By Rachel Brown Hackney
‘Dr. Beach’ favors keeping Beach Road segment closed
No less an authority on beach issues than “Dr. Beach” himself has weighed in on the Reopen Beach Road initiative.
And Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University has offered his professional opinion that the 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission vacated in May 2016 should remain off limits to vehicles.
In an Aug. 18 letter to the commission, Leatherman wrote, “I have personally inspected the section of Beach Road that is closed to vehicular traffic on Siesta Key and concluded that the present situation of pedestrian access only is best from an environmental standpoint.”
Leatherman continued, “The beach is very narrow in this location, and hence this area is subject to storm-induced overwash and erosion, making it difficult to maintain a serviceable road for cars. Also, it is not necessary for this short section of Beach road to be open to cars because there is little traffic through this residential area. At the same time, there is ample access for pedestrians.”
Leatherman attached his resume, which notes that he is a professor in Florida International University’s Department of Earth & Environment. He has written or edited 16 books and National Academy of Sciences reports, including articles titled America’s Best Beaches and Sea Level Rise: Causes and Consequences; and he has authored more than 200 journal articles and technical reports, including submissions that have appeared in the prestigious publications Science and Nature, the resume says. Further, he has provided expert testimony on 10 occasions for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, the resume notes.
Leatherman most recently made a public appearance on Siesta Key when he named the public beach No. 1 in the United States just before the start of Memorial Day weekend in May. In December 2016, in conjunction with a presentation Leatherman made to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members, he made it clear that pedestrian and bicycle access to a beach — with the resulting decrease in motor vehicles — is an important consideration when he compiles his Top 10 list each year. Siesta has headed that list twice in this decade, with 2011 marking the first occasion.
Leatherman’s letter came a little more than two weeks after representatives of the nonprofit organization Reopen Beach Road urged the audience members at the SKA’s Aug. 3 meeting to support them in reversing the County Commission’s road vacation vote. The affected portion of North Beach Road has been closed to traffic since 1993 because of the repeated storm damage.
Two of the property owners who petitioned successfully for the road vacation have installed a rope-and-bollard barrier to prevent cars and trucks from accessing the portion of the road the county vacated in May 2016. However, public signage erected by the county makes it clear that any member of the public is welcome on that stretch, as long as the person is not in a motor vehicle.
Single-vehicle accidents reported on Ocean Boulevard
The last week of August proved problematic, one might say, for two drivers on Ocean Boulevard. Coincidentally, the men were the same age.
Their involvement in two traffic accidents in the space of two days caused more than a little damage, though one incident was considerably worse than the other, based on Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reports.
On Aug. 27, a 26-year-old Sarasota man was charged with careless driving after “he suddenly struck the signs and [a] tree” and shrubs on Ocean Boulevard, about 115 feet from North Sandy Hook Road, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office report.
The incident involving Jose M. Malave in a 2014 BMW sedan was recorded at 1:24 a.m., the report says. The damage estimate was $10,000.
What he primarily hit was the big sign that welcomes people to Siesta Village. A median with similar signage on the south end of the Village was demolished in a traffic accident last year.
Malave was heading north on Ocean Boulevard at the time of the incident, the report says, noting that he was not suspected to have been under the influence of alcohol and he was not distracted.
Malave told the responding deputy “he didn’t know what happened,” and no witnesses were found, the report adds.
He was wearing his seat belt, the report notes, and the vehicle’s air bag deployed. An EMS unit of the Sarasota County Fire Department transported Malave to Sarasota Memorial Hospital after he complained of arm pain, the report adds. The vehicle was towed from the scene, the report notes.
In the second incident — which occurred at 2 a.m. on Aug. 29 — a 26-year-old Georgia man was heading southbound on Ocean Boulevard, toward the Village. After he rounded the curve at Given Street, the report says, he saw a tree lying across the road. Although he was able to slow down, his 2004 Honda Civic “skidded into the tree,” causing approximately $300 in damage to the front bumper and scratches to the hood.
The incident was close to the Pass Key Road intersection, the report points out.
