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Island Chatter February 2018

Staff Report

Lifeguards make a rescue in bitterly cold weather

   On Jan. 3, the average Sarasota resident who has adapted to the balmy Florida winters was shivering on land. Yet, two Sarasota County lifeguards proved once again that first responders take their responsibilities very seriously, even in very uncomfortable circumstances.

   Siesta resident Michael Shay, who lives on Big Sarasota Pass, went out of his home about 4 p.m. on Jan. 3 to pick up his mail. He immediately spotted a Sarasota County Fire Department truck, an EMS unit and two Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office vehicles in his driveway. Seeing no people, he walked around to the Gulf side of his property, he continued, “and that is where the ‘action’ [was].”

   Shay said he learned from Deputy Chris McGregor of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office that boaters had become separated from their vessel in the pass; it had drifted across the channel and become grounded on riprap along the seawall.

   Then the two lifeguards came to the rescue.

   According to the official Emergency Services report from Sarasota County, a call came in at 4:10 p.m. on Jan. 3 to Siesta Key Beach, reporting that two people were “stuck on a sandbar in the pass and their boat had come loose from anchor and [was] drifting out to the [Gulf of Mexico].”

   Lifeguards Brad Ward and Parker Lennertz climbed aboard one of the jet skis they keep at hand for emergency situations and responded about 4:15 p.m. to the scene amid “red flag rough conditions,” the report added.

   “Red flag” means no one should be in the water, to put it succinctly. As Shay characterized the situation to the News Leader, “That was a miserable cold, windy day. Those boaters had no business out there.”

   The temperature at 2:25 p.m. that day was 58, the National Weather Service noted, with wind gusts ranging from 22 to 31 mph out of the northeast.

   Shay said he had put his mail inside the box he keeps in his home for recyclables as he talked with McGregor. “I couldn’t find a spot to put the box down … without getting stuff blown all over the place,” he added, referring to the wind.

   The report says Ward and Lennertz spotted the boat along the rocks, but they proceeded to the “patrons on sandbar to make sure everyone was ok.”

   Their thinking, the report continued, was that if the boat was drivable, they would bring it to the people on the sandbar so the people could leave in it. The folks on the sandbar told them, “‘Yes, the keys are on the boat,’” the report added.

   Therefore, Ward and Lennertz proceeded to the boat. “Ward made sure that there were no leaks, hull damage or engine damage before he hopped upon the boat to make sure [everything] was safe.” He was able to start the engine, the report continued, so he drove it back to the sandbar.

   The people “were very grateful and appreciative lifeguards were there to ensure their safety and to help them get their boat back,” the report added.

   The lifeguards completed the call at 4:35 p.m. and headed back to the beach, the report concluded.

   “It was a nasty day out there,” Shay stressed, and neither lifeguard was wearing a wetsuit. That was all the more reason, he told the News Leader, that he felt Ward and Lennertz deserved recognition — even if they were just doing their job.

Dealing with FDOT

   The Bay Island Siesta Association’s Make Siesta Drive Safer campaign — discussed at the January Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting — reminded SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner of another long process to achieve a desperately needed traffic improvement on the Key.

   People who have lived on the island for many years, she said during that SKA meeting, probably remember that a blinking, caution light used to stand at the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Higel Avenue. “I think it took four deaths [in accidents at that spot],” she added, before the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) finally installed the stoplight.

   Addressing the Make Siesta Drive Safer members, Luckner said, “I think you’ve exceeded that data.”

   Make Siesta Drive Safer members obtained extensive accident data as they launched their effort to enhance driver and pedestrian safety on Siesta Drive from Osprey Avenue to Higel Avenue and on Higel to the Midnight Pass Road intersection.

   The committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association is seeking as much support as possible from residents and other organizations on the Key as it works with FDOT and City of Sarasota and Sarasota County representatives on a variety of initiatives.

Would you like to work on Siesta Key, hiring all positions for new restaurant?

   Summer House Siesta Key Steak and Seafood located at 149 Avenida Messina next to The Cottage in Siesta Key Village is set to open in early February 2018.

   Summer House will be a fine dining steak and seafood house with a casual flair-featuring: carefully sourced steaks, fresh seafood, hand selected wine, and craft cocktails. They are hiring all positions, accepting applications for: Servers, Bussers, Bartenders, Barbacks, Support Staff, Expos, Hostesses, Cooks and more.

   “If you are professional, driven, and passionate about creating awe inspiring experiences for our guests and employees, we would love to meet you. All candidates must be passionate about giving extraordinary service. Come and work for our growing company,” says Katie Spelman Operational Assistant for The Beach Club, The Hub, and The Cottage.

