By Rachel Brown Hackney
Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division, had identified the 1.84-parcel as owned by the county’s Utilities Department, with a structure on it used for training purposes by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Although the commissioners were talking about surplus property the county could sell, Kurant recommended the board hang on to the Midnight Pass Road parcel.
Commissioner Alan Maio wholeheartedly concurred with that. “That [property], I would say, may be our last and only opportunity for a parking lot on Siesta” or for a turnaround area for a trolley or bus, Maio pointed out.
During the board’s May 26 budget workshop, the commissioners not only reinforced their desire to keep the property, but they also directed staff to begin working with “folks on Siesta Key” — as Commissioner Charles Hines put it — to come up with prospective parking lot proposals.
Siesta Chamber Chair Mark Smith addressed the board that morning during the Open to the Public period, pleading the case for the parking lot as well as for continuation of the open-air trolley service.
He believes, he said, that the South Siesta parcel will hold 182 parking places plus a building in the center that could be used as a facility for people wanting to catch rides on the trolley. An architect with his own firm in Siesta Village, Smith presented the board members with a copy of the concept for the parking lot, including the 20-foot by 40-foot Siesta Key Breeze trolley stop with a courtyard.
When Chair Paul Caragiulo asked about Smith’s recommendation that shell be used for the surface of the lot, instead of asphalt, Smith noted that shell is allowed under the guidelines of the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning for the island.
It would be an enormous benefit to the Utilities Department not to pave the lot, Smith pointed out. Because the site originally belonged to the Siesta Key Utility Authority, pipes are still in place underground, Smith said. All county employees would need to do to reach those pipes would be to remove the shell and begin digging, Smith added.
Commissioner Hines asked for clarification about which of the two buildings on the site is used by the Sheriff’s Office. Smith replied that the red property lines on his drawing encompassed that one. The other structure — outside the property boundaries — is owned by the Utilities Department.
“Thanks for the work you’ve done on this,” Caragiulo told Smith.
When the board members began their surplus property review later that morning, Kurant reiterated her February remark that the county’s Utilities Department staff “recommended hanging on to that [parcel].” However, she noted, “that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be revisited as a temporary parking lot” until the Utilities Department staff needs it for another purpose.
“They currently have no need for it,” Commissioner Alan Maio stressed of Utilities Department staff members. “But a non-intrusive use could be accommodated there,” he added, such as a shell parking lot.
Maio repeated Smith’s earlier comment about the ease of digging up the shell to reach the underground infrastructure.
“I am 100% in support of that concept,” Caragiulo said of the parking lot proposal. “Perfect,” Maio responded.
“I think, considering the critical situation of parking on Siesta Key, we would look crazy for putting this [parcel] out to bid, frankly,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out. “I think we need to deal with our parking gridlock, first, and if we have a bare piece of ground, good for us.”
That was when Hines suggested staff start the process of turning the space into a parking lot. “That’s just a good use …”
“Just to make sure that we have a full house here,” Commissioner Michael Moran added, “I completely agree.”
“Five of a kind,” Caragiulo joked. “It’s a new [poker] hand.”
County Administrator Tom Harmer explained that after the Sheriff’s Office later this year moves several of its departments into a building the county has purchased on Cattleridge Boulevard, it no longer will need the training facility on South Midnight Pass Road.
In mid-February, Chief County Engineer Isaac Brownman told the board staff expected the Sheriff’s Office facilities relocation to occur in late summer.
Harmer also acknowledged the board’s direction to begin working on designs of the parking lot, which will be brought back to the commissioners.
In a May 30 telephone interview, Smith of the Siesta Chamber said one purpose in his making the comments at the board workshop was to make sure “everybody [is] informed and for [the parking plan].”
As for actually creating the lot, he added, “It’ll take a little while to get it going. ”He and Bob Stein, publisher of Siesta Sand, had met with the board members individually prior to the workshop, Smith noted, to discuss the potential use of the parcel. “They could see that this is definitely something we need.”
In a separate telephone interview on May 30, Maio said “the relatedness of things.” The county’s $16.5-million purchase of the Cattleridge Boulevard building will enable the Sheriff’s Office to vacate that training space on Siesta Key, he noted. “With that happening, people came to the commission and said … [the Midnight Pass Road property] would make a great parking lot.”
He emphasized that the Utilities Department staff also was supportive of the use of the parcel for a surface parking lot. “[That], to me, is definitely a non-intrusive use.”
And given county staff’s intent to keep the Siesta Key trolley service operating on a permanent basis, Maio continued, the South Midnight Pass Road property also can be used as a trolley turnaround location. “All inter-related,” he reiterated his earlier point.
Maio was especially pleased, he indicated, that the board members on May 26 were unanimous in agreement about the proposal for the site.
“When people are patient, calm, make their case full of facts, Maio said, “I think they have a commission that hears them loud and clear and does their very best to make things happen.”