By Rachel Brown Hackney
An Easter Egg Grinch causes problems for the children
Although the 15th Annual Easter Egg Hunt & Games sponsored by the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) on March 26 was “a great success,” Treasurer Roz Hyman reported to members during their monthly meeting in April, an upcoming discussion with Sarasota County staff will determine the future of the event at Beach Access 5.
“Everybody was happy,” Hyman said of the latest Easter celebration hosted by SKVA members at Access 5. About 175 children participated, she added, noting, “Actually, I didn’t even get my one complaint this year.” Hyman was referencing the fact that, in spite of overwhelming satisfaction exhibited by the majority of participants each year, she generally fields one negative comment.
Unfortunately one complaint did come in, but not to Hyman. Right after the March 26 event ended, Hyman explained to the 16 people at the April 5 SKVA meeting, she received a call from a member of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff, telling her no more Easter egg hunts would be allowed at Access 5. That employee pointed out of the access, “‘It belongs to all the people in the county,’” she continued, “and we theoretically are blocking it off from people using it that morning.” It ended up taking only one more day to resolve concerns over whether SKVA could continue to use Beach Access 5 for its annual Easter Egg Hunt and Games. SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman told SNL she met with George Tatge, manager of beaches and water access in the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, on Wednesday, April 6. Hyman added that she was pleased to see such a fast resolution to the issue.
Questions had been raised about SKVA members blocking off parking at Access 5 to allow room for families and children to see Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol members, for example, and, this year, learn about beach-nesting birds from Sarasota Audubon representatives. As for her discussion with Tatge, Hyman declined to offer details, but said, “We’re OK” in terms of using Beach Access 5 in the future. In fact, she added, “We’ve already started work on next [year’s event].”
Food Truck Ordinance
Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) Vice President Mark Smith — who also serves as chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce — has voiced concerns about the new food truck ordinance on which county staff has been working on for years, even though any petitions regarding such an operation on Siesta Key would still have to be reviewed by the County Commission during a public hearing.
The latest version of the new regulations is scheduled to be considered by the Sarasota Planning Commission during a May 5 public hearing, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson told SNL on April 15.
Although the document was pulled from that advisory board’s Feb. 18 agenda for potential revisions, Thompson said no changes ended up being made. During the April 5 SKVA meeting, Smith said he would send copies of the ordinance to SKVA board member Russell Matthes — co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants — and Brad Stewart — co-owner of Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar — and other restaurateurs who are members of the Siesta Chamber.
He added that it appeared to him that the drafting of the new ordinance had been “heavily influenced” by the SRQ Food Truck Alliance. That organization first requested revisions to the county’s laws in 2011 to give its members more flexibility in regard to where and how they can operate, Thompson pointed out in a Feb. 18 memo to the Planning Commission. Among his concerns, Smith continued, are the facts that the proposed ordinance eliminates the requirement that a food truck cannot operate within 800 feet of a restaurant, and it would allow a pushcart or vehicle to be as close as 50 feet to a residential district. The latter measurement, he pointed out, “is about as wide as this lot here,” referring to the site of the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, where the SKVA holds its monthly meetings.
Smith added that he knows Chamber members who own restaurants “will not be thrilled about food trucks parked right across the street." In response to a question from Matthes, Smith said the county has “nothing on the books” that would prevent a food truck from operating on the Key. Matthes recalled appearing before the County Commission in October 2012 to oppose the petition of a couple who wanted to operate a food truck business on public right of way next to Canal Road, he added. Smith said he plans to let the Planning Commission and the County Commission know about the SKVA and Chamber concerns.
A new proposal could ease Village parking problems
Another solution to the perpetual parking problem in Siesta Village is percolating, Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) Vice President Mark Smith told members of the merchants’ organization during their monthly session on April 5. He is trying to schedule a meeting with a representative of a valet service, he explained, “to see about how they operate.” If a valet service charged people to park cars on private property in the Village, a certain percentage of the revenue would be turned over to the landowners, Smith explained.
