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Siesta Key Island Chatter

Staff report

Siesta Key Breeze continuing extended morning hours

Recently, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce alerted its members to the fact that the Siesta Key Breeze has maintained an earlier morning start.

In mid-August, Lisa Potts, the communications specialist for Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT),  reported that the decision was made for the trolley to start its route at 8 a.m. after SCAT received “a favorable show of interest for the extended service.” However, the initial plan called for the longer morning runs to end following the Labor Day holiday.

After seeing the Chamber notice, SNL checked in again with Potts. In an Oct. 16 email, she wrote, “We have decided to continue the extended trolley service to provide an easier way to travel Siesta Key in the morning.” She added that the SCAT staff would continue to re-evaluate the hours “in order to provide the best possible service for residents and visitors of Siesta Key.”

As for ridership: Potts reported that in August, the total number of Breeze passengers was 15,286. For September, the figure was 10,420.

In comparison, in the Breeze’s first year of operation, it had 14,040 passengers in August 2017 and 5,165 in September of that year.

Monthly crime stats and suspects

During his appearance before Siesta Key Association (SKA) members in October, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s Siesta Key substation, reported that the department received slightly more than 270 calls for service during September.

Only 12 of the crimes reported, he said, were in the Part 1 category, meaning they were the most serious types of offenses.

For example, he added, two burglaries and one theft occurred, but suspects already had been identified in those cases. In fact, Smith pointed out, one person was suspected in two of the Part 1 crimes.

Thanks to the “nice, tightknit community out here,” he continued, the Sheriff’s Office does not have to deal with much crime on Siesta.

Again, Smith did emphasize to the SKA members to keep their vehicle doors locked. One incident that deputies investigated in September involved a theft from an unlocked car.

“Get the word out,” he implored the audience. Locking vehicle doors, he pointed out, “prevents 99.9% of the burglaries [from vehicles].”

In response to a question from SKA Director Erin Kreis, Smith explained that a burglary is an incident in which someone enters a person’s residence or vehicle without permission. Homes and cars are places where a person has the expectation of privacy, he added.

Larceny, he continued, essentially is a theft. For example, he said, “If I were to take a bicycle from the lot at Siesta Beach,” that would be a larceny.

In response to a question from Director Eddie Ward, Smith said he believed that only one bicycle was stolen in September, “which is great.”

SeeClickFix nets another fan

Occasionally, during meetings of organizations on Siesta Key, someone will bring up the county app SeeClickFix (www.seeclickfix.com). The latest quarterly meeting for members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce was one of those occasions.

Joye Argo of Digital Marketing LLC, a Siesta Chamber director, talked about how impressed she was with how quickly county staff responded after she used the app to submit her report.

Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county, explained that SeeClickFix is “an immediate pipeline” to county staff, as the messages are funneled directly to the appropriate departments.

For example, Cece said, a person who sees a pothole can take a photo of it and use SeeClickFix to send the details about the location — along the photo — to county Public Works Department staff.

Argo indicated that she especially was impressed with the fact that she received a notification after the issue she had raised had been resolved.

“If you set up an account … it will keep you posted with information as [the repair] gets done,” said Michael Shay, who still was the Village maintenance manager at the time of that Aug. 21 meeting.

And even though a person may have an account with SeeClickFix, Shay added, the person still can send information anonymously.

County staff launched SeeClickFix in 2016.

The county’s 2016 Annual Report noted that “the mobile app … allows the public to report quality-of-life issues and request county services. Citizens can now provide county staff with pictures, videos, specific descriptions and real-time locations of their reports or requests. They can report non-emergency issues, such as potholes or inoperable traffic signals; and they can view and comment on issues submitted by their neighbors. They can even create their own ‘watch areas’ to receive notifications about all the issues reported in their community, not just the ones they report.”

The Siesta Promenade hearing delayed a few days

For weeks, people interested in the lawsuit filed in January to try to stop the construction of Siesta Promenade had their calendars marked for Oct. 10, when oral arguments in that case were to be presented to 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh.

However, because of a family situation, McHugh had to work with the parties to reschedule the hearing, the News Leader learned. On Oct. 9, the parties learned that the hearing would be moved from 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 to the morning of Columbus Day, Oct. 14.

After arriving at the Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center in downtown Sarasota shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 14, this reporter found she was not the only attendee who had had to search anxiously from level to level for a vacant space in the county’s parking garage, which is located at the intersection of School Avenue and Ringling Boulevard.

With the City of Sarasota’s Parking Division having installed parking pay stations on Ringling Boulevard during the early part of the summer, the garage appears to have become a more popular destination for people with reason to be in the county’s Judicial District. In fact, this reporter observed quite a few vacant metered parking places on her way from the garage to the courthouse.

