By Phil Colpas
Back on March 29, in a rare unanimous ruling against development, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners upheld its earlier vote to deny a coastal setback variance for a Siesta Key property on Mira Mar Beach.
On Jan. 13, 2021, the board unanimously denied a request by Siesta Key property owner Michael Holderness to construct a two-story-over-parking, single-family home entirely seaward of North Beach Road, and just north of Beach Access 3. The board cited the dynamic shoreline and the impact the proposal would have on the dune system as its primary reasons for denial.
Holderness appealed the verdict.
According to an interoffice memorandum to the board from Frederick Elbrecht, county attorney: In April 2021, the county attorney’s office received a request for relief from Siesta Beach Lots LLC, which invoked the requirements of the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act (FLUEDRA). Holderness is listed as the primary of Siesta Lots LLC.
After the board denied the coastal setback variance, Siesta Beach Lots filed a FLUEDRA petition, alleging that the board’s action was “unreasonable” and “unfairly burdens the use of the property.” Siesta Beach Lots argued that its application met all code criteria, and that the board’s action was “arbitrary” and “capricious” based on the board’s prior approval of other coastal setback variances. Siesta Beach Lots also alleged that the board considered “erroneous” and “irrelevant” information during its “quasi-judicial” hearing.
The special magistrate conducted an unsuccessful mediation on June 18, 2021, and hearings on the merits of the petition on June 18, Nov. 3 and Feb. 28, 2022. On March 1, 2022, after the conclusion of the hearing, Siesta Beach Lots disclosed to the special magistrate that a “building restrictive covenant” was placed on the property pursuant to a contract entered on Jan. 20, 2021.
As part of his analysis, the special magistrate found that Siesta Beach Lots had contracted away its right to construct a single-family home prior to the board’s denial of the coastal setback variance.
“Through a restrictive covenant, Siesta Beach Lots limited itself to the construction of a tiki hut on the property. Essentially, Siesta Beach Lots rendered its own application development order moot,” read the letter. “Therefore, the special magistrate concluded that the board’s development order is not unreasonable, nor does it unfairly burden the property.”
On March 8, 2022, the county attorney’s office received the special magistrate’s recommendation that the board’s development order should remain undisturbed. The county attorney’s office followed suit, recommending that the board accept the special magistrate’s recommendation.
The board voted unanimously to accept the recommendation.
Assistant County attorney David Pearce represented the board during this litigation.
The Siesta Sand reached out to Holderness, who said he made an under-market-value offer in March for the county to buy the property with the stipulation that the county use it as a public beach and install a lifeguard.
“The county denied the right to enjoy any reasonable use of the property but continues to use it as an unmanaged de facto public beach,” Holderness said. “We will continue efforts to hold our government accountable and pursue remedies in federal court.”
That fight continued July 11, when the trial was slated to begin again in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
Siesta Beach Lots is seeking $4.8 million to settle two lawsuits that Holderness previously filed against the county in 2019 and 2020. Siesta Beach Lots owns Lots 14, 15, 16 and 17 of Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision. The properties sit alongside Beach Access 3.
The county would pay $4.8 million for Lot 14, where Holderness has been denied permission to build a house. In addition, Holderness would provide Lots 15 and 16 to the county “at no cost,” and would trade Lot 17 to the county in exchange for a small piece of property next to Fire Station 13, just south of the Siesta Key public beach.
Holderness also wants the county to provide a lifeguard stand at Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision. He said he would pay for a second lifeguard stand at Block 8.
A sticking point has been the lifeguards. According to Holderness, “County staff have indicated a reluctance to provide a lifeguard station at this location due to the presence of rip tides along the shoreline and the potential liabilities associated with taking on such an operation.”
Through his lawyers, Holderness released the following statement: “The parties have ongoing settlement discussions, and we hope to achieve a favorable resolution very soon.”
He did not respond to requests for further comment.