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Siesta Key Round Up January 2018

Staff report

Boating incident reported in Big Pass

   In late November, “eagle eye” resident Michael Shay reported to the paper that he saw emergency vessels in Big Sarasota Pass on the night of Nov. 26. He later learned that a 911 call was logged at 7:33 p.m. that day, and it referenced the sandbar in Big Pass.

It took several days to track down all the available information, leading finally to a statement on Dec. 1 from staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

  In the Dec. 1 email, Melody Kilborn, public information coordinator for FWC’s Southwest Region Office, wrote that she had just spoken with the investigating officer late that afternoon. “The information that I have at this time,” she continued, “is that FWC received the call at approximately 7:48 p.m. [on Nov. 26] from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) [regarding] a single boat accident in Sarasota.”

   She added, “The vessel struck a seawall and came to rest on a nearby pile of rock. There were 4 adults on board at the time of the incident, one female and three males.” Of the four, she noted, three were transported to the hospital, and two of the three sustained injuries.

   “Both of the injured parties are in stable condition,” she wrote. “[T]his is still an active and ongoing investigation and as soon as our officers have completed their thorough investigation, a report will be completed,” she noted.

   On Nov. 27, contact was made with Ashley Lusby, the media relations officer for Sarasota County’s Emergency Services Department, to learn what she could report about the incident. She responded that the Fire Department transported two patients to the hospital. One was a 30-year-old male; the other, a 49-year-old male, she wrote in an email.

   Contact also was made with the Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 27, to ask whether its staff could provide any details. Mycah A. Schafer, media relations specialist, wrote in an email that two calls were made for help — one to the City of Sarasota and one to the county. The Sheriff’s Office did assist with the response to the incident, she added, “but essentially the call was in the city limits and FWC took over the investigation.”

   Kilborn explained that the FWC has jurisdiction when boating accidents occur.

New beneficiaries of Crystal Classic to be determined

   After all the accounting has been completed, the organizers of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival will decide how to divvy up any profits, Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, has announced.

In years past, he said, Siesta Beach Festival Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that owns the Crystal Classic, had a contract that specified “a sizable amount of money” would go to Mote Marine out of the proceeds from the annual November event.

   However, Smith told about 35 people at the December Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, it costs about $285,000 for the Siesta Key Chamber to produce the festival. One year, he added, a rainy day “wiped out every bit of profit we had.” Therefore, the Chamber has been working to set aside about $20,000 a year to create a fund up to $125,000 “literally for a rainy day, and we’re about there.”

   The Chamber pays the travel expenses of the 24 artists who participate in the festival, Smith continued, and they come from all over the world. It also provides them a stipend. Furthermore, Smith noted, the Chamber has to pay Sarasota County for a permit to hold the event on Siesta Public Beach. County staff members “want their share of the pie,” was how he put it.

   After all the financial details have been settled from the Crystal Classic this year, Smith added, the Chamber will announce the nonprofit organizations in the area that will benefit from any proceeds.

He did point out that the organizers know attendance “definitely was up from years past,” adding that the event was “a big success.”

Siesta Key dates to remember for February

   The Annual Siesta Key Village Craft Festival Sat. and Sun., Feb. 24 and 25, arts and crafts, music and great food make this two-day celebration the first popular event of the year.

   Village Valentine Stroll Wednesday, Feb. 14, take a stroll through Siesta Key Village for sweets and treats. Look for pink or red balloons displayed outside participating businesses. Both events are sponsored by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit www.siestakeychamber.com or call (941) 349-3800.

   Say “I Do” Again! Wednesday, Feb. 14, celebrate a renewal of your wedding vows at sunset on beautiful Siesta Beach. The non-denominational service begins promptly at 6 p.m. Registration required. For more information, call Sarasota County at (941) 861-5000.

How long should sandbags stay in place?

   Sometimes the theoretically routine business items on the Sarasota County Commission consent agendas are more easily understood at first pass than others. On Nov. 28, it took a bit more digging to get to the heart of Item No. 10 out of 15.

   Officially, it called for the board to “authorize a public hearing on ordinance amending the Coastal Setback Code, Chapter 54, Article XXII of the County Code, extending the duration of Class I Emergency Variances.”

   An email from a member of the county’s Planning and Development Services staff, which went to representatives of the four barrier island associations in the county, made the issue clearer. “Because of erosion along portions of its Gulf of Mexico shoreline, Sarasota County is considering amendments to the Coastal Setback Code relating to temporary shoreline protection. The existing Code limits the use of sandbags to one year, while the amendments propose to create an administrative process to provide a maximum of two, one-year extensions,” Joseph Kraus wrote on the morning of Nov. 29.

On Nov. 28, the County Commission unanimously approved the tentative scheduling of a Jan. 30, 2018 public hearing on the draft language staff has prepared for the amendments, he added.

In fact, no board member pulled any item from that Nov. 28 Consent Agenda for discussion before the vote.

