By Rachel Brown Hackney
In the wake of a November neighborhood workshop, the proposal for a miniature golf course in Siesta Village is on hold, the attorney representing the couple behind the project has told SNL.
“We’re still evaluating [our next steps],” Robert Lincoln said during a Nov. 10 telephone interview. “There were some local residents who indicated their vociferous objection to the project,” he added of the Nov. 2 meeting held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. One attendee — who asked not to be named — stated, the best word to sum up the session was “contentious.”
The primary concern is parking, Lincoln continued, although he said he believes the 13 vehicle spaces that will be provided — plus three more for bicycles or motorcycles “would be enough.” That is based on the experience Mike Driscoll — the proponent of the idea — has had with similar courses Driscoll owns in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton Beach, Lincoln added.
From the outset, Lincoln and Driscoll have maintained that the project would not be a destination attraction. As Lincoln put it in an interview in August, “This is the kind of thing somebody’s going to do before or after they’ve gone to a restaurant or eaten ice cream [in the Village].”
During the workshop, Lincoln said, people emphasized the parking limitations in Siesta Village, indicating Driscoll should help alleviate that situation. “Obviously,” Lincoln pointed out, “we can’t do that.”
Driscoll’s focus, under county planning guidelines, is to provide enough parking for his project only, Lincoln noted. The neighborhood workshop was required by Sarasota County as part of the planning process.
The 18-hole miniature course has been proposed for 5160 Calle Minorga, a 10,500-square-foot vacant lot that once was envisioned by representatives of island organizations as an area just for parking. In fact, as Siesta Key Village Association Vice President Mark Smith worked over the past couple of years on another concept for expanded Village parking, that open space was one of the spots he identified, as he noted in an interview.
The only building Driscoll has proposed on the site would be a starter house/restroom facility, which would be about 200 square feet.
As Siesta resident Mike Cosentino has continued to appear each month before the County Commission — pleading for the board to rescind its May 11 vote vacating a 357-foot segment of North Beach Road — one supporter steadfastly has joined him in that effort: Siesta resident Linda Valley.
In late October, Valley sparked a question from Commissioner Charles Hines when she talked about the fact that Florida has 825 miles of shoreline, but only 40% of that land is public. The county with the least amount of public access to its beaches is Sarasota County, she said, with a figure of about 20%.
“Based on that fact alone,” Valley told the board, “not only should you not vacate any waterfront property,” but the board should budget to buy more. “Where did you get that information?” Hines asked her.
Having read so much material over the past few months, Valley replied, she was not certain. However, she promised to find the document and let him know. On Nov. 9, during the most recent County Commission meeting in downtown Sarasota, she had the answer, and she provided a copy of the document to the commissioners. The figure came from a county Beach Access Conflict Case Study that covered the period of 1980 through 2014, and it focused on Siesta Key.
The document points out, “Sarasota County has been involved in controversy over beach access on Siesta Key since the early 1970s.” It goes on to provide details of the closing of Shell Road to members of the public — a fact many of Cosentino’s allies have stressed.
“Until 1972,” the document notes, “Shell Road was an approximately [three-quarter-mile-long] unpaved road that ran along … the western edge of northern Siesta Key.” After complaints from residents “about excessive noise and danger from careless drivers,” it continues, “the large middle portion of the U-shaped road was closed to vehicular traffic” in 1972. However, the road did remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists, the document adds.
As more disputes ensued over the years between Shell Road residents and the public — including disagreements over parking along Shell Road’s northern and southern access points, both of which connected Higel Road to the shoreline — “No Parking” signs began to appear along those access points, the study says. Further, “No Trespassing” signs were planted along the unpaved right of way that had been closed to vehicular traffic.
“By 1980, the issue came to a head,” the report continues. “Many Shell Road residents had begun claiming the right of way as their private property by building walkways and swimming pools across the former roadway,” the document points out, and pedestrians and cyclists “complained of harassment from residents, while the residents complained of trespassing, littering, thefts, and vandalism.”
When, in response, the County Commission approved a plan to establish public ownership by constructing a nature trail along the former roadway, the study says, Shell Road residents filed suit. Ultimately, the county prevailed in the legal action, the document notes, adding that the nature trail exists.
The study went on to discuss further disputes that have erupted in recent years, including the effort by owners of condominiums on Crescent Beach to prevent the public from walking across their property.
The document explains, “The Florida Constitution establishes that the wet sand portion of the beach, or all land seaward of the MHTL [Mean High Tide Line], is owned by the state and held in trust for the public. However, the dry sand portion of beach, or all sand landward of the MHTL, is often privately owned by the beachfront property owner.”
The document adds, “To this day, the conflict persists as some beachfront property owners continue to prevent the public from [recreation] or passing the dry sand areas above the MHTL.”