 They offer companywide 25% discount, flexible scheduling and more. Their company includes: The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage, The Beach Club, Mad Moe’s, Smokin Joes and Summer House.

Apply at SiestaKeySummerhouse@gmail.com

Where did Lido go??

   About 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11, heavy sea fog rolled into Big Sarasota Pass. Visibility was so bad, one resident reported, that Lido Key — which is right across the pass — literally disappeared.

   National Weather Service data recorded at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Sarasota noted “Fair” at 4:43 p.m., with visibility listed as 9 miles. Exactly one hour later, at 5:53 p.m., the listing said “Fog,” with visibility having dropped to one-half mile. At 6:53 p.m., the fog was persisting, the data show, with visibility down to a quarter-mile.

   The fog, and then a mix of fog and mist, continued through the night. As of 5:53 a.m. on Jan. 12, the weather report replaced the “Fog/Mist” notation with “Sky Obscured.”

   However, visibility was back up to 2.5 miles by 8:53 p.m. on Jan. 11.

   When an inquiry to Ashley Lusby, media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Department, whether any boating incidents occurred in the area as a result of the rapid deterioration of visibility, she responded that the Venice Fire Department did handle one situation linked to the weather that day, but nothing else appeared in the records that was linked to the weather.

   Lorraine Anderson, public information officer for the City of Venice, provided a copy of the Venice Fire Department report. That said a 75-foot vessel collided with a 34-foot sailboat approximately 8 miles west of the Venice Inlet. “There was poor visibility in the Gulf,” the report adds. “No injuries, but substantial damage to the sailboat.”

   That call was recorded at 4:38 p.m. on Jan. 11, the report notes.

Almost there, Wastewater Treatment Plant

 

waster water plant siesta key

 On April 7, 2016, residents packed the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a number of them eager to vent frustrations about a year-long delay in the schedule to decommission the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant.

   They had come to the SKA’s monthly meeting to hear a report on that project, whose primary goal was to send all of Siesta’s wastewater to county facilities on the mainland, where it would be treated; that would mean no more discharge into the Grand Canal.

   Most important to residents at that April 2016 meeting, several indicated, was that the transformation of the plant would mean no more horrid odors as they tried to engage in outside activities in their neighborhoods.

   Along with running a sewer forcemain and a new water main from the mainland, under the Intracoastal Waterway, to Siesta, the overall project called for transforming the Siesta wastewater plant to a master pumping station, David Cash, the manager of the county’s Water/Wastewater Division, and Gregory S. Rouse, a county engineer who had been involved in the design process, explained to SKA members and guests during that April 2016 meeting.

   Rouse said that residents in a mainland neighborhood where lines had to be laid had protested about the initial design of that facet of the work. Therefore, staff agreed to changes in the design. Knowing that would add a bit to the project schedule, county staff also won permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to allow the Siesta plant to continue to function until June 2018.

   Originally, the county’s plan called for wastewater treatment to end on Siesta as 2016 ended.

   County Commissioner Alan Maio noted the change in the timeline during his “State of the County” update to SKA members as part of their 2016 Annual Breakfast Meeting. Then the news spread among residents who live near the plant.

   As SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner put it during the Jan. 4 SKA meeting, “Everybody was so angry last year.”

   Almost exactly 21 months after that contentious April 2016 meeting, Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, reported to about 70 members and guests on Jan. 4 that the end of the project truly was near.

   If Hurricane Irma had not struck the state in September 2017, Luckner said, he believed the county could have met its late December 2017 deadline for ceasing the treatment of wastewater on Siesta Key.

   The new master pump station was about 90% complete as of early January, he noted, and the final sewer line tie-ins were expected to be completed at night by the end of January. The latter work involved areas of the northern end of the island, Luckner said.

   The new sewer forcemain had been pressure-tested, he continued. Testing at the pump station was planned for late January, as well, he added.

   A few “punch list” items remained to be addressed in the right of way of the Siesta Isles subdivision, where drilling was necessary to feed the forcemain to the plant, Luckner said. Nonetheless, “Everything looks like it’s all set to go,” Luckner pointed out.

That many vehicles!?!

   As a condominium complex resident who lives near Stickney Point Road bridge, Michael Nestor has seen a lot of traffic backups on that bridge. Still, he told the SNL, the situation a day or two after Christmas was the worst ever.

   His understanding, he continued, was that traffic literally was backed up all the way to Beneva Road as visitors and residents labored to reach the fine white quartz sands of Siesta Key Beach.

   In fact, Nestor added, he also understood that drivers were getting ticketed for creating gridlock at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Snake alive! — but barely
  
Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Joe Volpe found an unwelcome “visitor” at his home on Jan. 16, a 12-foot python that appeared to still be alive but that was suffering the effects of the cold temperatures.