He hhas asked the representative of the valet service to draw up a proposal regarding some of those private properties, Smith added, so Smith can use it in approaching the owners about opening up their lots after business hours.
"It's not going to be a lot of money, but [the valet service does] have insurance; they cover everything,” he pointed out. “I think that would be a real positive step in the right direction,” Smith added. For well more than a year, Smith — who has his own Village business, Smith Architects — has been working on a plan to create supplemental Village parking. During the February SKVA meeting, he explained that, in meetings with county staff, it appeared the cost of creating about 90 new parking spaces out of rights of way around Siesta Village would cost $100,000. However, Smith reported later, county staff had told him no county money would be offered for such a project, and a number of the property owners in the Public Improvement District balked at the county suggestion that they cover the expense.
A county study in 2008, which included all the spots in the Municipal Lot, found 999 available spaces in Siesta Village.
Smith’s research indicated that close to 200 more spots for vehicles could be created through the use of private property, including the shell-covered lot next to The UPS Store on Beach Road — though a special exception from the county would be necessary for use of that area.
After Smith offered his remarks on April 5, Siesta Key Association President Michael Shay noted that during past discussions about creating new public parking areas — such as the private lots at the Michael Saunders & Co. real estate office and Siesta Center, both on Ocean Boulevard — “the biggest roadblock was always the insurance.” Yet, valet services “carry the insurance, so that those private lots are not liable,” Shay added. “This adds a whole different dimension to that [parking] discussion.”
Now it becomes a matter of whether private property owners want to assist with solving the Village parking problem, Shay summed up the situation. “Pretty much,” Smith replied.
When Shay asked what valet parking would cost to make Smith’s proposal work, Smith said the service would charge about $10 per vehicle.
“The question is, Will that fly?” Shay replied, adding that he believes the valet services already operating in the Village work on tips only.
Village Recycling put on hold
During the summer of 2013, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Michael Shay began serious discussions with members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) about the potential for recycling in Siesta Village — a subject near and dear to him, one might say, given his professional background in the recycling business.
After winning encouragement from SKVA members in June 2013 to proceed with the initiative, Shay reported at the organization’s July 2013 monthly meeting that he had identified 12 locations where recycling bins would be most effectively placed, based on the contents of trash dumped at those sites.
Through the following two-and-a-half years, Shay continued to work on the project, though he figuratively bumped into new obstacles along the way. In April, however, he conceded one roadblock has derailed any Village recycling for at least three years: the current maintenance contract for Siesta Village upkeep. “There is no language in the contract about recycling,” he told about 16 SKVA members during their April session.
Even if crews with Buccaneer Landscape Management, which won the Village maintenance contract in August 2014, agreed to empty recycling bins for no extra money, Shay pointed out, county staff had informed him that would not be allowed.
Although county staff had suggested to him that the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. (SKVMC) could pursue a separate bid for recycling, Shay told SNL that would not be economically feasible. (The SKVMC represents all the property owners in the Village Public Improvement District; the fees they are assessed annually cover the cost of upkeep.) Any further talk about recycling, he added in his comments at the SKVA meeting, “has to wait for a new [maintenance] contract.”
The contract the Sarasota County Commission approved with Buccaneer on Aug. 26, 2014 was for three years, at a cost of $129,041.50 per fiscal year. That can be renewed for up to two additional one-year periods, according to the terms.
In response to a SNL request for the county’s side of the situation, Cece pointed out that the SKVMC has not indicated it wants to pursue an entirely new bid process for recycling. Furthermore, she added in an email, “Any new service cost would require an increase in the ad valorem assessment that is set after March 15th of each year for the next fiscal year (October 1st) as per the Clerk of Court to add to the [Public Improvement] District budget.”
Speaking with SNL, Shay cited the situation as an example of government bureaucracy. Nonetheless, he said, “You have to live with it. We’re living with it.”