County has no plans to add restrooms at Beach Access 7
By Rachel Brown Hackney
The prospect of restrooms at Beach Access 7 on Siesta Key arose again recently during a Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting. And it appears the county has no plans to add any at that site.
When Paul Parr brought up the matter on April 5, County Commission Chair Al Maio explained that people who live close to the access have been allowing members of the public to use a downstairs restroom in their home, “which they’re gracious to do …”
"I have a stream of people that come to our building desperately looking for a bathroom,” Parr explained of the condominiums he rents across the street from the access. Each unit has a bathroom, he pointed out, but his building has no public facilities.
His only option, Parr added, is to tell people to go to the Village. “There’s definitely a bathroom problem on the beaches,” he pointed out, referring to an insufficiency of public restrooms given the number of residents and tourists who visit the shoreline.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rules govern elevation of buildings in flood zones. His understanding, Maio said, is that as long as you improve a structure up to only 50 percent of its value, FEMA does not mandate that the structure be raised. In regard to Access 7, he added that he suspected staff does not want to make improvements to the cottage on the property that would be significant enough to trigger that 50-percent rule.
SKVA Vice President Mark Smith, an architect, confirmed Maio’s understanding about the FEMA rule, noting that the 50-percent rule applies to the appraised value of a nonconforming structure.
However, Smith continued, if a building has been designated historic, it might be exempt from the rule.
If the county were to construct a new restroom facility on the site, Smith pointed out, it would have to be a minimum of 19.4 feet above the zero elevation mark. Estimating that the grade is 4 or 5 feet at Access 7, he continued, the ground floor of the building would have to be about 14 feet above the ground. By the time a ramp was added so the structure could comply with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines, Smith said, “You’ve got a lighthouse for a bathroom.”
Still, Smith noted, “It could be a beautiful architectural bathroom.”
In response to a SNL request for information about plans for Access 7, county spokesman Jason Bartolone responded by email: “There are no plans at this time to create public restrooms at Beach Access 7. The design standards for modifying existing buildings on the beach, together with the cottage’s layout and construction, makes it difficult to modify the existing building for use as a public restroom with standard ADA accessibility. For this reason, any future restroom on the property may be a new addition to the existing cottage or a separate building altogether. Implementation of additional improvements at Beach Access 7 would need to be explored in the future, in particular, the due diligence associated with developing a public restroom at that location, including funding needs.”
Bartolone added, “The county is interested in getting the cottage historically designated,” indicating, however, that the necessary work to achieve that goal has not begun.
In a related matter that arose during the County Commission’s April 27 mid-year financial review, Maio said people also have inquired about the county building restrooms at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, just west of the Siesta Drive bridge to the Key. Someone suggested to him, after the dedication of the improved park, that a group might want to work in cooperation with the county to install such facilities on the site, he added.
“A lot of people go there,” Maio pointed out of the park, adding that restrooms are needed. Nonetheless, he continued, after he explained to the person making the inquiry that “those structures are likely to be well in the air … I never heard any more.”
As part of its Consent Agenda of routine business items on May 10, the County Commission approved two contracts that will result in the rehabilitation of the sanitary sewer system in the Treasure Boat Way and Island Circle basins.
The work is scheduled to get underway in the middle of this summer, with completion expected in early fall, staff memos note. Residents in the immediate areas will be notified by postcards at least two weeks prior to the start of the work, the memos add.
For the Treasure Boat project, the county board approved a $126,955.50 contract with Insituform Technologies; for Island Circle, a $155,011.50 contract with the same firm. The Insituform office closest to Sarasota is in Tampa.
For Treasure Boat Way, the work involves trenchless reconstruction of about 3,750 linear feet of vitrified clay pipe that has a diameter of 8 inches. For Island Circle, the work involves about 4,600 linear feet of the same type of pipe.
The county staff memos say the projects will extend the lifetimes of the pipe by more than 50 years.
‘Complete chaos’ among swimmers, boaters and fishermen described at Turtle Beach
For almost exactly three years, Andrew Terry has been trying to get Sarasota County staff to address what he calls “complete chaos” at Turtle Beach, where he has been swimming for exercise since he and his wife moved to the Key from Osprey. And for three years, he told about 40 members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) on May 5, county staff has declined to do more than post a few small signs to warn people to be on the alert for swimmers.
A former lifeguard himself, Terry is dismayed, he pointed out, that no lifeguards are on duty at Turtle Beach. “You have jet skis, and you have boats coming in,” he pointed out. It is inevitable, he said, that a serious accident — or even a death — will occur.
Email he shared with SNL shows Terry has corresponded with Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department; as well as George Tatge, manager of beaches and water access parks; and Scott Montgomery, manager of Sarasota County public safety/aquatics.
On May 18, 2013, Brown responded to a suggestion that buoys be placed in the water to designate a public swimming area that would remain free of boaters or fishermen casting lines. Brown indicated the county had insufficient staff “to make timely replacements of a buoy if it is damaged or displaced,” adding that the presence of the buoys also would cause a risk management issue for county taxpayers.
In late October 2013, Terry emailed Brown, describing fishermen over the previous weekend who were “chumming with large bloody pieces of fish … in the swimming area.” He added that one of the men caught a large stingray, which he had to bring onshore so he could cut his line. “This caused havoc [along the water’s edge] as the fisherman ran along with the stingray yelling at people to get out of the way.”
