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Siesta Key Island Chatter

Staff report

Siesta Village speed limit issue redux

During the August Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Catherine Luckner announced that one of the nonprofit’s members had proposed an initiative to lower the Siesta Village speed limit from 20 mph to 15 mph. The member had likened the Village to Southside Village on Osprey Avenue in the city of Sarasota, where the speed limit is 15 mph.

During the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce’s Aug. 21 quarterly meeting, members heard from a county representative that lowering the speed limit in the Village is not feasible.

Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county, pointed out that discussion had arisen recently about speed limits being too high in and around the Village. “Twenty is the lowest we’re going to post [in the Village],” she said. The county made an exception when it agreed to that, she pointed out, because 25 mph is the lowest allowable speed limit anywhere else in the county.

Cece indicated that if the county were to drop the Village speed limit further, that would open up the door to demands for similar action in other communities.

Surrounding the Village, she continued, the speed limit is 25 mph in the Miramar District and 30 mph on the other side streets.

If anyone is interested in a speed limit lower than 30 mph on those neighboring streets, Cece said, the person may contact staff assigned to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council and take the necessary steps to file a petition for that board’s consideration.

Cece further noted that she recently asked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to increase its patrols because of speeding on the Key.

Chamber director Mark Smith joked that offseason is “when you can make the time.”

During the height of tourist season, he implied, traffic congestion generally eliminates opportunities for drivers to speed.

Midnight Pass public parking lot plans proceeding

On Sept. 26, Sarasota County staff planned to host a Neighborhood workshop on the proposal to transform part of the county property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road into a public parking lot.

Regular readers will remember that the County Commission has discussed that South Midnight Pass Road site on a number of occasions as it has sought ways to ameliorate parking problems and traffic congestion on the Key. Commissioner Alan Maio has talked of the potential for the site to accommodate passengers for the Siesta Key Breeze trolley, for example, and Commissioner Nancy Detert at one point suggested staff look into erecting a parking deck there.

The property is between Crescent Plaza and Sea Winds Condominiums.

A building on the eastern part of the site hides a Public Utilities Department water tank.

According to graphics accompanying the calendar item on the county Planning and Development Services Department webpages, the parcel comprises 1.86 acres, with open space accounting for 6,810 square feet. A wetland area on the rear of the property totals 9,775 square feet, the graphic adds.

The parking area would take up 15,860 square feet, the graphic notes, while landscaping would encompass another 5,980 square feet.

In preliminary paperwork county staff filed this year, the timeline called for the parking lot project to begin in July, with completion in October. No doubt, more information about the construction schedule should be available later this fall.

North Shell Road parking petition sent back to residents to correct deficiency

Sarasota County staff identified a significant insufficiency in a parking prohibition petition that North Shell Road residents submitted to the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) early this year.

Thus, no hearing has yet to be scheduled on the request for a reduction in the number of public parking places along the road.

TAC Administrative Assistant Melissa Waden explained that, within a space of about 30 days, the TAC lost the two transportation engineering staff members who had been assigned to the council. As a result, she continued on Sept. 9, it took a while for someone to realize that the parking petition did not have enough signatures on it to make it onto a TAC agenda.

If staff receives a revised petition that meets TAC criteria, Waden added, it is possible the TAC could hold a hearing on the issues when the council meets in December. (The advisory board typically meets on a quarterly basis.)

As of early September, staff had not heard further from residents along North Shell Road, Waden indicated.

In January, Gregg and Michelle Olson of N. Shell Road asked that the TAC eliminate the public parking spaces between their home and the cul-de-sac, which is adjacent to Beach Access 1.

They cited a number of problems with which they and their neighbors have had to contend as a result of living so close to the beach access: alleged illegal behavior, including drug use; excessive drinking; public urination and defecation; drug paraphernalia left strewn on the ground; and the blocking of residents’ driveways, in spite of the fact that the public spaces clearly are marked to ensure residents maintain full access to their driveways at all times.

Yet, members of the public who are fans of the beach access have objected strenuously to the potential loss of parking spaces. Only 16 legal spaces exist, denoted by rope-and-post systems.

The parking prohibition petition originally was scheduled to be heard by the TAC in early June. However, as a result of a lack of quorum for that meeting, no decision could be made. As Administrative Assistant Waden pointed out to the News Leader, that ended up being fortuitous.

The Olsons did not respond to a request for comment week on the status of resubmitting the petition.

Transportation discussion for island leaders

Leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) have provided their members with minutes of a discussion about transportation issues on the Key that took place on Aug. 26.

(Siesta Chamber Chair Eric Fleming and Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner mentioned the discussion during their most recent meetings for members.)