County staff had to remove the tree, the report says. A Florida Power & Light Co. crew assisted, as the tree was leaning on a power line. It took the deputy until 5 a.m. to clear the scene, the report notes.
Samir Bakul Cholera also was wearing his seat belt, the report says; no air bag deployed in his sedan. He was not sure of his speed at the time of the crash, the report adds.
Would you like to be a volunteer?
In its September newsletter, the Siesta Chamber has put out a call to volunteers for the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, which will be held Nov. 9-15 at Siesta Public Beach.
Volunteers are needed to assist with admissions; help direct guests waiting in line; and to handle beer, water and merchandise sales, the Chamber newsletter notes. The Chamber has a web address for people wishing to sign up, with slots open each day of the event. The Crystal Classic typically draws tens of thousands of visitors to Siesta Key.
For more information about becoming a volunteer, email Mia Leone at the Chamber: email@example.com.
Graffiti not gang-related
Because the Aug. 16 Siesta Chamber quarterly membership meeting followed so soon after graffiti was found spray-painted at Siesta Public Beach and in other locations on the island, that topic also arose.
Chair Mark Smith noted that a fence along Treasure Boat Way, a facility used by Frontier Communications and a condo building also were spray-painted, or “tagged,” as the addition of graffiti is called.
Smith pointed out that when the county undertook its two-year renovation project at the beach — which officially concluded in February 2016 — staff included wiring for security cameras. However, apparently because of the expense, no cameras ever were installed.
Perhaps it is time the county found the funding to take that extra step, Smith continued, as surveillance video might have led to the identification of suspects. “This is a real shame,” he added of the situation.
Kay Kouvatsos of Village Café suggested that perhaps, because of concerns about disrupting turtles during nesting season, the county had installed such a low level of nighttime lighting that cameras would not be able to pick up images well after dark. More sophisticated cameras that could operate in such low-level lighting, she added, would be a lot costlier.
“We’re talking Green Beret type of stuff,” Smith concurred laughingly. “We just all need to be vigilant,” he added, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity at night and in the early-morning hours.
Then Michael Shay asked Sgt. Jason Mruczek, the Sheriff’s Office’s substation leader on the Key, whether the graffiti appeared to be gang-related. Shay added that he had heard a rumor that since “Orlando” was one of the words spray-painted on structures, the perpetrators were from an Orlando gang.
“It did not appear to be associated with any known gangs,” Mruczek replied, noting that was the view of the department detectives who deal with gangs.
County property owners should get to park for free
During the most recent quarterly general meeting of members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Chair Mark Smith announced that the Board of Directors finally had settled on a position on the potential for a paid parking program at Siesta Public Beach.
“All Sarasota County property owners,” he said, should be able to park for free at the beach.
That was the decision the board members arrived at “after much discussion,” Smith pointed out during the Aug. 16 meeting, which was held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.
Perhaps two parking decals for the beach could be distributed on an annual basis with each Truth in Millage (TRIM) notice mailed out by the county, he suggested. (The TRIM notices go out each summer after local government bodies set their not-to-exceed millage rates for the coming fiscal year.)
People in the county who do not own property — as well as those who rent homes — could purchase a yearly decal, Smith said. Visitors to the beach would pay an hourly or day rate, in line with what other beach communities charge, he continued.
“All proceeds from Siesta Beach paid parking would be used on Siesta Key,” he stressed as the Chamber board’s view. “That’s what we believe it should be.”
Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café in Siesta Village, suggested that only homesteaded property owners in the county be provided the decals to enable them to park for free, as many property owners rent their houses and condos.
Smith responded that he believes everyone who pays property taxes should be able to park for free at the beach.
However, Kouvatsos countered, “If Mr. and Mrs. Smith own seven homes, I don’t think they should have seven passes.”
If they rent out those homes, Smith replied, the passes would be passed along to the renters as a benefit.
Smith also emphasized, “Other folks, on the mainland, shouldn’t have a problem with us using the revenue on Siesta Key, because it’s being generated by visitors to Siesta Key.”
