Siesta Key Island Chatter

A sign on the move, so to speak

   In late April, a reader told the SNL that it appeared that the Siesta Village welcome sign at the north entrance to the Village had been moved further from the entrance to the Whispering Sands condominium complex.

   When the SNL inquired about that, Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county who serves as the liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. (SKVMC), had an explanation.

   “The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce manages and maintains the north and south Siesta Key Village signs,” Cece wrote in an email. Gabe Hartman, a member of the Chamber board of directors who also serves as manager for the Maintenance Corp., recently suggested that the north Village sign be moved to a more visible location, Cece continued. 

   The area where the sign originally was placed has mature landscaping, she noted, which obscured the sign. Therefore, Hartman proposed the relocation to Mark Smith, the SKVMC president. Both the SKVMC and Chamber agreed to that, Cece added. 

   On April 22, the sign was relocated to the landscape bed just south of Whispering Sands Drive, she noted. Landscaping will be added, she continued, “and lighting will be extended to this location to feature the sign at night as visitors and residents enter the Village.”

   Cece also pointed out that a project is in progress in the Siesta Village Public Improvement District to replace many landscaping areas in the mid-section with new plantings, after the beds have been leveled and irrigation has been updated. “The District has also recently completed pressure washing of the walkway areas as requested by the SKVMC,” she noted.

The Public Improvement District is the area where the Village Beautification Project was undertaken by Sarasota County more than a decade ago. The owners of property within that district are assessed for the annual upkeep, which is overseen by the SKVMC, working on behalf of the owners, and Cece, working on behalf of the county.

Update on the Holderness fencing situation

   On April 7, Sarasota County staff issued Affidavits of Violation to two limited liability companies on Siesta Key in response to the erection of illegal fencing near Beach Access 2 and Beach Access 3, both of which are located off North Beach Road.

At the time, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told the News Leader that staff was uncertain when a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate hearing could be conducted; such a hearing would be the forum when staff would provide testimony about the violations, with the Special Magistrate then issuing an order in an effort to achieve compliance. 

   On April 28, Grant provided an update from the county’s Planning and Development Services Department: “The timing of reaching a resolution of the fence violations is being affected by the Special Magistrate’s interrupted schedule due to the COVID-19 situation.” Fines would not be imposed, Grant added, “until we have been through that hearing. Fines can be upwards of $250 per day.”

   As of the deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand, no further information was available about when the Special Magistrate hearings might resume.

   The two limited liability companies responsible for the chain link fences are Siesta Beach Lots LLC, whose principal is Michael Holderness; and Siesta Gulf View LLC, whose manager is Andrew Cooper.

   The fencing is a violation of the county’s Coastal Setback Code, which is designed to protect dunes and native beach vegetation, which, in turn, protect inland structures from storm surge and other flooding events. No construction is allowed seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line unless a person has received a variance approved by the County Commission.

   Holderness told the SNL he erected the fencing as a means of preventing gatherings of people who were not complying with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines designed to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The fencing is on private property. However, members of the public often are confused, the News Leader has found, about which is the public beach area near Beach Access 2 and which sections of the shoreline are privately owned. Many of those private parcels were underwater, or partly covered by the Gulf of Mexico, decades ago.

Protection for sea turtle hatchlings provided at Access 2

   New questions arose recently about another issue involving Beach Access 2. 

   In response to SNL questions, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant wrote that, on April 23, county staff put up fencing in the vicinity of Beach Access 2 that stands about a foot high and looks similar to a black tarp. The goal, she said, is to shield nesting female sea turtles and their hatchlings from light. “Hatchlings are especially vulnerable since the extra time spent crawling in the wrong direction depletes their small store of energy,” she wrote.

   The material actually is silt fencing, she noted, which is designed to keep sediment at construction sites from ending up in waterways.

   “Beach Access 2 is a unique situation where the road is directly adjacent to the beach and at the same low elevation,” Grant explained. No other such fencing is planned on the county shoreline, she added.

   “Sarasota County protects threatened and endangered sea turtles through the implementation of the county’s Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance,” she continued. “Staff conducts seasonal inspections during nesting season (May 1 – Oct. 31) working with coastal property owners and managers on lighting, recreational item storage, and coastal construction planning to reduce impacts to nesting females and hatchlings. These impacts may include disorientation due to artificial light sources or entanglement in various items on the beach, such as chairs.” 

   Grant also pointed out, “Last year, the County installed a similar ground-level barrier” around the time sea turtle nests were expected to hatch. Staff erected the barriers earlier in the season this year, she explained, “to address issues during both the nesting and hatching windows. County staff will continue to work with Marine Turtle Permit Holders and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for current nesting information and appropriate protection measures. We thank the coastal residents and visitors as they ‘Keep Light Out of Sight’ each year for turtles.”

Siesta has first sea turtle nest of the year

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium announced this spring that nesting sea turtles had arrived early on the county shoreline.

“Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program (STCRP) began monitoring Sarasota area beaches on April 15, finding the first nest early Monday morning on Siesta Key,” a news release said. “Other signs of sea turtles included a false crawl (sea turtle comes on the beach but returns to the ocean without creating a nest) on Longboat Key, also documented on Monday.” 
A loggerhead sea turtle created the Siesta nest, the Mote news release continued, adding that the loggerhead species is “Sarasota’s most abundant nester.” Moreover, the release said that on the west coast of Florida, Sarasota County is the densest area of loggerhead nesting. 

“In 2019, Mote documented 5,112 nests, [a] record-breaking year,” the release pointed out.

“The top-three years for number of sea turtle nests in the Sarasota region have occurred in the last five years,” the release said. 

Mote’s sea turtle activities are conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028, the release noted. 

Approximately 300 volunteers assist Mote’s team of biologists and interns with daily monitoring of beaches, the release said, adding that this year marks the 39th year of monitoring by Mote.

Siesta Chamber leaders encouraging positive outlook

   Given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, the leaders and staff of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce have been keeping a positive outlook and have worked to boost the morale of members.

   Routinely, the Chamber has been sending out upbeat email blasts, reporting on promotions. “During these trying times,” one email says, “the Siesta Key Chamber would like to help in any way that we can.”

   One email noted, “The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce believes it is important to look ahead and focus on positive initiatives and future events that greatly benefit our community. The 11th Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic is scheduled for November 13-16, 2020 on Siesta Beach. The committee is already working hard behind the scenes addressing the many components and details of this highly significant event.”

   That email blast announced that Andy Daily, a local artist, businessman, and master sand sculptor, “will take the lead as Sand Management Team Coordinator.” 

   The email blast concluded, “Thank you for your past and present support of this great event and our community! 

Stay Strong Siesta Key!”

An update on installation of mini reefs in the county

   In light of a recent email blast the Siesta Key Association (SKA) sent its members, the News Leader asked Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division, for an update about the county’s position on the installation of “mini reefs” under docks.

“This response is specific to the lightweight rope-suspended, floating ‘mini reef’ habitats (in the style of those being marketed by Ocean Habitats),” Berna wrote in an April 28 email. “At this time, and based on consultation with administration, the county is not requiring permits to suspend these under an existing dock. They may not be suitable for all locations (e.g., high currents, shallow water depths, etc.). If they become an issue, we will revisit the topic.”

Berna added, “Other types of ‘reef’ habitats, such as reef balls, would still require permitting. It is recommended that property owners contact Environmental Permitting should they have questions about their specific site location or circumstances related to this issue.”

The SKA has advocated for installation of mini reefs as a means of improving water quality in the Grand Canal on the Key. The April 9 SKA email blast noted, “Mini reefs can be purchased through START at a discount from standard retail price.” START is the nonprofit Solutions To Avoid Red Tide. Sandy Gilbert, chair and CEO of the organization, addressed SKA members in December 2019.

The total retail cost for one of the 24-inch by 36-inch by 24-inch mini reefs is $443, a START flyer says. That includes the $125 installation fee, the flyer notes. However, a person may purchase a device form START for $297, with free installation. Fifty percent of that total expense — $148.50 — is considered a donation to the nonprofit manufacturer, Ocean Habitats, the flyer adds.

Mini reefs, the flyer points out, have been shown to clean more than 30,000 gallons of sea water per day and improve water clarity within 12 to 15 feet from a dock. The devices also have been demonstrated to attract a wide variety of fish, the flyer says.

Key Chorale receives Community Impact Grant 

   Thanks to a grant of $3,200 recently awarded by the Martha Leiter and Nancy Streetman Fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Key Chorale was able to reach out virtually to thousands of singers with their Come Together Choir Online Choral Rehearsals. These rehearsals weren’t just for local singers, but could be experienced by anyone, anywhere in the country via Key Chorale’s YouTube channel.

   Viewers registered in advance to receive PDF copies of the music to be rehearsed during these online choral rehearsals. Vital components of Key Chorale’s mission are “transforming lives through innovative programming” and “service to the community”. Even after these two months of isolation, many organizations have entertained viewers online, but few organizations have enlisted actual participation at the level of this endeavor, nearly 400 registrants from throughout the country and beyond, and more than 4,000 views of the episodes. Though the weekly rehearsals have already premiered, all episodes are always available to watch on Key Chorale’s YouTube channel. If you missed it, you can still register to get PDFs of the music and sing-a-long with the 6 episodes.

   “Innovation and service are in the DNA of Key Chorale. We were pleased to provide the therapeutic value of making music, not only to our Sarasota friends of the Off Key Chorale and Where Are My Keys? Chorale, but also to anyone wanting and needing a lift in these troubling times. We are indebted to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County for underwriting this important outreach and service,” said Larry D Patton, Chorale President.