By Rachel Brown Hackney
During the January Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sgt. Jason Mruczek, who heads the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta Key, appeared to think he was going to have a brief time at the podium, as his monthly report was not a long one. Then one member of the audience, Bill McLeod, an Avenida Messina resident, began asking questions about incidents at 10 Beach Road that have sparked controversy in recent weeks and prompted complaints to Sarasota County staff and the Sheriff’s Office.
Siesta Key resident Mike Cosentino purchased the parcel at 10 Beach Road in 2016, just a few months after he filed a lawsuit against the county. Cosentino has fought the County Commission’s 4-1 decision in May 2016 to vacate a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, just north of the Columbus Boulevard intersection, that had been closed to traffic since 1993 because of repeated storm damage. Two hearings have been held on the case in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota, and parts of the complaint have been dismissed by Judge Frederick P. Mercurio.
“He’s parking on the beach,” McLeod told Mruczek at the SKA meeting, referring to Cosentino. McLeod added, “There seems to be some trepidation about enforcing what has always been enforced there.”
Mruczek responded that Cosentino can park on his property “for now.” However, Mruczek continued, no guests may park on the county right of way, and no one can park on the road in that area, which is just west of Siesta Village, unless the person has a Mira Mar district permit issued by the county.
The parking situation
In September 2016, Cosentino was cited for having a motor vehicle on the beach in the vicinity of Beach Access 2, which is at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Beach Road. On Jan. 6, 2017, a written response from Cosentino was filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, explaining that he bought the 10 Beach Road property earlier in the year. “My vehicle was parked on that property,” he added, noting that he had shown the officer a copy of the deed.
“My attorney explained to the State Attorney that it was my property and did not meet the County Ordinance definition of a beach, that state law allows ingress and egress to private property, that the officer did not define exactly where my vehicle was parked, etc., etc.”
The case ultimately was closed, court records indicate.
On Dec. 7, 2017, SNL learned, Col. Kurt A. Hoffman, chief deputy and general counsel for the Sheriff’s Office, issued a memo to Lt. Don Kennard, who supervises Siesta Key operations, saying that, based on Hoffman’s reading of Sarasota County Ordinance 130-37 and Florida State Statute 161.201, “Mr. Cosentino has property rights in the [10 Beach Road] parcel such that he should be allowed to park on his own property. The definition of beaches under 130-37 should not be so narrowly construed as to eviscerate private property rights,” Hoffman added.
Additionally, McLeod noted that Cosentino daily has been taking his Reopen Beach Road sign out to the end of the groin that juts into the Gulf of Mexico from the 10 Beach Road parcel. Cosentino also owns the underwater parcel seaward of the 10 Beach Road property, county records show.
A number of people own submerged lots in that area, McLeod added. To allow Cosentino to continue some of the activities he has been pursuing will set a bad precedent, McLeod said. “It could really get out of hand in a hurry.”
Along with the sign, Cosentino has installed a flagpole on the groin, and he has a portable toilet on the beach.
The sign and the toilet are being addressed by county Code Enforcement staff, Mruczek responded.
On Jan. 5, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told SNL that county staff had given Cosentino until Jan. 5 to remove the portable toilet. On Jan. 8, Winchester reported that staff would be proceeding to issue a Notice of Violation to Cosentino. That is the next step in a Code Enforcement process that can result in fines, county staff has explained in the past.
When SNL reached Cosentino, Cosentino said he received a letter from Howard Berna, the county’s environmental permitting manager, saying the toilet had to be removed by Jan. 5, but he did not get the letter until Jan. 5.
Asked for a response to the Notice of Violation, Cosentino issued a statement on Jan. 10.
“I figure I’ve kept about 300 gallons of human waste out of the adjacent neighbors’ bushes in the short time the potty has been there,” he began. “I think the county, not me, should be responsible for keeping such facilities at ALL public beach accesses,” he continued. “It doesn’t seem fair to me that the county, by its inaction, forces the public to use the private property adjacent to public beach accesses as bathrooms.”
Nonetheless, he wrote, “I apologize for the unsightly potty; in my fight against the corruption and stupidity of our elected officials (except [Commissioner] Nancy [Detert]) I sometimes have to do things that I don’t agree with in order to bring light to the problems I’m trying to solve.”
(Detert was elected in November 2016. Neither she nor Commissioner Michael Moran — who also was elected in November 2016 — was on the County Commission when the May 2016 public hearing was held on the petition to vacate the segment of North Beach Road.)
Cosentino noted in his statement that he has pointed out before that “the closing of [Beach Road] to thru traffic CREATED the problems at [Beach Access] 2. Once the road is fixed and reopened the problems will self correct.”
Additionally, Cosentino wrote, “The sign [on the groin] will remain in place until Beach Road is once again in public control.”