By Rachel Brown Hackney
On a 4-1 vote, the Sarasota County Commission essentially told the owners of two parcels on Siesta Key’s Beach Road that they can accept the $2,850,000 the county is willing to pay for the property, or they can file suit against the county for preventing them from building homes on the Gulf-front land.
The board members also made it clear on Sept. 13 that they would not impose restrictions sought by the owner of the parcel at 168 Beach Road — Wendy B. Cooper, trustee of the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1 — if the county ends up buying that land.
The commissioners further directed staff to make the offer again in a timely fashion.
A county staff report provided to the commission in advance of the regular meeting on Sept. 13 said the trust had requested designation of that property as a preserve, “with the only allowable improvement” to be a 10-foot-wide walkway from Beach Road “toward the Gulf of Mexico along the northerly boundary of the Property.”
The memo added, “An additional restrictive condition states that Sarasota County remove all invasive vegetation on the Property within one year of purchase,” and if the county could not accomplish the work within that timeframe, “the owner of 145 Beach Road would have the right to remove the invasive vegetation at the county’s expense.”
The owner of the property at 145 Beach Road also is Wendy B. Cooper, trustee of the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1, county property records show.
The restrictions were part of a verbal counter offer the county received from the owners of the two parcels on April 27. Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey, who own the 162 Beach Road land, wanted $1.7 million for it, the staff report noted, while Cooper wanted $1.8 million, for a total of $3.5 million.
After two failed motions from Commissioner Michael Moran and Commissioner Nancy Detert, a motion by Commissioner Alan Maio prevailed at the conclusion of almost one hour and 10 minutes of discussion on Sept. 13. Maio called for repeating the county’s March offer, with “no … strings attached.”
Commissioner Charles Hines seconded the motion, which won approval from all the board members except Detert.
The county would pay $1,400,000 for 162 Beach Road and $1,450,000 for 168 Beach Road.
Detert made the first motion, which called for the board to inform the owners that the county was not interested in moving forward with the acquisitions. That died for lack of a second.
Moran later made a motion calling for the board to split the difference between county staff’s March offer and the owners’ April counter offer. That would give the Allens $1,550,000, he said, while the trust would receive $1,625,000.
It died for lack of a second, too.
During the discussion, Hines, especially, focused on the fact that Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show that the Allens paid $5.4 million for the parcels at 162 and 168 Beach Road in May 2009, but the land never has been valued close to that amount.
“It does not make sense,” Hines added, noting that the highest value the Property Appraiser’s Office ever gave the 162 Beach Road land was $1,215,100 in 2014. In fact, Hines pointed out, the 2017 value of the parcel is $137,500.
The current value of the land at 168 Beach Road, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, is $140,500.
Yet, the $5.4-million figure “is still being used today against us, to say, ‘You guys are getting a good deal,’” Hines continued. “I would like to buy these two properties, but not at this [price] and not with these stipulations.”
William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota, who represents the Allens, explained that after the commission denied the Allens’ last petition for a Coastal Setback Variance to build a house on the 162 Beach Road parcel — in October 2015 — the Allens were able to get the taxable value of the property lowered.
Addressing Merrill, who also was speaking for Wendy Cooper’s attorney, Hines said that the county’s offer is “cash in the bank.” If the Allens and Cooper do not want to accept that, Hines added, they can file suit against the county over the economic value of the land, and “let the lawyers fight that out.”
However, he continued, if the Allens and Cooper took the county’s offer, that would “put money in their pocket very quickly; a lot of money.”
If they choose to file suit against the county, Hines also pointed out, they run the risk of having the court rule for the county.
“I agree with that,” Chair Paul Caragiulo responded.
Since he was elected to the board in 2012, Hines pointed out, he has heard four petitions for county Coastal Setback Variances from the Allens, who sought first to build two homes — one each on the 162 and 168 Beach Road parcels and, later, just on the 162 Beach Road land. The commission denied their request each time, he added, because the construction would have been fully seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). That line was implemented to preserve the coastal environment — including dunes — and offer protection to nearby property owners when storms batter the island.
Hines acknowledged that the board has allowed some structures, such as pools, to be built partly beyond the GBSL. “But we’ve kind of held the line when it comes to living structures in this situation.” Referring to the Beach Road parcels, he added, “The entire property is past the Gulf Beach Setback Line.”
Detert also commented on an assertion Merrill made regarding the board’s granting of CSV petitions: “I’m always shocked when Mr. Merrill keeps pointing out that 90% of the time we grant variances. … I think we ought to work on that number to make it 20% of the time, because, obviously, we’re doing something wrong. So it would be in [Mr. Merrill’s] best interest to quit saying that.”
Merrill told the board that the Allens had evacuated to North Carolina before Hurricane Irma struck, and he had been unable to reach them for the past week. He indicated, therefore, that he was not certain what their response would be to the board’s decision.
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