By Rachel Brown Hackney
On June 4, 2013, more business owners than usual showed up for the regular meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), and to characterize these new attendees as unhappy might be an understatement.
They had learned in May that the Siesta Key Overlay District, which governs all sorts of activities on Siesta Key, did not allow them to display goods outside their shops. Two complained that county Code Enforcement Officer John Lally’s instructions for them to keep wares inside their stores were crippling their ability to make a living.
“For us, having something that just shows the customer that we’re open is crucial,” James Ritter of Siesta Village Outfitters said during the SKVA meeting.
Thus began an almost 16-month-long process that culminated on Oct. 21, 2014. Leaders of the SKVA, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) had worked together with a merchants group led by Mark Toomey, owner of Robin Hood Rentals, and Rick Lizotte, owner of Comfort Shoes — both Village businesses — to forge a compromise. That agreement was made formal by a vote of the County Commission to amend the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).
During the afternoon of Oct. 10, the County Commission will hold a public hearing on making those changes a permanent part of the SKOD. Officially, the agenda item will entail consideration of removing the sunset date on the use of the Temporary Use Permits for outdoor displays within the SKOD. The session will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Anderson Administration Center, located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.
When the board amended the ordinance in 2014, the measure had two sunset dates, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson explained in a Sept. 6 memo to the County Commission. One indicated the provisions would end two years after the adoption of the ordinance; the other indicated the guidelines would sunset on Oct. 21, 2015, unless the ordinance was re-enacted by the board. With county staff having recorded no complaints about the outdoor displays, she continued, she proposed eliminating the sunset date altogether.
She noted in the memo, “Staff has performed a review [of] the standards to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the merchants while maintaining the desired character for the SKOD.”
A SNL survey of SKVA and SKA leaders — as well as discussions with Toomey and Lizotte — found none of them aware of any complaints about outdoor displays since the County Commission approved the Zoning Code guidelines in 2014. Still, Toomey stated, “I’ll do my best to be there [at the hearing].” He had not heard about it until SNL called him.
Mark Smith, president of the Siesta Chamber and vice president of the SKVA, said in a telephone interview that Thompson mentioned the public hearing to him when he was talking with her about another issue.
“She hadn’t gotten a single complaint,” Smith concurred with what Thompson had written in the Sept. 6 memo. “I hadn’t heard any either.” His view, he continued, is “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Smith told SNL he did bring up the matter during meetings of the Chamber and SKVA boards. None of the members recalled hearing any concerns voiced, either, Smith said.
Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, was among SKVA officers most concerned about protecting the Village atmosphere when the SKVA and SKA collaboration began with business owners. He told SNL that he also had not “heard any complaints about people taking advantage of the new code,” and “overall, I haven’t seen too much abuse of it.”
SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner and board member Joe Volpe said in separate telephone interviews that they had heard no complaints from residents. Volpe noted that he does make a point of checking out business owners’ displays when he drives through the Village. “They seem like they’re behaving,” he added.
“There you go,” Toomey told SNL when advised a reporter had heard no negative comments.
Lizotte was especially relieved when a reporter told him that it appeared no one would oppose eliminating the sunset date for the outdoor display provisions. “I was hoping that,” he said.
With his Comfort Shoes shop “stuck back in a corner” in Davidson Plaza, he pointed out, “it really is important to us to have [the SKOD provisions].”
SKOD rules prevent him from setting up any signs to alert customers to the store’s location, Lizotte explained. “So having an outdoor display is one of the key things that brings customers in.”
Lizotte added that he would talk with Toomey to make certain one of them attends the hearing, just in case any concern does arise.