Sarasota County staff had invited representatives of numerous organizations on the island to the Aug. 26 gathering, the Condo Council minutes said. Condo Council Vice President Diane Erne and Director Hilla Blatt attended the session on behalf of the SKCC, the minutes noted.

The speaker was Jason Collins, “a consultant retained by the county,” the SKCC minutes pointed out.

The meeting was a follow-up to a late February County Commission workshop on transportation issues on the Key, during which speakers were invited to address any problems they wished to discuss that were related to the subject.

The purpose of the Aug. 26 gathering, the Condo Council minutes said, was for attendees to share observations and work on ideas to improve “the charm and comfort of Siesta Key.” The minutes added that the County Commission was “in the beginning stages of starting a master plan and [was] collecting ideas to determine the top priorities” to which funding should be allocated.

“The main discussion of the meeting centered around the bike lanes on Siesta Key,” the minutes pointed out. “Everyone realizes that the bike lanes are inadequate and dangerous. There were several suggestions on improving the bike lanes,” the minutes said, adding that one big issue is the lack of easy access for bicyclists between Siesta and the mainland.

Additionally, the minutes noted, “Florida law allows bikes on sidewalks but that interferes with people walking to and from The Villages or the beaches.”

Another concern, the minutes continued, are crosswalks on the island, as a number of accidents have been reported. Among the suggestions were to light the crosswalks, “raise them and make them into speed bumps or put chains across the sidewalks leading to the crosswalks so people do not walk across the road except through the crosswalks.”

Additionally, discussion focused on the Siesta Key Breeze. “The trolley has been wildly successful,” the minutes said, but the question of parking on the Key was addressed. Attendees learned that county staff is working on converting the old Sheriff’s Office training facility at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road into a 40-space public parking lot, the minutes added.

Suggestions for ferry service and off-Key parking also were presented, the minutes said.

Furthermore, the minutes added, discussion focused on the fact that both the north and south drawbridges “have been declared functionally obsolete but there are no plans in the near future to replace them.”

Congestion and traffic lights on Higel Avenue were addressed, as well. “No solution yet,” the minutes noted.

Roundabouts also were discussed as a potential solution to traffic issues in some areas, the report added.

“Discussion followed on Avenida Messina as a dangerous area for pedestrians and bicycles,” because of valet parking arrangements for restaurants in that vicinity and because of delivery trucks, which occupy the car lanes during loading and unloading, the report said.

A follow-up meeting was recommended in the next month or two, the report added.

The meeting was adjourned at 7:30 p.m.

Loose bricks in medallion at Beach Road and Ocean Blvd. Sept. 5 2019

Keeping the Village in the best possible shape

Ever since Sarasota County completed the beautification project in Siesta Village in early 2009, county staff members have worked diligently with representatives of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. to ensure the area maintains a resort-like look and feel.

(The Maintenance Corp. represents the property owners whom the county assesses annually for the upkeep.)

Many activities go on behind the scenes, to which SNL can attest, having covered those efforts from their beginning.

During the most recent quarterly members meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator who serves as the county liaison to the Maintenance Corp., reported on just a couple of those initiatives that the average person probably never would notice.

Cece said she and Michael Shay, maintenance manager for the Maintenance Corp., noticed on their most recent monthly inspection of the Village that in one section of the medallion on the western end of Ocean Boulevard — at the Beach Road intersection — “the brick pavers were really devoid of sand” and starting to loosen up.

The medallion is a decorative inlay on the road.

The problematic section, she continued, is closest to the northeastern stormwater drain.

Staff of the county’s Road and Bridge Division came out to take a look at the bricks, Cece said. Their feeling, she noted, was that the drainage — or baffle — box is failing or has failed, resulting in erosion. (A baffle box is designed to remove sediment and pollutants from stormwater before it flows into water bodies.)

As soon as they figure out exactly what the problem is, Cece added, they would make the necessary repairs and replace sand around the bricks, “so we won’t have bricks moving or breaking or being unstable for cars, bikes or pedestrians.”

In early September, Cece reported that when she checked with the county’s Stormwater Division staff members in early September, she learned that they still were evaluating the situation.

At least on a positive note, she added, all the stormwater drains in that area had been cleaned.

A second report she made during the Chamber’s Aug. 21 meeting focused on a bench in front of Siesta Center; the bench had loose slats.

In fact, Cece pointed out, the slats on one end had disconnected from the bench. “[The bench] was not safe,” she said, so staff planned to remove it.

She noted that that action could be accomplished without damage to the landscaping plants.

Cece anticipated that a new bench would be in place by early this month, and it would be mounted right into the brick pavers.

“It will be more in keeping with the other benches [in the Village],” she added, as it would be 4 feet wide instead of 6.