   He fished it out of the canal, he said. Volpe ended up contacting a private trapper to come to his home to collect the critter.

   When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was contacted about the snake, Melody Kilborn, public information coordinator in the FWC’s Southwest Region Office in Lakeland, undertook a bit of research. In a Jan. 17 email, she wrote that the type of snake Volpe captured was a reticulated python. From 1989 up until this week, she continued, the FWC “has received 12 verified reports of reticulated pythons in the wild,” adding that they likely escaped from owners or were captive animals or pets that had been released into the wild.

   In response to a related question, Kilborn noted that the pythons found outside south Florida that have been reported to the FWC are not considered to be part of the “breeding population of Burmese pythons.”

   State newspapers have had quite a few stories in recent years about Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

The ‘hotel amendment’ debated

   During the Jan. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Joe Volpe reminded audience members that on Jan. 30, the County Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning text amendment to the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) regulations.

   Volpe and SKA Secretary Joyce Kouba encouraged residents opposed to the amendment to send emails to the County Commission so their comments could be made part of the public record provided to the board in advance of the meeting.

   When an audience member suggested a petition drive, SKA directors responded that individual letters to the commissioners are more effective.

   Vice President Catherine Luckner recommended people use the email bcc@scgov.net, as all the commissioners receive communications sent to that address.

   “I think the [SKA] board is going to do some brainstorming about this,” Luckner said of the proposed amendment, adding that the board planned to send its own letter to the commission.

   On Dec. 7, 2017, the county Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend that the County Commission approve the change to Siesta’s zoning regulations for which the owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille have applied. It would allow a commercial structure as tall as 85 feet to be as close as 2 feet to the sidewalk. The County Commission would need to grant a special exception to make that narrow a distance possible, however.

   Dr. Gary Kompothecras, prominent for his 1-800-Ask-Gary advertising for his chiropractic clinics, has been working for more than a year on a proposal to construct a hotel on property zoned for commercial uses on the Key. His actions led to the zoning regulations proposal.

   In June 2017, the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted 3-2 in support of county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson’s interpretation of the SKOD commercial zoning stipulations. She had provided a letter to Kompothecras’ attorney, Charles D. Bailey III, saying that the SKOD requires a building to be set back a minimum of 25 feet from the sidewalk if the structure is taller than 35 feet. The maximum setback would be half the height of the building. Since 85 feet is the maximum height allowed on the county’s barrier islands, Thompson indicated in a zoning determination letter, the setback for an 85-foot-tall building in the SKOD would be 42.5 feet.

   Bailey, who is with the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, had appealed her determination to the BZA.

   Subsequently, a different attorney acting on Kompothecras’ behalf filed a complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, seeking to overturn the BZA ruling. That case has been on hold as a result of an agreement between the County Commission and Kompothecras, as the proposed zoning text amendment remains under consideration.

   Although residents on Old Stickney Point Road are convinced Kompothecras has plans to erect the hotel partly on the site of the former Fandango Café, Volpe told the SKA members on Jan. 4, “The elephant in the room is the Village,” as it is zoned for commercial uses. “And there’s a lot of money at stake here,” Volpe added. 

   Yet, he continued, “Everybody likes the quaintness of the Village.”

   “Commissioners get elected by votes,” Volpe said. “It’s time to speak up and put a stop to this nonsense.”

   Then Bob Waechter, a past chair of the Sarasota County Republican Party and a former SKA board member, asked Volpe if he could speak.

   “I think you’re mischaracterizing it a little bit,” Waechter said of the SKOD. “I was very involved in the whole process [to draw up the Siesta zoning regulations]. And I realize what I am going to say is probably not going to be popular with some of the folks in this room.”

   The SKOD was written to encourage the construction of commercial buildings “2 feet off the sidewalk,” Waechter continued.

   Referring to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court case, Waechter noted, “There is a legal challenge pending that will go through if this [amendment] doesn’t go through.” If the court overrules the BZA, Waechter pointed out, “There will be no recourse.” Buildings will be allowed to stand 85 feet tall just 2 feet off the sidewalk, he continued, without the County Commission having any say about extra setback, as the board would under the guidelines of the zoning text amendment. “So I think you’re making an argument against your own interests,” he told Volpe.

   “We should just roll over and just let ’em do this?” Volpe responded, referring to approval of the amendment. “I don’t think so.”

   Then Lourdes Ramirez, president of the Siesta Key Community, told the audience that Waechter “is a good friend of 1-800 Dr. Gary, so he has a special interest in getting Gary’s hotel built.”

   Ramirez added, “The lawsuit is frivolous. [Kompothecras] is suing for a right he doesn’t have.”

Siesta Sand will have a full accounting of the County Commission hearing on the amendment in its March issue.