Not the Siesta applicant
With two openings on the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) under consideration on Nov. 8, and three candidates having applied for them, the lone person from Siesta Key proved to be the one the County Commission did not appoint to the board.
A memo explained that the first position was for an individual who had to be a representative of a collector of the county’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT), or bed tax, as it is known; the four-year term would run through September 2020. The second spot also had to go to a representative of a collector of the TDT. That appointment was to fill an unexpired term, effective through October 2019, the memo said.
On a nomination by Commissioner Christine Robinson, the first TDC opening went to Terrance Torvund of Sarasota, who is the assistant manager at Myakka River State Park. He also serves on the county’s Historical Commission, his application says. Torvund’s application adds that he has been a park ranger at other facilities, as well, including “beaches, preserves and recreation sites.”
The second opening went to developer Angus Rogers of Sarasota, whose Floridays firm is constructing the Hotel Sarasota next to the Palm Avenue garage in downtown Sarasota, as well as the Hyatt Place Lakewood Ranch and the Home2 Suites by Hilton on Casey Key.
The third applicant was Mike Holderness, owner of SaraBay Real Estate and Siesta Key Beachside Villas. Regular readers may remember that earlier this year, Holderness purchased the former home of the late, beloved Siesta resident Capt. Ralph Styles. Located at 99 Beach Road, it has become one of Holderness’ stable of rental houses on the island. Holderness’ application notes his real estate experience and says he is a former fire commissioner. It adds, “Held world kickboxing title, may come in handy!”
Benderson support probably doubtful
During the County Commission’s Nov. 8 public hearing on the revised food truck ordinance, Chris Jett, founder of the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, may have pricked up a few extra ears among audience members, so to speak, when he mentioned the site of Benderson Development’s proposed Siesta Promenade project.
Ideally, Jett told the board, food trucks should be able to operate more freely than even the revised ordinance permits. For example, he said, asphalt exists at the site of a former business on the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. People driving to Siesta Key to go to the beach would be able to stop and pick up something to eat, he continued, if a food truck were operating there.
Although Benderson Development is working with county staff to construct the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development at that corner, Jett continued, “there’s nothing there [now].”
SKA and county staff offer updates on Big Pass project
Confusion continues to swirl around the exact timeline the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is following in regard to the City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach.
In October, Jess Boyd, an FDEP spokeswoman, responded to a request for clarification from SNL: “The application for a Joint Coastal Permit was deemed complete as of 9/28/2016. The department now has 90 days to issue a Notice of Intent to Issue or Deny [a permit for the project]. The challenge period of that action is within 14 days of the date of publication of the notice or written notice, whichever occurs first.”
A second FDEP spokeswoman, Dee Ann Miller, confirmed that again in early November, in spite of the fact that a document on the FDEP website says the department has 60 days from Oct. 1 “to take agency action.”
SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner referenced the timeline during the November SKA meeting, pointing out, “It is very likely within the next two months we will have a response from [FDEP] about whether [it intends] to issue the dredge permit.” Even if it does indicate it plans to issue the permit to the city and the USACE, she continued, an administrative challenge can be made — the 14-day period Boyd noted in her email.
Such a challenge, Luckner said, can be pegged to the question, for example, of whether FDEP followed all the necessary rules in making its decision. Right now, she added, an internal review is underway at the department as its experts work to make that determination.
Furthermore, Luckner noted, if FDEP says its intent is to issue the permit, and someone challenges that decision, that person then has standing to challenge the permit itself and even to take the matter to court.
In related news, Luckner informed this reporter she had contacted Sarasota County staff for an update from its perspective on where things stand with the City of Sarasota in regard to the project.
When the County Commission sent a letter to the USACE on Aug. 24, seeing an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the proposed dredging of Big Pass, a copy of that letter was shared with city staff, Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, informed Luckner via email. (The SKA had requested the board call for the EIS; it sent a letter to the commissioners in early July.)
Osterhoudt continued, “I am not aware of any staff-level technical discussions that then followed between the County and the City of Sarasota about this issue since late August. This week, ACOE staff stated that they would be preparing a response to the Board’s request for an EIS on the project within the next month or so.”
When Luckner then asked whether county and city staff had had any discussions about the potential staging for part of the project in the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido, Osterhoudt wrote on Nov. 3, “To date, the County has not yet received any request from the City or ACOE regarding the use of Ted Sperling Park to support the Lido Beach project. Therefore, there have not been any discussions to date between County staff and City/ACOE staff about this topic. Staff anticipates that an official request will be made based on the drawings submitted by the City to the State of Florida as part of the permit application documents. At the time that the City/ACOE contacts the county about the possible staging area, we expect conversation around that topic to address pertinent issues associated with the use of the park for staging or other project-related activities.”