   “The public comment period is extremely helpful,” Kraus pointed out in the email. “We value the input of the barrier island associations and residents, and invite your consideration of, and comment on, the proposed amendments. As always, we are available to respond to questions and would be glad to attend association meetings to discuss.” 

He included his email address and phone number: jkraus@scgov.net; 726-4061.

The email went to representatives of the Siesta Key Association, Casey Key Association, Manasota Key Association and North Manasota Key Association.

   A memo provided to the board in advance of the Nov. 28 meeting explains, “The Coastal Setback Code establishes standards for the approval of measures to protect Gulf-front structures at risk of damage from beach erosion.” The approval may be granted “‘in emergencies caused by recent calamitous occurrences such as, but not limited to, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or high winds where buildings, swimming pools, roads, or public facilities have been damaged or destroyed, or are directly and immediately anticipated to be threatened,’” the memo says.

   After the 2016 storm season, the memo continues, “several Class I Emergency Variances were granted for properties fronting the Gulf of Mexico on Manasota Key. Considering the limitations associated with the one-year administrative authorizations, several of the property owners requested that the County Commission (Board) consider extending the timeframe for which their sandbags may remain under the initial authorization. Based on Board guidance provided on April 19, 2017 and April 25, 2017,” the memo adds, staff prepared the amendments to the Coastal Setback Code.

 January Siesta Key Association meeting

   SKA will hold its monthly meeting on January 4, 4:30 PM at St. Boniface Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road, in the Parish Hall. One of the main topics for the meeting, “Make Siesta Drive Safe,” with two guest speakers from the Bay Island Siesta Association. Two other major items that will be discussed is an update regarding the Big Pass Dredging and Commercial Setbacks within the Siesta Key Overlay District/Proposed Hotel.

Membership meeting notice

   The Siesta Key Condo Council will hold a its next meeting on January 23, 3:30 PM at the Siesta Key Chapel located at 4615 Gleason Ave on Siesta Key.

   The main speaker is Dan Lobeck from Lobeck and Hanson P.A. Lobeck will be covering the following topics: 2017 Condominium Legislation, Criminal Penalties Against Officers and Directors, Conflicts of Interest, Term Limits, Debit Cards, Records and Financial Reports, Recalls & Voting Rights, Mandatory Websites, Estoppels and 2018 Proposed Condominium Legislation.

Road swap might become moot

   A potential swap involving state roads on Siesta Key may become moot.

   In early September, Former Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer reported that county staff has been in talks with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) representatives about that department accepting River Road as a state road in exchange for the county’s accepting roads on Siesta Key as county routes, including Siesta Drive, Higel Avenue and Stickney Point Road.

   During a Dec. 12 discussion about county priorities for state and federal help, County Commissioner Nancy Detert and state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, agreed that the improvements the county wants to undertake on River Road would get underway faster if the county could win a $10-million Florida Job Growth Fund grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The county applied for that grant during the summer.

   The road swap, Steube indicated, might take more than a year. However, the potential exists for the state to award that economic development money to the county out of 2018 appropriations.

   Steube and Rob Lewis, the county’s director of community and intergovernmental relations, said they would advocate for the county to win the state funding for River Road.

About those dogs …

   During his December report to SKA members, Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office subdivision on the Key, reported “no real major crime trends” for November. A couple of vehicle burglaries had been reported on the north end of the island, he said, so he reminded the audience members to lock their vehicles and never to leave valuables in plain sight in them.

   Mruczek added that the Sheriff’s Office had received requests to increase patrols on South Midnight Pass Road to monitor speeding in that area. A speed-recording device was set up to collect data, he said, so he would be checking on the results soon.

   As for reports of vehicles speeding through Siesta Village early in the morning: Putting deputies in place to monitor that remains a work in progress, Mruczek indicated.

   When he asked for questions or concerns, a woman told him that she had been observing “a lot of people bringing so-called service dogs out [on the beach] as soon as the lifeguards leave,” and those dogs run up and down the shoreline.

   “No animals are allowed in county parks,” Mruczek responded. However, if a person tells a deputy a dog is a service animal, the deputy does ask whether the dog belongs to that person and what type of service animal it is. The dog does not have to have a vest on to specify that information, he noted.

“We’re very limited on what we can ask [of the owners],” he said, indicating that that was because of the language in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nonetheless, he continued, dogs are supposed to be on leashes, unless they have been trained to respond reliably to voice commands.

   The woman then pointed out that she believed owners “throwing Frisbees into the water [for the dogs] to retrieve” was a sure sign the dogs she had been seeing were not service animals. Mruczek acknowledged that he was inclined to agree with her.

How much is that land worth?

   The future of county-owned land at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road has been a big topic of Siesta discussions for some time, with many island leaders thinking it would be a good location for a parking lot.