Because of the change in hearing dates, some people who had planned to attend the proceeding could not do so, Sura Kochman of Pine Shores Estates, the plaintiff in the Siesta Promenade case, reported to friends as everyone waited for the courtroom doors to be unlocked.

Everyone who did make the effort to attend the hearing was able to find a seat, even with a couple having shown up after the arguments were underway.

Only about 35 seats are available for the public in the courtroom where Judge McHugh presides over her cases.

On a related note: At the outset of the Oct. 14 hearing, McHugh asked whether either side had made arrangements for a court reporter to be present, to take down an official record of the pleadings. Finally, a “No” could be heard in the courtroom, though this reporter was unable to identify the speaker.

During a hearing over which McHugh presided several months ago — when a court reporter was present — she told the parties that having a transcript from the court reporter would facilitate her ruling in that case.

After the Siesta Promenade hearing ended, McHugh announced that she would issue a written decision and then said the court would be “in recess.” A couple of the attendees, who were not accustomed to court procedures, indicated that they thought McHugh was going to rule later that day. This reporter told them that that was not how it would work.

Based on this reporter’s coverage of McHugh’s handling of other cases, it is difficult to predict when she will issue her opinion in the Siesta Promenade case.

When a speed limit sign is just a warning sign

On Sept. 9, as Sarasota County’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) members heard presentations about petitions for safety improvements in the Siesta Isles neighborhood, an issue arose that this reporter had not heard discussed in depth in many years.

Amjid Hussain, the engineer with the county’s Traffic Engineering and Operations Division, showed the TAC members slides depicting two 15 mph warning signs within Siesta Isles, whose placement county staff had adjusted in an effort to get a better response from drivers.

Tony Romanus, who was representing the Siesta Isles Association Board of Directors in the petitions that day, noted that the signs are on either side of what he and other Siesta Isles residents described as a dangerous “S” curve on Shadow Lawn Drive. Staff’s assistance with the signage, he said, “was helpful.”

However, Romanus emphasized that the 15 mph warning signs are a suggestion only for drivers.

“I wish [each of those signs] would be a speed limit sign,” Sandy Palmer of Siesta Isles told the TAC members. “The curve has been a terrible thing since 1962. I would like to see [each sign] say ’15 mph.’ No suggestion.”

Those comments came after Romanus asked for the speed limit in Siesta Isles to be reduced from 25 mph to 20 mph.

TAC member Morgan Skoegard asked about the legal basis for the 15 mph signs to serve as warnings only.

“We call it an advisory speed limit on a curve,” Hussain responded. No wording on the sign says, “Suggested,” Hussain added.

Then Capt. John Donovan of the Florida Highway Patrol, another TAC member, explained, “The yellow signs like he mentioned are advisory …” Essentially, Donovan continued, the signs are designed to communicate to a driver, “‘Hey, there’s an unusual circumstance coming up …’”

Chair Becky Ayech pointed out that yellow signs on the road as a rule are caution signs.

“It’s nothing we can enforce,” Donovan said.

In January 2012, after a Siesta resident was struck and killed by a driver in a sharp curve on Midnight Pass Road, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office explained that lower speed limit signs drivers see before they enter that curve also are just warning signs. Even though the driver in that incident was alleged to have been speeding, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said, a deputy would not have been able to charge the driver for exceeding the speed posted on those warning signs.

As for the Siesta Isles request for the reduction in the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph throughout the neighborhood: The TAC sided with county staff’s recommendation for denial, as Siesta Sand reported in October.

Hussain explained during the discussion that staff lowered the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph after staff undertook a traffic study in Siesta Isles in 1997.

Additionally, no traffic crashes had been recorded in Siesta Isles over the past three years, Hussain pointed out.

Another TAC exchange

Having to make numerous trips to the podium on behalf of the Siesta Isles Association, Tony Romanus showed a lot of patience in answering questions during the Sept. 9 Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) meeting.

At one point, Vice Chair Bruce Lorie asked whether the Siesta Isles Association had enlisted the help of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in stopping speeders who use the neighborhood as a cut-through to avoid congestion near Siesta Public Beach.

“When it’s at our worst,” Romanus explained, “there’s a million people at the beach and all kinds of chaos in [Siesta Village].”

The Sheriff’s Office’s priority is dealing with those situations, Romanus continued, a fact with which the Siesta Isles Board has no complaint.

“I see where the beach has become so popular in Sarasota, and the resources are not there to protect everyone,” Lorie responded.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of tax dollars and Sheriff’s Office resources,” Romanus said. The Association asks for help from the Sheriff’s Office only “when things are nuts,” he added.

If Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University — known worldwide as “Dr. Beach” — never had named Siesta Beach No. 1 in the U.S., Romanus continued, “I probably wouldn’t be standing here,” asking for lower speed limits and more stop signs.”

Leatherman first gave Siesta Beach that top ranking in 2011. To mark 25 years of his Top Ten Beaches initiative, Leatherman started fresh a couple of years ago, making past winners eligible for honors once again. Thus, Siesta won its second No. 1 designation.

More public recognition of island traffic problems

In late September, when the County Commission heard a presentation about the 2019 Citizen Opinion Survey — an annual project conducted at the county’s behest — one of the project team members noted that the 800 respondents were asked, “In your opinion, what is the most important issue facing Sarasota County today?” The answer for 9% was “Traffic/transportation.”

The project team members then asked whether the respondents citing that issue found certain roads or locations more problematic than others.

As SNL reported at the time, 28% named U.S. 41 as the focus of frustrations. However, a graphic showing the breakdown of the answers listed “Beach Road” as winning attention from 3% of the respondents.

Beach Road did come in last, in terms of those answers, based on the graphic in the PowerPoint presentation shown to the board on Sept. 24. Still, the citation was a figurative exclamation point on statements the commissioners have been hearing with increasing frequency over the past couple of years.

In comparison, Interstate 75 was at the 10% mark, with “Multiple Locations” at 14% and “Everywhere/No specific location tied with “Other” at 17%.

Condo Council seeking board members

The Siesta Key Condominium Council is seeking new board members.

“We advocate for issues of a general nature that impact our 90 or so Condo members and provide [three to four] information Membership meetings per year,” the organization’s leaders wrote in a recent email blast.

Over the past year, the email continued, the Condo Council has been involved in the following issues: the Siesta Promenade proposal for the northwest quadrant of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection; red tide; Save Our Siesta Sand 2’s efforts in federal court to try to stop the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass Dredging; and the plan for a hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.

Informational meetings addressed red tide, insurance and legal issues for condominium associations, and Sarasota County projects that will have an impact on the Key. “In the prior year we covered Hurricane Preparedness,” the email said.

“We also sponsor the Annual Condo Christmas Lighting Contest and perform Membership Surveys for issues of concern,” the email continued.

“Our requirements are that you are a current Condo owner on Siesta Key and that you are a Condo Board Member or have served on a Condominium Board in the past and that you are willing to spend some time [in a volunteer capacity with the council].”

In addition to the membership meetings, the Condo Council holds one board meeting each month from October through April, the email noted.

“Send an email to the skcondocouncil@hotmail.com if you are interested and a Board member will be in contact with you,” the email concluded.

A wealth of contact information

People needing phone numbers and email addresses for a wide variety of people and places — in Sarasota County and the state — need look no further than the Siesta Key Association’s website, Director Joyce Kouba pointed out during the nonprofit’s Oct. 3 regular meeting.

Just click on “Contact” on the bar at the top of the homepage.

From organizations that assist with the rescue of injured animals, to Sarasota County commissioners, to other elected county officials, to the county’s Code Enforcement staff, to the Governor’s Office and offices of state and federal representatives, a wide array of information is available.

A great new partnership for the Crystal Classic

This year, for the first time, a portion of the proceeds from the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival will benefit student scholarships at Ringling College of Art + Design, assisting “talented, creative students so that they may be able to pursue their dreams of higher education in art and design,” the event’s producer announced.

Siesta Beach Festival Inc. is the nonprofit that puts on the festival each November on Siesta Public Beach.

“The Siesta Key Crystal Classic has been a great artistic event since its beginning in 2010,” Bob Parkinson, Siesta Beach Festival board member, said in a news release. “Talented artists come from all over the world to create masterpieces of ephemeral art. We are pleased to support Ringling College of Art and Design, a notable artistic resource in our community, and their talented student body,” Parkinson added.

The Crystal Classic is a visual and cultural arts festival that has hosted more than 325,000 attendees since its first show. This year, it marks its 10th anniversary, the release pointed out.

“In only 24 sculpting hours, (spanning the four-day event), the master sculptors create sand masterpieces and transform the always beautiful Siesta Beach into an outdoor art gallery,” the news release noted. “The Crystal Classic connects the arts and the beach in ways never before seen in Sarasota.

“And it’s more than just sand,” the release added. The festival also features live music each day, “along with a large village of shopping and food and drink vendors. Among the other activities are the popular three-day ‘Quick Sand’ competition, sand sculpting lessons and an amateur sculpting competition.

