Dune destruction sparks concerns

Dune vegetation destruction
- Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Work has temporarily stopped at 102 77th St. after the city was alerted to dune destruction on the Gulf-front site.

Building Official Jim McGuinness visited the site July 7, placing a stop work order on the property after seeing nothing but a cleared lot where mangroves, sea grapes, dunes and sea oats once stood.

During the July 13 city commission meeting, McGuinness said he determined after reviewing the demolition permits obtained for the property, as well as one issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, work had been done that was outside of the scope of work.

He placed a red stop work order tag on the property that he said will remain until a full investigation by the DEP is completed.

A DEP field representative joined McGuinness at the property July 13, McGuinness said, and they both agreed that the dune area disturbed by construction far exceeded what was allowed by the DEP permit. He said next steps will be determined by DEP supervisors.

“The city can’t do anything until the DEP comes back,” Commissioner Pat Morton said.

Permits

Four permits for the property have been issued by the city — one to demolish the two-bedroom home, one for the silt fence around the property, another to install a pool and the last for the silt fence for pool construction.

The DEP permit, issued by the state, allowed for a small section of the dune, mangrove and sea grape protective vegetation to be disturbed during construction with the caveat that it be restored after construction is completed.

McGuinness said the pool is planned for the northwest side of the property.

“The cleared area exceeded the pool area dramatically,” he said.

“That was just really, really tragic,” Chair Judy Titsworth said of the seaward destruction.

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she’d heard from many people who had been shocked by the lack of vegetation as they passed the property on their way to the beach.

“I have no understanding for why a protective barrier was destroyed,” she said. “On this island you can’t do anything that somebody’s not going to see.”

The house

Protective vegetation isn’t the only issue between the property owner and the city. According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office, the property was purchased in January 2016 by Gulf Front Paradise LLC. According to county records, the LLC’s primary address, 102 48th St., Holmes Beach, is owned by local developer Shawn Kaleta.

The 1,883-square-foot under roof single family home was built in 1950 on a .2663 acre lot bordering the Gulf of Mexico and a public access path to the beach.

The two-bedroom, one-bath home is planned for demolition to be replaced with a larger vacation rental home.

According to McGuinness, no permit has been issued yet for reconstruction of the house.

Two Bert Harris claims were lodged against the city March 6 by attorney Aaron Thomas on behalf of the owner. One claim disputes ordinances passed by the city reducing new construction of short-term rentals to four bedrooms or less and maintains an occupancy limit of two person per bedroom or total of six, whichever is greater.

Dune vegetation destruction
– Kristin Swain | Sun

The occupancy claim lists the before condition of the property as “a proposed single-family home consisting of eight bedrooms able to accommodate 20 guests.” The occupancy claim lists a property value loss of $1,420,000 due to the city’s constraints.

The second claim disputes the city’s restrictions on reduced habitable area, parking requirements, pool size and building footprint. In the claim, Thomas said the property was purchased for redevelopment into a 4,514 square foot home for short-term rentals.

The claim lists a property value loss of $900,000.

The city has until Aug. 3, 150 days after the claims were filed with the city, to respond. To date, when addressing Bert Harris claims, commissioners have refused to change city ordinances or offer a settlement to property owners.

Next steps

Until DEP representatives complete their investigation, Mayor Bob Johnson said there’s little for the city to do but wait.

“Until we hear back from the DEP, the stop work order stands,” he said.