Voluntary demolition concerns arise at workshop

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By ChrisAnn Allen

Sarasota County is considering amending its comprehensive plan and unified development code (UDC) to allow aging buildings to be demolished and rebuilt instead of repaired, through a process it has named the Siesta Key Voluntary Demolition Project.
The county Nov. 20 hosted an online neighborhood workshop to answer questions from area residents and owners on the stipulations of the amendments, if approved.
Concerns centered around exploitation of overdevelopment, density and intensity.

Spiegel

Mark Spiegel, former president of the Siesta Key Coalition (a community organization working to protect quality of life for Siesta Key residents), said he understands the intention of the proposed change is related to safety but is worried about the results.
“My biggest concern is that unintended consequences follow — that the real people that will initiate and exploit this opportunity to basically get around the underlying zoning for density are third-party developers that aren’t the original owners trying to protect their interest and rebuild their condominiums; that this will really end up being an avenue for future developers to buy-out owners so that they can build a more transient property and circumvent the underlying zoning by doing so,” Spiegel said.
County planner Everett Farrell responded that he agrees that is “a possibility that outside influence will come in to buy up these units,” because short-term rentals are allowed in the zoning district, and noted “It is an issue.”
However, Farrell also pointed out any person could take control of the board of an existing condo, currently.
In early 2022 the county was approached by representatives of Sea Club V. The condominium, located at 6744 Sarasea Circle on Siesta Key, has structural deficiencies due to age and representatives are attempting to initiate a process which would allow voluntary demolition to rebuild the 41-unit timeshare property.
Since the 2022 discussion, county staff has met with stakeholders and considered amendments to both the comprehensive plan, the county’s guiding document for growth and development, and the UDC, which includes zoning and land development regulations.
County commissioners on Sept. 12 considered the fine print attached to this question in the form of a publicly submitted comprehensive plan amendment
During that meeting, they unanimously approved a motion authorizing staff to move forward with the publicly initiated comp plan amendment, with an accompanying UDC amendment allowing the voluntary demolition of multi-family, nonconforming structures — namely, aging condominiums — to be rebuilt according to modern codes before a storm causes destruction.
Based on that meeting and information provided by stakeholders and subsequent staff suggestions, the board guidance presented Nov. 20 by Farrell included:

  • New construction to contain the same type and number of residential units.
  • Aside from existing non-conforming density, the requirement that any new construction follow the residential multifamily/Siesta Key Overlay District standards of the UDC, which includes setbacks, height and lot coverage.
  • No commercial or ancillary uses that would not be residential in nature.
  • The limitation of no variances to the UDC requirements being included in the proposed UDC text amendment and the comprehensive plan amendment.
  • Allowing demolition/rebuilding of any structure built prior to 2000.
  • Requiring a unit count and type prior to a demolition permit.
    During the Nov. 20 workshop, Rita Miotti, a Siesta Key resident, asked Farrell for clarification on whether, with the new construction, larger units which could hold more people would be allowed but density would be restricted to the same as before – and how this would be monitored for violations.
    “I don’t understand how you can justify going higher because you need to have bigger units and still keep the density where it needs to be,” Miotti said.
    Farrell gave background, stating that the initial board guidance said the new building needed to be in the footprint of the old structure. But, when it came before the commissioners for feedback, they said they would keep the unit count the same but the size of each unit could increase to be less “dated.”
    However, as to how many people will occupy the unit, he said her concerns were founded. “We’re very short on unit count police,” he quipped, adding that the county doesn’t plan to check how many people are in the space but the intent is for units to remain 1:1 or 2:2 if that is what they were prior to the rebuild.
    Bob Luckner, acting president of the Siesta Key Coalition, asked Farrell if he believes this comp plan amendment is in the public interest. Farrell responded that safety, specifically the damage to Sea Club V, was the “driving factor” for the amendments and stated “I do think the intent is that you end up with safer buildings out on Siesta Key.”
    Farrell closed the workshop by explaining the county will include the feedback from the workshop as information for the planning commission and for the state to review, followed by an adoption hearing before the commissioners as a large-scale amendment.
Owners at Sea Club V are facing significant structural issues. (file photo)
ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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