A group of Siesta Key residents and community leaders are pushing back against a couple’s request for an exception to a Sarasota County coastal setback rule. The group claims the move would set a precedent that might ultimately damage Siesta Key’s fragile beachfront environment.
At a Feb. 19 board meeting, the Sarasota County Commission considered arguments for two exceptions to the county's coastal setback rules: a request by the Siesta Towers Condominium Towers to build a pair of fishing piers 69 feet seaward of the Barrier Island Pass 20-Year Hazard Line, and a request by a pair of Siesta residents for the construction of a two-story, single-family residence and paver driveway located 176.5 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line for the property at 162 Beach Road.
The fishing pier request, which involves restoring structures that have existed since 1972, met little resistance from Siesta residents. The County Commission unanimously approved the request.
The Gulf Beach Setback Line exemption request for the Beach Road property, however, provoked a groundswell of resistance from Siesta residents, with the Siesta Key Association openly vowing to fight the proposal.
Attorney William Merrill presented the request to the County Commission Feb. 19 on behalf of his clients, Ronald and Sonia Allen. After a series of public comments in opposition to the proposal, Merrill pushed to shelve the request until April 23. Merill, who did not return calls for comment, said his clients were involved in discussions with neighbors about potentially modifying their construction plans and “wanted extra time to talk out those negotiations.”
The property in question was platted in 1926 as Lot 12 of the Mira Mar Beach Subdivision. All of the proposed construction would occur seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line on native dune habitat. The coastal setback rules — last modified in 2004 — prevent construction on the dune habitat that helps prevent beach erosion and mitigates the effects of floods from significant storm events, such as Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012, which led to significant flooding of Beach Road. The rules also protect the security of beachfront structures by preventing construction on terrain that is highly variable and prone to flooding and erosion.
Siesta residents attending the Feb. 19 meeting opposed delaying the debate until April, claiming the postponement would exclude the voices of seasonal residents who frequently return to their summer homes after Easter.
“A lot of people who would be speaking here today go home over the summer,”Comissioner Nora Patterson said, referring to the delayed review of the setback exception request. “The later that it is, the more it really isn't terribly fair to those folks … even April 23 is really pushing the envelope of people who tend to go home at Easter.”
Bruce Appleton, co-owner of a condominium at 5400 Ocean Blvd., pushed to have the discussion delayed for a year to ensure seasonal residents had a role in the debate.
SKA board member Peter van Roekens agreed with Appleton: “If it can't be done sooner, maybe the suggestion (to delay a year) is a good one.”
The County Commission ultimately decided, however, to delay the discussion until April, citing the need for county staff to review any potential changes to the proposal that might arise from ongoing discussions between the Allens and their neighbors.
“If the application were to change as a result of those discussions,” County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh said, “staff would need extra time to assess those changes.”
The County Commission previously denied two requests to waive GBSL rules at the site. A 1992 request to construct 160.25 feet past the GBSL was denied by a 4-0 vote, as was a 2013 request, which was defeated 5-0.
The property owners subsequently revised the site plans to reduce the overall intensity of construction on the property, reducing the habitable area of the 2013 request by 1,656 square feet and removing plans for a swimming pool and pool deck.
A county report determined that the proposed structure would be subject to periodic flooding and overwash during storm events and that “a substantial amount of dune habitat and native dune vegetation impacts will result from the proposed construction.”
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner stated the association’s opposition to the proposal, claiming its approval would set a dangerous precedent for the Key, potentially opening the door to other exemption requests that might ultimately degrade the integrity of the natural sand dune system that offers protection from flood damage.
“We want to protect the people who already live here and maintain some sort of standard,” Luckner said. “It is all for a larger reason; it’s for the security and safety of the people already living here. It’s a difficult issue, but it’s a precedence-setting issue.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]