   During a Dec. 13 County Commission discussion about creating parking spaces and a trolley stop on that property, Commissioner Michael Moran asked about the market value of the land.

   Lin Kurant, the county’s Real Estate Services manager, replied that a staff appraiser had come up with the figure of $3.5 million.

   Commissioner Alan Maio reminded Moran that, earlier this year, the county’s Public Utilities Department staff affirmed the need for the county to retain ownership of the property because of an aboveground water tank located there and numerous underground pipelines. “A parking lot was a fallback position.”

   Kurant pointed out that the Utilities Department staff had advised her office that all of the utilities infrastructure on the site would have to be removed if the parcel were to be offered for sale. “It’s zoned multi-family,” she said of the property, but the number of units that could be constructed on it most likely would be constrained because of a wetlands area on the eastern end of it.

   Commissioner Charles Hines was among board members who voiced surprise that such a high potential sales price would be expected for the parcel

“I don’t care if its 5 cents or $3.5 million,” Moran replied. “I’m just suggesting that it’s a variable in this conversation.”

   The board members have been working since October to identify revenue — including proceeds from selling surplus land — that can be used to fill a projected $7.7-million budget hole for the 2019 fiscal year.

Gaddie wins seat on county advisory committee

   Regular readers will recall that Siesta resident Cheryl Gaddie, who is well known in the region for the work of her firm, CG Interior Design, served for a period of time as president of the Siesta Key Village Association before it was absorbed into the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2016. What they may not know about Gaddie is that she is a dedicated bicyclist.

On Nov. 28, Gaddie was among five people who won unanimous County Commission approval as new members of the county’s Bicycle/Pedestrian/Trail Advisory Committee.

   Her term and those of two other people will run through November 2019, according to a memo provided to the board. The others were appointed through November 2020. The reason for the shorter period of service for the three was to “maintain term staggering as required by the governing resolution,” Patrick Lui, the county’s bicycle pedestrian coordinator, noted in the memo. “The applicants are aware of the reduced appointment length,” he added.

In her application, Gaddie wrote, “Strong interest in biking for transportation” in response to the question, “Why do you want to serve on this Advisory Council?”

Gaddie previously served on the board, she noted. 

Van Roekens also sent the email to County Commissioner Alan Maio and incoming Interim County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.

Breeze ridership climbing after late-summer lull

   Ridership for the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley has bounced back as expected, thanks to seasonal residents returning to the Key and two big events on the island last month.

   In October, the total was 8,793, and in November, it was 15,443, Kendra Keiderling, marketing outreach and customer service supervisor for Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) reported.

   Not only did the island host the Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival in November, but it also had a busy holiday season kickoff — Light Up Siesta Key — the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

   In July, SCAT recorded 25,506 passengers on the open-air trolley that circulates between Turtle Beach Park and Siesta Village. For August, the total was 14,040, Keiderling reported.

   Of course, July Fourth is a tremendously busy day for visitors on the island. Additionally, spot checks have indicated that Dr. Beach’s second No. 1 ranking of Siesta Public Beach, just before Memorial Day, contributed to another booming summer for businesses.

   In September, however, ridership fell to 5,165. Keiderling reported that SCAT staff had been warned that September traditionally is the least busy month on the Key, with school having started and snowbirds not having returned yet. The Breeze also had six days of disruption because of forecasts for Hurricane Irma’s strike, Keiderling said in early October.

Cosentino’s Charter amendments

   Mike Cosentino and Mary Anne Bowie, executive director of Reopen Beach Road, told members of the Siesta Key Association in August that they hoped to set a record for the shortest amount of time needed to get privately initiated Sarasota County Charter amendments before voters.

   Both amendments are related to Cosentino’s efforts to overturn a May 2016 vote of the County Commission that vacated a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road.

   Reopen Beach Road needs a total of 13,866 valid signatures on each proposed amendment. As of Dec. 13, the Supervisor of Elections Office reported the total of the signatures submitted, for proposed Amendment 4.1 is 7,129; for proposed Amendment 4.2, 7,015.

   As for the proposed amendments themselves: The first says the following: “Article III, Section 4.1. Preserve County-Owned Parks, Preserves, Beach and Water Access and Waterfront Vistas. The County shall not sell, and shall retain ownership of, County-owned Parks and Preserves, and shall not vacate or sell County-owned road segments or right of way along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista. The County shall encourage maximum right of way use for public access and viewing of waterfront vistas. Whenever feasible, the County shall make these areas accessible to mobility impaired persons.”

   The second says, “Article III, Section 4.2. Siesta Key Beach Road as Public Right of Way. The County shall rescind the vacation of, or re-acquire, Beach Road on Siesta Key as it existed on January 1, 2016, and shall not vacate or sell this County-owned road segment(s) or right of way. The County shall provide maximum right of way use of Beach Road for public access, including vehicular use and viewing of waterfront vistas. The County shall make Beach Road accessible to mobility impaired persons.”