commissioner Mike Moran skirted the issue.
Chair Paul Caragiulo said only that he agreed with the board majority on the topic.
As the commissioners subsequently began voting to remove items from the Parkland Program list, Detert proposed eliminating the Beach Road parcels. “It doesn’t mean [they are] off the list forever and ever,” she pointed out.
Then Carolyn Brown told the board, “There has been an offer on [the parcels].”
“Conditioned on board approval,” County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh was quick to add.
The county could use cash or take on debt for a transaction involving those parcels, DeMarsh said.
Merrill has been in touch with county staff to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue further, Brown noted.
Detert finally made a motion to remove the Beach Road parcels from the list, with the $2,950,000 county purchase estimate to go toward The Legacy Trail. It died for lack of a second.
“Guys not feeling adventurous today?” she joked, prompting some laughter among her colleagues.
“People are reluctant to cross you,” Caragiulo teased her.
“Apparently not,” she replied.
Then Hines suggested DeMarsh talk one-on-one with each board member about the status of the negotiations over the Beach Road parcels “and give us some better clarity of the status of the situation. I think that would help.”
“We would be glad to do that,” DeMarsh responded.
After learning more information about the issue, Hines continued, he might be willing to second Detert’s motion during a later budget workshop.
“As always,” Caragiulo said, “Commissioner Hines is very lucid. … Let’s move on.”