Additionally, the release continued, “Beginning this year, the festival will be doing its part to help the environment” by reducing the amount of single-use plastic. Two “Water Monsters” will be on site, where attendees can fill up for free using their own cups or by purchasing one at the festival. Boxed water also will be for sale at select vendors.   

The 10th Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic is set for Nov. 15-18. For more information, visit www.SiestaKeyCrystalClassic.com.

Announcing the St. Nicholas Fair St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key

The real St. Nicholas was born in the third century and dedicated his life to protecting and helping those who were sick or in need—especially children—with incredible generosity and kindness. Over time his legendary gift-giving transformed him into our present-day Santa Claus.

Continuing its 65th Anniversary year, St. Boniface Episcopal Church will celebrate St. Nicholas with a joyous holiday fair on Saturday, December 7, from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. Children’s crafts and activities will be a highlight. And a special treat: the chance to meet St. Nicholas himself! Parents, bring your cameras! Other fair offerings include the famous Cookie Walk, Pretty in Paradise jewelry and handbags, holiday decorations and gifts. Artwork and used books will be available, as well as much, much more.  Bring the family and enjoy the wonderful holiday festivities. 

Visitors can park in the church parking lot at 5615 Midnight Pass Road. Signs will point the way to fair venues in the Community Center, Parish Hall, and Sunday School rooms. For more information call 941-349-5616, ext. 320.

Kompothecras paid $2.5 million for former Bank of America property

Gary Kompothecras, the Siesta chiropractor and businessman known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service, has indeed bought the former Bank of America branch building located at 1237 Stickney Point Road.

During the summer, Kompothecras told Siesta Sand that that was his intent. After word spread last year that the bank was shuttering the branch, rumors began flying that Kompothecras would be the most likely person to try to acquire the property. After all, he hired an attorney and a development consultant in late 2016 as he began working on plans for a boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, eventually acknowledging that the site of the former Fandango Café was the location he had in mind.

A search of Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records found that Kompothecras paid $2,526,100 for the former bank branch in late August.

This year, the Property Appraiser’s Office staff put the total taxable value of the property at $1,538,700. The value of the land itself is $1,477,100, the record says. Just a year earlier, the value of the land was put at $860,100.

The zoning is Commercial Intensive. The 25,350-square-foot parcel stands between CB’s Saltwater Outfitters and the south Siesta Daiquiri Deck. The rear of the property is across from the land where Fandango Café was located. The deteriorating remains of the restaurant were demolished months ago.

The Property Appraiser’s website lists the use of the 1237 Stickney Point Road parcel as being “in Transition.”

The actual entity listed as the owner of the former Bank of America property is Siesta Key Parking LLC, whose registered agent is Vincent Payne at 4054 Sawyer Road in Sarasota. The limited liability company was established in late June, Florida Division of Corporations records show.

Payne is listed as the registered agent for about 40 limited liability companies, according to the Division of Corporations records. Among them is Kompo Family Company LLC, whose manager is Gary Kompothecras, with the same Sawyer Road address as Payne.

An ‘umpteenth retirement’

On Aug. 21, when the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce conducted its latest quarterly meeting for members, Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., announced that that would be his last meeting in that capacity.

“My contract ends Sept. 30,” he said. “I’m retiring for the umpteenth time.”

Sept. 30 is the end of the county’s fiscal year.

Shay had held the Maintenance Corp. position for close to five years. The corporation represents all of the owners of property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District, who pay annual assessments to Sarasota County for the upkeep of the district, which — essentially — is Siesta Village.

After he made his Aug. 21 announcement, Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county — who serves as the liaison to the Maintenance Corp. — said she wanted to thank Shay “for the terrific job he has done for the Village and Siesta Key.” Applause rang out in the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, where the meeting was taking place.

Shay not only handled issues in the Village, Cece continued, but he also took on the responsibility, for example, of contacting Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) when he saw streetlights no longer shining. (Shay was known for his early-morning walks through the Village, which enabled him to get a good look at which streetlights were working and which were not.)

“Thank you so much, Michael,” Cece told him. “You’re my eyes and ears out here. There’s always something going on,” she added, and Sheriff’s Office reports do not always get filed about the incidents that occur.

Over the years, Shay has dealt with his share of traffic accidents taking out Village signage, plants and bollards, for just a few examples.

In conjunction with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce’s 60th anniversary Sock Hop on Oct. 4 at Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill, members and guests took another opportunity to thank Shay for his years of work. Shay and his wife, Maria, were special guests at the event.

In an email blast, Chamber leaders pointed out that Shay officially was hired as maintenance manager on Jan. 15, 2015. “We want to thank him for his time, diligence and dedication to make the Village and Siesta Key a better place for all to enjoy!” the email blast said. “Congratulate him in person at the party.”