A littering issue

   In a Jan. 8 email to SNL, SKA board member Joe Volpe addressed an issue that he did not have the time to bring up during the Jan. 4 SKA meeting.

   He copied SNL on a Dec. 30 email he sent to Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer who works on the Key. “I have attached a piece of literature that was folded up inside a zip-lock bag with rocks and thrown out of a vehicle ‘delivering’ them,” Volpe wrote. “Not only is this littering but whoever did the delivery just dropped them in the gutters in front of the homes on Treasure Boat Way sometime late Friday or Saturday 12/30/2017.”

   The material to which Volpe was referring was a flyer for a landscaping company in Sarasota.

   In response to a query about a Code Enforcement response to the complaint, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester explained that the Sheriff’s Office handles littering. Therefore, SNL contacted Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office.”

   She wrote in a Jan. 9 email, “[I]t sounds like based on your email this incident isn’t something that would typically meet our threshold of investigating.” However, she pointed out, “dumping a large quantity of anything on a residential street, wooded area, public access road or other, would certainly fall under the county ordinance for illegal dumping and littering.”  

   If the issue on Treasure Boat Way continued, she added, Volpe should contact the Sheriff’s Office with details. Then an officer would arrange to meet with the business owner to discuss the matter.

5th Annual Andrew Monroe Memorial Scholarship 5K 

   The 5th Annual Andrew Monroe Memorial Scholarship 5K was hosted January 7, 2018 on beautiful Siesta Key Beach.  More than 300 runners/walkers took part in this charity event that benefits both Riverview High School Soccer athletes as well as a Sarasota County Athletes through the Sarasota Community Foundation, Andrew Monroe Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Connor Wozniak, Overall male, Stacey Monroe event organizer.

 

Emma Paliotta, Overall Female.

   Overall Male: 17 year old Connor Wozniak from Pine View School at 17:43.1.  Overall Female: 14 year old Emma Paliotta from Lakewood Ranch High ran at 21:39.7.

   Andrew Monroe was a Riverview High School soccer player killed in a tragic auto accident 2011.

Love is in the beach air

   Say “I Do” Again! Wednesday, Feb. 14, celebrate a renewal of your wedding vows at sunset on beautiful Siesta Beach. The non-denominational service begins promptly at 6 p.m. Registration required. For more information, call Sarasota County at (941) 861-5000.

Trolley riders

   There were 42,958 riders on the trolley from September thru December. The Siesta Key Chamber and other business leaders meet with SCAT staff regularly to make the Breeze Trolley a better experience for residents and visitors.

Art project dominated by Cairns

   On Jan. 12, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner had been observing changes on the 162 Beach Road parcel, which the owners agreed last year to sell to Sarasota County. She spied two men on the property in early January, and they appeared to be creating an art project dominated by cairns. Four days later, the undertaking appeared to be complete.

   Luckner kindly sent several photos to SNL, which forwarded one of them to Sarasota County staff to learn whether anyone in the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department had an explanation for the transformation of the parcel.

   Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone reported back on Jan. 18, saying that PRNR staff members he consulted were unaware of the objects on the property until after he provided them with Luckner’s photos. Then they contacted the county’s Environmental Permitting Division.

   Regardless of what the objects were, they would have to be removed, Bartolone said in a brief telephone interview.

   In an email, he provided the following information from Howard Berna, the county’s permitting manager:

“The Coastal Setback Code is applicable here (Chapter 54, Article XXII of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances). In particular, Section 54-723(a) lists out prohibitions seaward of the Sarasota County Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) including:

  • (1) Construction or excavation;
  • (2) The installation of non-native plants and landscape boulders in or on a beach, dune system or coastal hammock habitat, except as provided for within Section 54-723(g)(8);
  • (3) Alteration or removal of native plants located within a dune system or coastal hammock habitat.”

   Berna added, “It appears that these cairns are inconsistent with item (2) and quite likely item (3) above.”

   By the way, Bartolone also told the News Leader that the county closed on the 162 Beach Road parcel on Dec. 28, 2017. Owners Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey had sought $1.7 million for the property, but the     County Commission voted on Sept. 13, 2017 to maintain its earlier offer of $1.4 million. The couple finally accepted that.

Next Siesta Key Council meeting

   The SK Condo Council’s next meeting will be Tuesday, February 20, 3:30 PM at the Siesta Key Chapel at 4615 Gleason Ave. on Siesta Key. The main topic is the State of the County, with guest speaker Commissioner Alan Maio. There will be a question and answer session following the commissioners presentation. Other topics to be discussed are the Update on the Army Corps of Engineers Dredge Project, Siesta Key Overlay District and the Siesta Key traffic considerations.