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Siesta Key Round Up

 By Stan Zimmerman

Tax collector haunts Airbnb
Sarasota County levies a five percent so-called “bed tax” on accommodations booked for less than six months. Thousands of local businesses levy the surcharge on room rates, from big hotels to mom-and-pop island rentals. The money supports local arts organizations, beach renourishment and other tasks.

But websites like airbnb.com skirt the rules, not offering a hotel, motel or house rental. Instead the website allows homeowners to offer their spare bedroom to visitors. Sometimes the spare bedroom rental doesn’t come to the tax collector’s attention.

Having used Airbnb in Berlin, Barcelona and Venice (Italy), I can attest to how the website is a portal to easy, cheap and wonderful accommodations. I’ve stayed with Catalan separatists, Vietnamese communists and a violin maker, which is vastly more entertaining than the usual hotel room neighbor.

Every venue wants to collect a bed tax. My communist and Catalan hosts spurned the tax, and said so. My violin maker apologetically said I should pay it (an extra fee beyond the Airbnb quotation) because his city needed it. Loving Venice, I gladly complied.

But Sarasota County is losing a five percent tax on seasonal rentals via Airbnb and similar websites, so the tax collector is trolling for info. If you happen to be an Airbnb customer or provider, make sure you give the appropriate response. Friends came to visit. Because if my friends from Berlin, Venice and Barcelona wanted to stay with me, I’d love to see them.

If you can convince yourself the county needs the money, please ask your guests to pay the Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax.

 The big renourishment
Additional Siesta Key organizations are lining up against plans to dredge sand from Big Pass on Siesta Key’s northern tip to renourish Lido Key. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a 50-year, $22.7 million plan to use the ebb shoal of Big Pass to protect condominiums on Lido to the north from shoreline erosion.

The plan faces increasing opposition. The Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, and the Siesta Key Village Association all are on record now opposing the plan to dredge Big Pass to protect Lido Key. Organization representatives say they understand Lido needs the sand, but jealously guard the ebb shoal, where out-going tides make substantial deposits.

Big Pass between Lido and Siesta never has been dredged (a Florida rarity). Siesta residents and merchants fear any molestation of natural forces could erode a beach long considered one of the finest in the Western Hemisphere.

Opponents of the dredge are quick to say Lido needs help. But the help should come from somewhere else. A lively public hearing on the acrid controversy may be held this month.

Another renourishment
Lido Beach is not the only area needing more sand. Turtle Beach on southern Siesta Key needs reinforcement too. In 2007 property owners paid for a portion of beach renourishment of more than 900,000 cubic yards of sand that was deposited on Siesta Key from Point o’ Rocks to Midnight Pass. But it didn’t last.

Now the county is pushing paperwork forward for an $11 million renewal of the effort. About $5.5 million will come from the Tourist Development Tax. The remainder will come from the state, and an assessment of beachfront property owners.

The sand would come from offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, says County Coastal Resources Manger Laird Wreford. He said the sand is eight or nine miles west in the Gulf of Mexico. “There will come a time when it will become extremely challenging to find offshore sand sources,” he told the Sarasota News leader.com magazine.

Future beach parking
OK. You are tired of milling around, looking for Siesta Key public beach parking. And maybe you dropped off your lady-friend to hold a spot and some officer gave her a $25 ticket. And somebody else got the spot!

Is help on the way? Sort of. Maybe. Sarasota County is now demolishing, rearranging and hopefully improving the parking scene at Siesta Beach. By the Fourth of July, the county hopes 260 more spaces are created in the new reorganization.

But don’t get excited. The project has multiple phases with multiple confusions. It will take a couple of years to finish the rehabilitation. In the meantime, townies might want to take the bus from the mall we wrote about last month.

More costs to beat e-coli
The rehab at the public beach isn’t the only project in the area. A substantial storm water effort is also in progress. The huge piles of sand you see near Beach Road are part of it. And it’s getting more expensive.

“Unforeseen debris” bumped the project cost $130,00 to $.4.6 million. The original estimate for the project was $1.5 million. It all started when a minor stormwater streamlet was identified as a source of e-coli bacteria (probably from pet waste).

During excavation of a new stormwater retention pond, the “debris” was discovered. So thank every dog you see on Siesta for the $4.6 million project.