A "blank slate" at Indian Beach



Grand oak trees punctuate a 5-acre property at 916 Indian Beach Drive that is for sale for $12.9 million. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-23-2013.

Grand oak trees punctuate a 5-acre property at 916 Indian Beach Drive that is for sale for $12.9 million. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-23-2013.

Of the many unusual residential properties for sale in the area, the one at 916 Indian Beach Drive in Sarasota is second to none.

It is not the house that makes it special, although one of the two houses on the parcel is notable.

Instead, it is the land: Five acres dotted with magnificent oaks, some of them hundreds of years old, overlooking the expanse of northern Sarasota Bay.

The site has 600 feet of bay frontage with a seawall and slender, rock-strewn beach.

"Five minutes from downtown," says Joel Schemmel, the Realtor with Premier Sotheby's International Realty tasked with selling this behemoth. "You won't find anything like this anywhere."

Of course, not every buyer wants 5 acres, or can pay $12.9 million, the listed price, for them. So Schemmel faces a challenge.

To meet it, the Premier Sotheby's team, showing a facility for clever public-relations campaigns, invented an architectural design competition to help expose the property. "Inspire Indian Beach" was announced in February to invite architectural students to come up with a plan for a house of at least 6,000 square feet for the property.

Mark Sultana, who drew plans for a 13,000-square-foot house on the land for client Howard Jacobs, is one of the judges, along with Miami Herald architecture critic Beth Dunlop.

A "third vote" is assigned to members of the public who voted at a Selby Gardens event last Tuesday. The winner will be announced Thursday during an invitation-only reception at 916 Indian Beach Drive, when attendees will add to the "public vote" total.

The students are vying for a $2,500 prize. They were told to incorporate the property's elevation, waterfront and oak trees in their designs while maximizing views.

The property has enough open space to accommodate a very large house on just one floor; it would have to be elevated in the high-risk flood area.

"You have a blank slate," said Schemmel. "I can't claim the idea" of the competition. "We sat down and thought, 'It's mostly land. How do you create some energy around land from a marketing standpoint?'"

The student finalists are Michael Albert of the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Mass.; Bilat Justyna and Bylica Katarzyna of Gdansk University of Technology in Poland; Alina Khmatullina of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Aaron Kirchhoff of the New York Institute of Technology's School of Architecture and Design in Manhattan; and Ana Petkovic and Srdjan Prcovic of the Moscow Architectural Institute in Russia.

"It is nice to see the future architects creating concepts that could be built," said Sultana, noting that one of the plans "far exceeded the rest of the submissions. Some of the concepts are more refined, but overall they are good."

One of the proposals calls for a starkly modernist, T-shaped house with one section over water.

"I love the plans," said Schemmel, "the young, inventive element of it. And why not?"

One drawback of the property: A dock cannot be built, said Schemmel, although at least one once existed. Nothing remains except the ruined pilings. Another consideration: Part of the land is in the high-risk FEMA "velocity" flood zone; the remainder is in the "AE" zone. Both zones have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year; in a velocity zone, moving water is expected during a storm-surge event.

Sultana said the southeast corner of the property has an Indian midden near the entry. "It should not affect the construction of any building," he noted.

Howard Jacobs, in control of trusts or LLCs, according to state records, assembled the 5 acres by acquiring contiguous parcels over a five-year period, said Schemmel. One house was torn down; two others were retained.

One of them is a 1935 bayfront house that was designed by Thomas Reed Martin, Sarasota's leading architect of the first half of the 20th century. Once white with neoclassical elements, the house has been remodeled with a more contemporary look and is now baby blue. It was called Old Oaks by its original owner, Earl Hudson McLeod.

On the north side of the property, near Indian Beach Road, a second house is envisioned as a home office or construction headquarters.

Neighbors objected when old cabbage palms were cleared along the property's bayfront. Google Earth's aerial photo of the site was taken during that process and still shows dozens of palm trunks lying on their sides.

"They were furious," said Pat Taylor, who has lived across the street for more than 30 years. "Our neighborhood is very protective."

At one point, a sign was posted on the gate at Indian Beach Road reassuring neighbors that the trees were removed with a proper permit and that new trees would be planted, Taylor said. That hasn't happened yet.

"I was sad to see the trees go," said David Jennings, an Indian Beach resident since 1992, "but it opened the property up, and he appears to be taking good care of his oak trees."


The area is the cradle of the Sarasota community — William Whitaker settled just to the south in the 1840s. Fort Armisted, built for the Second Seminole War in 1840, "is believed to have been built within 50 to 100 yards of that property, if not on it," said Jennings, who has studied the history of the Indian Beach area.

Later, the area was used by Cuban fishermen, who established "ranchos."

The site also contained one of Sarasota's oldest houses before it was torn down more than a decade ago. Jennings said "neighborhood lore" dated the house to the 1880s. Just to the south, architect Frank Folsom Smith's house dates to the 1890s.

Well before that, thousands of years before, aboriginal peoples lived and fished along the shore and piled shells in mounds. These Indian middens add contour to the Indian Beach and Whitaker Bayou neighborhoods.

"That is the magic piece of dirt," said Jennings. "Maybe it is the elevation, but that piece of land has been attracting people for 8,000 years. It is a one-of-a-kind property."

In 1998, the McLeod family subdivided land to the east of the Thomas Reed Martin house and sold six home sites. They now make up the secluded Old Oaks subdivision, through which one must drive to reach one entrance to 916 Indian Beach Drive. The 1935 house was saved for use by the McLeod family.

The estate of Richard McLeod sold the Martin house in 2004 for $3.5 million to 916 Indian Beach Drive LLC.

Title to the property was transferred several more times, starting in 2011, among trusts managed by Howard Jacobs, according to county and state records. Finally, the Dershavitz Trust transferred the property on Dec. 30, 2012, to 840 Indian Beach LLC for $10.8 million.

"This was done for planning purposes," said Schemmel, who emphasized that he is "not privy" to the details of the property's title history. Jacobs is living in California; Schemmel said he is not willing to be interviewed.

Regarding Schemmel's $12.9 million price, Jennings said, "As a real estate broker, I was not taken aback by the Realtor's sense of value. It has no comparable."

"This would be an amazing 5,000-square-foot home with a big park around it," said Schemmel, "or it could be a 20,000-square-foot home."

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: April 28, 2013
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