Island Chatter: February 2021

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Illegal private home rentals decried once again

A topic that arose during the January 7th Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting was the rentals of island homes that can sleep more than 20 people.

Maribel Figueredo, who lives in the Siesta Isles neighborhood, raised the issue during a discussion of the three hotel projects proposed on the island — including plans for an eight-story hotel on Calle Miramar, just off Ocean Boulevard; and Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ 120-room hotel that would stand on Old Stickney Point Road.

The Sarasota County Commission, Figueredo said, should consider those projects — plus plans to redevelop the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites on Ocean Boulevard — in context with the increasing number of private home rentals.

Referring to properties advertised that can sleep 28 or more people, she stressed, “Those aren’t private residences. … They’re three stories high. … They’re really mini hotels.”

SKA President Catherine Luckner responded that Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, had told her that a continuing climb in the number of calls for service the department is receiving on the island is not related to permanent residents but to visitors. “That tells you something,” Luckner added. “That should give us some leverage,” Luckner pointed out, in working to encourage the county commissioners to take a broader look at the situation on Siesta.

Then Franklin Tugwell, who lives on Avenida de Paradisio, which is close to the northern end of Siesta Village, talked about the fact that five of the 14 houses on his street have been turned into rental properties since he moved to the Key about eight years ago.

“I have rentals on three sides,” he said. Some of the owners, he added, “are breaking the rules.” One of those houses has 12 beds available in it, Tugwell noted, referencing advertisements for it.

Sarasota County regulations allow for the rental of a single-family home only once every 30 days. However, SKA members have complained for years that more residences in single-family neighborhoods are being advertised through online platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo.com for visitors to rent more often than once a month.

A friend of his, Tugwell noted, who lives across the canal from Tugwell, “has now sold his home” and is leaving Siesta. The reason is that the friend became frustrated by all the noise from partying visitors in the friend’s community on the Key, along with the garbage associated with illegal short-term rentals, Tugwell explained.

Residents have complained for years that, because visitors often depart days before Waste Management makes its weekly rounds on the island, piles of garbage those visitors leave become malodorous and draw vermin.

“A large number of people are breaking the law,” Tugwell continued. “This is a trend now. This entire street could be rental houses that could be breaking the rules.”

Tugwell pointed out that he has become aware of companies buying single-family homes that come onto the market and then turning them into rental properties that can be managed by services on the Key. The situation, he said, is “changing the nature of the neighborhood fundamentally, and it’s populating … our area with a lot more people” than the Key saw in years past.

SKA member Mike Holderness, who is one of the owners of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, located at 5311 Ocean Blvd., pointed out, “I’ve been trying to get a registration process [in place]” for short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods. Thus far, he added, he had been unsuccessful in gaining support for that from Sarasota County staff. He has been told, he said, that the County Commission would have to direct staff to work on such an initiative.

If such a registration process were in operation, Holderness explained, then county Code Enforcement officers could use the information from the forms to track down the owners of homes advertised for illegal short-term rentals. That would help staff pursue appropriate remedies and stop the action, he added.

New restrooms planned, eventually, at Turtle Beach

Among a long list of projects Sarasota County’s Capital Projects Department has planned for this fiscal year — which began October 1st, 2020 — is the replacement of the restrooms and office at Turtle Beach Campground. The expense was listed at $4,115,000.

However, no funding was identified to pay for the construction, even though it was ranked as a “High” priority, with “Medium” and “Low” as the other two options.

The Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources project was ranked 45 out of 74 among that department’s priorities for the 2021 fiscal year.

A good year in spite of pandemic

Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) has reported that the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley carried 13,894 passengers in December 2020.

Although that figure was down 44.87% in comparison to the December 2019 number — 25,204 — the Breeze has been limiting ridership in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The trolley was out of service from the latter part of March through mid-June, as county staff worked to try to keep residents and visitors as safe as possible.