Osterhoudt added, “In anticipation of this request, staff reached out to the FDEP to gain a better understanding of the process. Approval of the use of the staging area would not be required as a condition of the FDEP permit issuance, but would be required prior to the issuance of the Notice to Proceed. In preparation for receiving a request to use Ted Sperling Park, staff has been proactively evaluating possible impacts and associated concerns, which would be shared and discussed with the City/ACOE in the future.”
Condo Council meeting
One sure sign a lot of snowbirds have returned was the scheduling of the first meeting this season of the Siesta Key Condominium Council. That session was held on Nov. 15, at Siesta Key Chapel, located at 4615 Gleason Ave.
The guest speaker was Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, who provided an overview of state, federal and local government actions taken earlier this year that will have an impact on condo complexes and owners. Among the issues on the agenda were sprinkler retrofit requirements; new federal standards for screening of sales and leases for potential criminal conduct; and the impacts on traffic expected as a result of the update of the county Comprehensive Plan.
Keep those numbers handy
During his report to SKA members on Nov. 3, Deputy Chris McGregor noted that with children back in school and not all the snowbirds having returned yet, “this is the time of year for us”; not much is going on. No real crime trends had been detected, he added. SKA board member Joe Volpe told him that a would-be criminal apparently was going through unlocked vehicles on Treasure Boat Way the previous week. “Was that reported?” McGregor asked. “I doubt it,” Volpe replied.
“These things have to be reported,” McGregor advised the audience of about 60 people. Otherwise, he said, deputies may be aware of similar situations but unaware they are connected to additional incidents.
That reminded him of a situation that happened about 20 years ago, McGregor continued. A woman left a message on the office number at the Siesta Key substation, saying, “It’s Friday night. I just chased a guy out of my house.”
McGregor pointed out that because the substation generally is not staffed at night or on the weekends, he did not hear her message until the following Monday morning. “Don’t hesitate to call,” he told the audience. “Make a report.”
On a related note, Bob Luckner, husband of SKA Vice Second President Catherine Luckner, thanked McGregor for fast response to a call he made to the Sheriff’s Office several weeks earlier. “We had a suspicious person across the street from us,” Bob Luckner explained. The house had not been occupied, so he called the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office.
“The [deputy] was there in 3 minutes,” Luckner continued. “Awesome,” McGregor replied.
As it turned out, the person in the house was a new tenant, Luckner said. “It was a non-event, but how did we know, right?” “Those are the endings we like,” McGregor told him.
Then, drawing laughter, McGregor indicated that perhaps it was not the best way for the renter to meet his new neighbors.
“The deputy [who responded] was very diplomatic,” Luckner explained, declining to tell the young man who had called the Sheriff’s Office. Nonetheless, Luckner continued, he did go over and introduce himself and explain that he and his wife were concerned because they had not known the house had a new occupant.
The man appeared to be a teenager, and he had long hair and a backpack, Luckner pointed out; he did not look like the usual resident in their neighborhood.
At the request of an audience member, McGregor pointed out that the non-emergency Sheriff’s Office number is 316-1201. “If you’re not sure,” he added, “dial 911.” The operator will determine whether the situation qualifies as an emergency; if it is not, McGregor said, the operator still will see that the information is passed along to a deputy.
He also reminded the audience members that, in most cases, the caller may remain anonymous.
SKA membership renewals
SKA board member Bob Miller reminded everyone during the Nov. 3 meeting that the organization’s annual membership drive is underway.
Anyone who registered online and agreed to automatic renewals will have his or her credit card charged on Jan. 1, Miller said. If a member has begun using a different credit card since the last time he or she renewed, Second Vice President Catherine Luckner pointed out, the member should update that information on the SKA website to make sure the transaction in January occurs without a problem.
For those who prefer not to conduct transactions online, however, checks are welcome, Miller pointed out.
“Quite a few members have signed up already,” he added.
In response to a question about the next annual meeting, Luckner said no date has been set yet. The board generally tries to schedule the session around the first part of March, she added, but not during spring break for county students.
The annual meeting traditionally is held in the Community Room at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.
Siesta Key Chamber Volunteer Trolley Tour
The Chamber would like to thank Siesta Trolley, Siesta Key Palms Hotel, Beach House Bungalows, Siesta Royale Apartments, Siesta Sunset Royale and Gulf & Bay Club Bayside Vacation Rentals for their hospitality in hosting 30 Chamber volunteers on their annual accommodation tour.
The last stop of our tour was The Sandbox on the Beach where owners Roger and Arlene Esslinger hosted a volunteer dinner catered by Tom and Kay Kouvatsos of Village Café. Chamber volunteer accommodation tours are an invaluable means of advertising each resort’s unique features. Siesta Key Chamber volunteers field over 9000 walk ins and over 6000 phone call visitor inquiries seeking accommodation information.