After Brown put Terry in touch with George Tatge, Tatge wrote Terry on Oct. 28, 2013:
“As discussed, Parks and Recreation staff will look into installing signs to help educate both swimmers and fisherman so that they may coexist in a safe and reasonable manner. Designing the signs and language, together with fabrication, coastal permits, etc., will take a few months.”
On March 23, 2014, Terry sent a letter to Brown, reminding her that she had arranged for him to meet Tatge the previous fall. While he was “encouraged that changes would take place to increase safety at Turtle Beach” after talking with Tatge, Terry noted, “To date nothing has happened and the problem is getting worse.”
He also wrote Brown about a boat that became tangled in a fishing line strung between a fisherman on the beach and a person in a kayak “far from shore.” After the boat struck the line, the kayak capsized, he wrote. The boater helped the kayaker, he continued, and then went on his way, but the vessel was still hooked to the fishing line. The person on the shore was able to cut the line “before any more damage was done,” he added.
The most recent correspondence Terry provided is from Montgomery, who wrote on May 9, 2014 that staff had decided not to place buoys at Turtle Beach because “we cannot adequately monitor the buoys to ensure they are in place/are in need of replacement” and because “we cannot adequately enforce boating regulations.”
Staff planned to ask the Sheriff’s Office to increase its marine patrols at Turtle Beach, Montgomery added, and he asked Terry to call 911 if he observed “any unsafe practice” at the beach.
Complaints about valet parking at Ophelia’s
After hearing complaints about the valet parking service at Ophelia’s on the Bay, Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office told SKA members on May 5 that he would speak with the restaurant’s management.
During the organization’s monthly meeting, Karen Terry was the first to bring up the issue, saying the situation has been especially bad on Sundays, when the restaurant serves brunch.
Mruczek replied that the Sheriff’s Office did receive a complaint a couple of months ago about Ophelia’s valet service using Turtle Beach, and he knew Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer who works on the Key, was looking into that.
SKA President Michael Shay said he thought Ophelia’s has an agreement with the county to use the Turtle Beach Park lot after hours.
However, in response to a SNL question about that, Nicole Rissler, deputy director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, responded that the department no longer has a parking agreement with Ophelia’s to use Turtle Beach spaces. “An agreement was in place with the previous owners, but the new owners were not interested in continuing [it],” she wrote in an email. Staff has been monitoring the Turtle Beach parking lot to ensure that the valet service is not utilizing it, she added. “Staff has confirmed that no use has been identified.”
County property records show that the property on which Ophelia’s sits was sold in April 2015 for $1,450,000. The new owner is J.P. Nater LLC, whose registered agent is Daniel P. Olson of Sarasota. According to the Savor Sarasota website, Olson was the executive chef at Ophelia’s for 15 years before he bought the restaurant.
On May 9, Mruczek told SNL in a telephone interview that deputies would monitor the situation at Ophelia’s on Sundays for the next few weeks.
ABC Rentals opens self-serve on the Key
ABC Rentals has been the premier baby and beach Rental Company for over 14 years. The owners, Lynn and Bob Shaffer are expanding their business to include a self-service location at 5700 midnight Pass on Siesta key.
“Our self-service location is great for customers who want to save the delivery fee for their portable rentals and for short term rentals that qualify for daily rates” said Shaffer.
ABC Rentals will also be able to better service customers who need last minute rentals. Simply place your order online or by phone. Once it has been finalized with a credit card, you will receive an access code. Your rentals will be in the pick-up room. Be sure to SMILE, you’re on camera! Delivery is still available 7 days a week or stop into one of our stores and speak with one of our expert associates for assistance with any questions you might have. Contact info www.abcbabyrental.com or call 941-929-1850.
Mobi-Mat installed at the public beach
A new "Mobi-Mat" has been installed at Siesta Public Beach, county staff has announced.
Mobi-Mats are portable and removable rollout pathways for pedestrians and users of wheelchairs, strollers and beach carts, a county news release explains. They have been used in Florida for more than 15 years and are found at more than 100 beaches, parks and private businesses throughout the state, the release adds.
“The new Mobi-Mat at Siesta Beach will more easily facilitate everyone's access to the beach, including those transporting beach coolers and other beach paraphernalia,” the release notes.
"This is yet another great addition to Siesta Beach, and another amenity for our visitors to enjoy," said Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Carolyn Brown in the release. "They are easy to maneuver and comfortable for walking. They also benefit persons with disabilities by providing them with a way to access beaches and get closer to the water," she added in the release.
A SCAT adjustment
Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) has made scheduling changes to Route 10, which serves both Siesta Public Beach and Turtle Beach, the county has announced.
For the summer season, Route 10 service will not extend to the Amish and Mennonite community of Pinecraft or to the Cattlemen Road Transfer Station, a news release explains. Buses will operate only between Turtle Beach and Southgate Mall. For more schedule and map details, visit www.scgov.net/scat, or call 861-5000.
Duink reappointed to Waterways Advisory Council
Scott Duink of Siesta Key has been reappointed to the Sarasota County Waterways Advisory Council for a three-year term, through January 2019.
The action came as part of the County Commission’s approval of its April 26 Consent Agenda.
A professional engineer, Duink identified himself on his application for the position as a canal-side homeowner.
Material provided to the County Commission for the April 26 meeting shows Duink to have a perfect attendance record for the council’s sessions over the past two years. The group meets four times a year, those records show.
As noted on the county’s website, the council provides a conduit for the public to offer comments and advice, as well as recommendations, to the county’s Waterways Program manager and the County Commission. One requirement for the council’s members is that each must own property or reside on a navigable waterway in the community.