Altogether, the Breeze carried 186,086 passengers in 2020, SCAT noted. That was a 46.88% drop over the 350,320 count for 2019.

Grand Canal Regeneration Project gaining volunteers

The Grand Canal Regeneration Project that the Siesta Key Association (SKA) launched in November 2020 already has seen 23 more mini reefs installed under docks in the island waterway, SKA Director Jean Cannon reported during the nonprofit’s regular meeting on January 7th.

David Vozzolo, a member of the project team, learned by going out on the canal in a kayak that 27 other mini reefs already had been put in place by residents, Cannon noted. Therefore, she said, “Our first attempt almost doubled the amount of mini reefs that are in there.”

The SKA effort already had resulted in 14 mini reefs being installed in the nonprofit’s target area, Cannon added. That includes Higel Avenue, Commonwealth Drive, Waterside Way, Primrose Path, Windward Avenue and Avenida Del Norte.

The last one, she said, “is our southern point.”

The goal is to install another 40 of the devices.

Further, Cannon said, the team members are hoping to win grants and other forms of support from nonprofit foundations in the county, to help pay for the installations as well as water sampling and analysis. She invited any SKA member who knows a person associated with one of the foundations, who would be willing to pass along the person’s contact information, to email her at SiestaKeyAssoc1947@gmail.com.

The mini reefs are designed “to mimic the natural ecosystem that you have” in the area of mangroves or in seagrasses, David Wolff, the creator of the mini reefs, explained in an interview with Phil Chiocchio of Sarasota. The SKA directors showed members the video during the Jan. 7 meeting, which was conducted via Zoom.

Wolff established the nonprofit Ocean Habitats, through which he sells mini reefs.

Chiocchio’s advocacy for improved water quality in the Grand Canal led to the SKA initiative. (Chiocchio first addressed SKA members in 2019, presenting a slideshow about the history of the Grand Canal and its deterioration over the decades. He explained that the canal has only one outlet, which is in Roberts Bay.)

The mini reefs attract oysters, which are known as “filter feeders” because they eat algae, Wolff continued. They can filter about 30,000 gallons of water a day, he said. Thus, the area around a mini reef has cleaner water, so the devices draw juvenile fish and crabs looking for hiding places, he noted.

“The whole point [of installing the devices],” Cannon added, “is to create juvenile sea life.”

Ocean Habitats had been looking “for a large-scale deployment [of mini reefs] in an area that needs a lot of help, and the Grand Canal needs help,” Wolff pointed out. In response to a question from Chiocchio, Wolff said he was not aware of any other large-scale project underway in the county.

“We have almost 5,000 mini reefs in the water in Florida,” Wolff said. A number of the devices are in use in the Bahamas, he continued, and a project has been planned for Australia, but it is on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mini reefs are made of polypropylene, which is far sturdier than ordinary plastics, Wolff pointed out. The material holds up so well in saltwater, he added, that the mini reefs can last for about 500 years. And the mini reefs are recyclable, he noted.

Cannon showed the approximately 40 participants in the Jan. 7 meeting a slide featuring a new mini reef alongside a mini reef that has become home to shellfish.

Along with Wolff, Cannon noted, a Florida Sea Grant agent and staff members of the Sarasota County Public Works Department and the Stormwater and Environmental Management divisions have been offering their advice and support for the SKA’s undertaking. Sea Grant agent Armando Ubeda, she said, will train the project team members on how to take scientific measurements and analyze them, in an effort to demonstrate how the mini reefs are working.

People can donate money to help pay for the water sampling, SKA President Catherine Luckner noted.

“If you contribute $100,” Cannon said, “we’ll let you put a name on a mini reef.”

Another facet of the initiative that the team is interested in pursuing, Cannon continued, is the installation of aerators in the canal to provide more oxygen in areas where the canal’s flow is especially constricted.

Luckner noted that she was surprised to learn that the 9-mile canal “is actually longer than Phillippi Creek. A lot of people have no idea of that.”