Keeping Siesta Village clean

During the most recent Siesta Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting for members — on Aug. 21 — Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., told the group gathered in the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, “We’re still having what I’m calling a ‘dumping issue.’ Residents as well as businesses are putting their garbage” in the decorative pails in the Village.

Shay pointed out, “Those pails along the Village walkways are part of the Village Maintenance Corp. Those are for pedestrians, visitors, to put their stuff in.”

When residents or employees of businesses use the Maintenance Corp. garbage pails, he stressed, “It just creates a problem.”

A couple of weeks before that Aug. 21 meeting, he said, on a Monday night, a person from a business filled a Village garbage can with refuse from that business. Yet, the company that handles the Village maintenance under contract to the county does not collect Village garbage on Tuesdays, Shay added.

Referring to the affected pail, he said, “It was unsightly and it was overflowing, and it was going to stay that way,” so he decided to remedy the situation.

He went through the business’ garbage, he said, until he found mail with an address on it. Then he went to the person’s address and “put the whole [pile of refuse] on their doorstep.”

That comment prompted a round of laughter.

“They apologized,” Shay noted, telling him it was a mistake that the garbage ended up in the Village pail. “Yada, yada, yada.”

He declined to identify the business or the person with whom he spoke.

“We really need to work on that [issue],” he stressed of businesses and residents using the Village garbage cans.

He reminded everyone that he has discussed such incidents in the past, seeking to spread the word that the Maintenance Corp. needs the cooperation of businesses and residents.

Please do not trim the county’s landscaping plants

Another issue that arose during the Chamber’s Aug. 21 quarterly meeting is an uptick in problems county staff has encountered with the county’s landscaping in Siesta Village.

Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for the county who serves as the liaison between the county and the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., explained that she was working on a letter for all the property owners in the Village’s Public Improvement District. It would remind them, she said, of do’s and don’ts.

For one example, she pointed out, a new property owner recently had workers trimming muhly grass in the county landscaping on the northern end of the Village. “[It] looks a bit more like Bart Simpson right now,” she said, referring to the Simpsons cartoon character who has a well-known hairstyle. “But it’s growing back rapidly.”

Keeping the Key clean

Along with his endeavors to keep Siesta Village looking as clean and inviting as possible, Michael Shay long has been a volunteer with Adopt-A-Road initiatives on the island.

In July, Shay won authorization from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful to clean up Ocean Boulevard on a routine basis under the Adopt-A-Road Program that that county division oversees.

Although the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful guidelines stipulate cleanup efforts on a quarterly basis, as a minimum, Shay reported that he and a group he had assembled planned to work on a bimonthly basis.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, he wrote in an email, he and his group made their first Adopt-A-Road outing.

“We were a total of 6 friends, working in pairs,” he explained. They divided Ocean Boulevard into three sections: “2 [people] did [the stretch] from Higel [Avenue] to Treasure Boat Way [on the] west side (Karen Martin & Carol DiVita); 2 did that same area [on the] east side (Maria & Michael Shay); and 2 covered the Village, both sides of the street (Louise & Jim Mitchell).” 

Shay added, “We all worked for an hour and picked up a total of 5 bags of garbage and 1 bag of recyclables.”

“We all went afterwards to Village Café for breakfast,” he continued, “and lo and behold Tom, Kay & Pops were very gracious and bought us breakfast as thanks for our cleanup efforts! WOW, they are the best!!!!!”

He was referring to members of the Kouvatsos family, who own and operate the restaurant in Siesta Village.

For a number of years, the Kouvatsoses served free breakfasts to Siesta Key Association members after Adopt-A-Road initiatives that the nonprofit had organized for its members.

Volunteers sought for 10th edition of Crystal Classic

With tens of thousands of attendees, the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival functions so smoothly because of the multitude of people who offer to help out each year, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce leaders have pointed out on numerous occasions.

For the 10th anniversary event in November, the Chamber needs approximately 300 volunteers, Chamber Executive Director Ann Frescura announced at the Aug. 21 quarterly meeting for members.

About 60,000 visitors are expected this time, a Chamber newsletter says.

A variety of shifts and duties are available, the newsletter points out.

Already, the Vendor Village is sold out for this year’s Crystal Classic, Chamber Director Mark Smith noted. And instead of food being available at tents, he continued, the event will feature food trailers. Those spots are sold out, too, he said.

The Crystal Classic is set for Nov. 15-18, Frescura added. “It’s a week later,” she explained, because of the scheduling that accommodates the artists, who follow an event circuit.

The sculptors will represent six different counties, Smith pointed out, underscoring the international flavor of the competition.

Anyone who would like to volunteer may contact Mia Leone, volunteer coordinator, at 349-3800, or email Mia@siestakeychamber.com for more information.

For details about the 10th Siesta Key Crystal Classic, visit www.siestakeycrystalclassic.com.