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Sarasota County to Siesta Key couple: Tear down beach barrier

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

SARASOTA COUNTY — County officials want Siesta Key homeowners who built a rope fence next to a public beach access to remove it by Friday.

The Sarasota County Environmental Protection Division told Michelle and Greg Olson in a letter on Jan. 9 that their rope fence installed in December and a rock barrier that has been in place since 1974 violates county codes.

Since buying a $3.5 million home on the beach in May 2017, the couple has called police 120 times to report criminal mischief on their property near Siesta Key Beach Access No. 1. They made 92 calls in the last six months.

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Footage provided to the Herald-Tribune taken from August to December 2019 shows late-night partying, people urinating and vandalizing their property, and having sex on the beach behind their home — an area they claim is private property.

The property south of the public beach, in the 3900 block of Shell Road, remains private property down to the mean high water mark.

“We shouldn’t have to put up with illegal activity,” Michelle Olson told the Herald-Tribune this month. “Nobody wants that in their backyard. They poop out here. I have pictures of that. They pee out here. We have hundreds of people. They go in our yard. They stick diapers in the rocks.”

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But county officials said the disgruntled couple was not allowed to build on the beach, citing the Gulf Beach Setback Line established by the Sarasota County Coastal Setback Code in 1979, and the Barrier Island Pass 20-year Hazard Line set in 1986, which protect coastal regions from actions that jeopardize their integrity and accelerate coastal erosion.

The letter said the Coastal Setback Code promotes public health, safety and welfare by preventing and controlling erosion and flooding, and guaranteeing lateral pedestrian access afforded by the Public Trust Doctrine and the Florida Constitution.

The letter is signed by Sarasota County Environmental Protection Division Manager Howard Berna and Environmental Specialist Staci Tippins.

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Sarasota County began investigating the public complaint with photographs of the Olson’s installation of a post and rope fence, which extends along the north and south side of their property boundary. It was located on the open beach waterward of the hazard line, the letter states.

Staff found rocks installed parallel to shore along the fenceline had no county permit history and may likely extend seaward of the hazard line.

A review of county records shows “it was evident” that the rocks were installed by a previous owner prior to the Olsons’ ownership.

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However, they are unpermitted, the letter stated, noting that the couple must take corrective measures by Friday. That includes removing the post and rope fence, applying for an “After-the-Fact Water and Navigational Control Authority permit to reposition the rocks landward of the hazard line; or an “After-the-Fact Coastal Setback Variance” to keep the rocks seaward of the line. They may not alter, modify, add to or reposition any rock and/or concrete associated with the “historic remains of the shore-perpendicular groin structures,” without authorization from Sarasota County.

Sarasota County spokeswoman Brianne Grant said the “historic remains” refer to an old street or sidewalk that once existed behind along the shore. The County cannot confirm if the rocks the Olsons used once belonged to that structure.

Some of the pieces look like old sidewalk curbing.

The Olsons did not immediately return calls seeking comment for this story.