Thirty years ago, Luckner added, the water was so clear in the Grand Canal that people routinely swam in it.

Wetlands issue raised during hotel workshop

When representatives of Siesta businessman Dr. Gary Kompothecras conducted a December 15th Neighborhood Workshop on plans for a hotel and parking garage in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area” of the island, several questions arose about the potential effects on wetlands adjacent to the hotel site.

The first person to raise the issue was Robert Luckner, a director of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).

“In your narrative,” Luckner told attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm and Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton, “you say that there are no wetlands on the hotel parcel. I guess I’m confused on that.”

The rear of the hotel property, Luckner continued, appears to extend into the area of Sabal Lake. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has an inventory of all the natural wetlands in its territory, Luckner noted, and Sabal Lake is listed as a “non-tidal” wetland. “Do you contend Sabal Lake is not a wetland?” Luckner asked.

“It’s been confirmed that Sabal Lake is actually a retention area,” Medred responded, adding that that information is shown on the Development Concept Plan for the proposed hotel.

In land-development matters, Medred explained, wetlands that are considered herbaceous and forested are protected by state statute and county regulations. “We’ve got confirmation through SWFWMD that it is a retention area,” Medred reiterated his earlier comment about Sabal Lake.

Nonetheless, Medred said, he would ask representatives of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which is part of the project team, to take a look at the situation.

Luckner promised to send Medred the information he had gathered from SWFWMD.

Then Bailey pointed out that the Sarasota County Development Review Committee (DRC), whose members represent the various departments and divisions involved in land development, would make certain that no protected natural habitat would be affected by the hotel project. If they find a problem, Bailey said, “They will let us know.”

Luckner pointed out that mangroves — which are protected by state and county regulations — were destroyed several years ago on the shoreline near the hotel site.

“We are not aware of any violation on the property,” Bailey replied.

Medred indicated that the situation to which Luckner had alluded was action permitted through SWFWMD.

If the hotel project would necessitate any destruction of mangroves, Luckner said, “I think it would require mitigation steps …”

Later during the December 15th workshop, Dr. Neal Schleifer, president of the Paradise Cove Association, whose residents live near the hotel site, reprised Luckner’s comments. “We’re very concerned about what’s being proposed,” Schleifer told Bailey and Medred.

He asked whether the project team had undertaken an environmental study.

To his knowledge, Medred responded, county staff had not required such documentation, as no herbaceous or forested wetlands would be affected by the plans.

“There are mangroves [in the area],” Schleifer said, adding that the Paradise Cove residents live on Sabal Lake. They have had to preserve the existing mangroves, he continued, noting that any construction has had to take place upland of the mangroves.

“I do believe you are required to do an environmental study,” Schleifer told Bailey and Medred. The area around Sabal Lake, he added, is “actually an entire stormwater management system for our area,” including Peacock Road, Old Stickney Point Road and Sabal Drive. The system has “many swales and retention ponds,” he pointed out, “and there’s a connection to the Intracoastal Waterway.” It is “there to prevent flooding. It’s quite a serious system.”

Bailey assured Schleifer that the project team would make certain the hotel construction would have no adverse effects on that system.

A May 21st form for the Kompothecras projects that was completed by Sarasota County DRC members did note that the hotel would be located in the Dona/Roberts Bay watershed, the SNL found. However, the Environmental Protection Division staff did not call for a study, as Medred had noted during the workshop.

Questions raised about proposed Kompothecras hotel bar

Yet another question participants raised during the December 15th Neighborhood Workshop on Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ proposed hotel and parking garage focused on a bar planned in the hotel.

In response to a question from Siesta Key Association Director Margaret Jean Cannon, Robert Medred of Genesis Planning & Development said the bar would be located in the interior of the seventh floor. That level also will be the site of the outdoor pool for guests, he said.

Persons using the pool would be able to access the bar, Medred added.

Cannon said she did not realize that Kompothecras was seeking a liquor license for the hotel.

Siesta Sand
Author: Siesta Sand

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