When Siesta resident Michael Shay asked whether owners of hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the Mira Mar district in Siesta Village also should be allowed to get parking decals, Smith responded, “This is the position [of the Chamber] … the broad brush. … This [issue] was brought up by our illustrious county commissioners, who then went on [summer] break.”
The paid parking discussion arose during the county board’s regular meeting on July 12, the last one the commissioners conducted before heading out for their annual summer recess.
"I’m not saying it was a bad idea,” Smith added of the potential for the county to charge visitors to park at the beach. Still, he continued, by raising the issue and then leaving for five weeks, the commissioners “left the rest of us holding the bag.” “We have no authority, FYI,” he said.
On September 6, a staff report the County Commission requested on July 12 had not been completed by the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) staff. That assignment called for staff to research options and then offer scenarios for the board’s consideration.
A notice on the commission’s Aug. 29 meeting agenda said the report was due on Aug. 25. However, given the hurricane preparations, SNL learned from county staff that no definitive timeline exists for PRNR staff to finish the initiative.
Going after Detert
Even though county staff had scheduled just one business item on the County Commission’s Aug. 23 agenda — a public hearing on a construction and yard waste recycling plant proposed near the Celery Fields — the board allowed public comments on other topics, as always.
Only two speakers took advantage of that Open to the Public period before the hearing began, and one of them was Mike Cosentino. This time, Cosentino identified himself as president of Cosentino Construction as well as president of Reopen Beach Road.
“You all know who I am,” he quickly added. “You know why I’m here.”
When he appeared before the board on May 24, he continued, he “brought to light” the fact that two of the commissioners had received campaign contributions from an individual who does not live in the county or vote in the county. Yet, those commissioners “voted for the illegal and short-sighted giveaway of Beach Road.”
During those May comments, Cosentino talked of his research regarding Dennis and Wendy Madden, who were among the couples who petitioned last year for the 357-foot-long road segment to be vacated. Cosentino said they had given money to Chair Paul Caragiulo and Commissioner Alan Maio, who were elected to the board in 2014.
After he concluded his remarks that day, Cosentino pointed out on Aug. 23, Vice Chair Nancy Detert told her colleagues, “‘I didn’t know we had to listen to that,’” as Cosentino put it.
As SNL reported in early June, what transpired was as follows:
Addressing Caragiulo, Detert said, “Apparently, you believe in true democracy, where anybody can get up and say anything to us for 3 minutes, and it’s kind of a nice philosophy. Most of us would get angry or upset or want to rebut.”
Allowing Cosentino to levy allegations against the board members without their offering any responses — as is their protocol — is “kind of a new concept to me,” Detert added. “To be accused of some of the things that speaker comes and tells us at every meeting, it’s a little hard to sit through. I just congratulate your calmness and fairness, frankly,” she said to Caragiulo.
On Aug. 23, Cosentino told the board members that Thomas Jefferson said, “It’s not only our duty but our obligation to bring light when our government is not being responsive to us.” Therefore, Cosentino added, “I feel it is my duty and obligation to point these things out. That is why I have a lawsuit against this county. … That’s why you are going to keep seeing me until Beach Road has reopened and justice is served.”
Singling out Detert, he reminded her that when she was sworn in as a commissioner in November 2016, she told the audience she felt that she had become akin to a police officer in that it is her duty on the board to serve and protect.
“You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,” Cosentino said to her on Aug. 23. “In my opinion, you have chosen to not be part of the solution. I am not quite certain who it is you are protecting and serving, but it is not me.”
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce would like to welcome 11 new members:
1. Beach Rentals, Mobi
2. Connors Steak & Seafood
3. Sanctuary Siesta Key
4. Valcarcel Law with Attorney Erika Valcarcel
5. Positive Re:Percussions
6. Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen
7. Sarasota – Manatee Originals/ Eat Like a Local
8. Sarasota Apothecary – Dr. Jillian Dano
10. AMC Sarasota 12 Theatres
11. Florida Community Bank – Tom Sorrentino – Mortgage Lender
The SKCC office is located in the Siesta Key Village at 5114 Ocean Blvd. If you would like to be part of the Chamber please contact Suzanne Roberge firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-349-3800