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Island Chatter March 2019

Staff Report

Beach University

Every Wednesday in March, a free community presentation about our beaches and marine habitat will be held at Siesta Beach Main Pavilion from 9:30-10:30 a.m. For more information, call Sarasota County at 941-861-5000.

Condo Council February membership meeting

The Siesta Key Condo Council will hold a membership meeting on March 12, 3 pm at the Siesta Key Chapel, 4615 Gleason Ave.

Attend the meeting and learn about RED TIDE and how the Condominium Associations and owners can help fight this destructive environmental issue. The guest speakers are Tom Freiwald and Lenny Landau from the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force.

Bollards installed at the end of Avenida Messina

During the Feb. 7 SKA meeting, Assistant County Engineer Larry Mau also answered questions about a change in the situation at Beach Access 2, at the western end of Avenida Messina.

“We’ve recently installed bollards at the end of Avenida Messina to try to keep people from driving on the beach,” Mau explained. “Last year, we had a number of occasions when youthful drivers were on the beach,” he continued, including incidents during sea turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 through Oct. 31. “And that’s just totally unacceptable.”

County workers also relocated the handicapped parking space at Access 2, Mau noted.

“We do have a lot of ‘No Parking’ signs [in that location],” he added. “We will be enhancing those.”

Mau also pointed out — as county Communications staff previously had explained that Emergency Services Department staff members had to assess the situation at Access 2 before the handicapped space was moved. They wanted to be certain that emergency vehicles would have sufficient turning radius.

However, even with the bollards in place, Mau explained, county government staff has no enforcement authority, if someone tries to drive onto the beach. A Sheriff’s Office deputy, he said, “has to go out there … and issue citations.”

“The county has the authority to end access at a road unless there is due reason for it to be open,” Mau continued.

In response to one audience member’s question, Mau added, “If you own a piece of property there, we will be glad to provide access for you.” Thus far, Mau continued, Mike Cosentino — who owns the parcel at 10 Beach Road — is the only person who has requested such access.

“There is a chained gate to the right,” Mau added, which leads to county property to the north. County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff keeps a key to that gate, he said, so anyone who needs access to the beach north of Access 2 through that gate can contact staff.

A very good trend with crime

When Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office Siesta Key substation, appeared before SKA members for his report on Feb. 7, he said, “Two is the number this month.”

Cernansky noted, “We had two auto thefts, two residential burglaries, two vehicle burglaries, two petty thefts” and one robbery, which was an incident involving two parties who know each other. Discounting the latter situation, he added, the total was “nine Part I crimes for the whole island for January. That’s fantastic.”

The “Part I” reference was to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system. Part I crimes are those considered more serious.

“How we define ourselves is by the prevention of crime,” Cernansky explained. “We don’t want crime to occur.”

He added that he hoped island residents had noticed “a lot more visibility” of Sheriff’s Office personnel on the Key in an effort to prevent crime.

Code Enforcement officer works to collect evidence

During the Jan. 10 SKA meeting, as county staff members took questions about illegal short-term rentals, one audience member asked about the type of documentation necessary to prove a residence in a single-family district was being rented more often than once every 30 days, as provided for in the County Code.

Emails exchanged between the homeowner or property manager and the renter are helpful, Susan Stahley, the Key’s Code Enforcement officer, responded.

She also will go to houses where neighbors suspect illegal activity, she said, and try to talk to renters. “They’re very social,” she continued of the visitors. “They’ll tell me everything I want to know.”

Sometimes, Stahley added, a person will give her a copy of the lease agreement.

Still, as she and Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, pointed out, a Code Enforcement officer has to have sufficient evidence to convince a Special Magistrate of a violation before the magistrate will impose a fine.

Ramirez and Waechter settle litigation

Regular readers will recall that Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez filed a civil complaint several years ago against another island resident, Robert Waechter. Her action focused on Waechter’s admission that he made campaign contributions in her name to Democratic candidates in the 2012 election.

Ramirez, a Republican, went to the Sheriff’s Office in 2012 after receiving a thank-you note from one candidate; she suspected her identity had been stolen.

Waechter ultimately pleaded guilty in December 2013 to a misdemeanor charge of using a prepaid credit card to make the contributions in Ramirez’s name.

After Ramirez lost a bid in the 2014 Republican Primary for the District 4 seat on the County Commission, she filed the civil complaint. She alleged that Waechter’s actions had damaged her reputation and were a major factor in the election results.

Last fall, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge dismissed her case and denied Ramirez’s motion for a rehearing. Additionally, Waechter’s attorney, Morgan Bentley of Bentley & Bruning in Sarasota, had filed for attorney fees and costs in the Circuit Court case, which were put at close to $40,000.

Ramirez decided to appeal the dismissal of her case to the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

First, though, Ramirez and Waechter agreed to “have the entire case mediated before any more proceedings are had,” as their joint motion put it on Nov. 6, 2018. The mediation conference was conducted on Dec. 14, 2018 in Sarasota, a subsequent court document shows.

On Dec. 14, 2018, A. Woodson Isom Jr. of Tampa, the mediator, filed a Mediation Disposition Report. With three possible outcomes of the mediation provided for on the form, he marked the following: “The case was completely settled.”

On Dec. 26, 2018, a voluntary dismissal of the appeal court case was filed, resolving the case.

When asked if Ramirez had any comment, Ramirez replied in a Jan. 31 email that all the details about what was discussed during the mediation — including the settlement — had to remain confidential. She was surprised, she added when she learned that, but her attorney — Jose A. Gutierrez of the Cosio Law Group in Coral Gables — explained to her the applicable state law.

Bentley was emailed within moments of sending its note to Ramirez, asking whether he or Waechter would like to have any comment. Bentley, likewise, replied that the settlement is “totally confidential.”

Coupons for food lovers

In this month’s edition, coupons are being offered by several advertisers, OfKors Donuts is offering a FREE donut with the coupon located on page 8 and The Oaks is offering $5 off a $25 purchase, the coupon is located on page 15. Palermo Pizza is offering a discount coupon on page 17, Pride of the South has a coupon on page 24 and Solorzano’s has discount coupons on the back page.

Connelly appointed to Historical Commission

As part of their approval of their Jan. 29 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the county commissioners unanimously appointed Nancy D. Connelly, owner of Crescent Beach Grocery, to a four-year term on the county’s Historical Commission, an advisory board.

Her term is effective through Jan. 31, 2023, the county website says.

A memo to the commission from Sarabeth Kalajian, director of the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department, noted that, because of vacancies and one recent resignation, seven of the 16 seats on the Historical Commission needed to be filled.

The vacancies have been advertised on the county website, Kalajian added, “soliciting interested citizens for appointment.”

The Historical Commission’s role is to advise the County Commission in regard to “the acceptance of grants and donations; the marking of historic sites with County historical markers; the History Center annual budget; and historical material and dates,” its webpage explains.

The council members typically meet once a month, the webpage says.

In response to the question on the application asking why she wanted to serve on the Historical Commission, Connelly wrote, “My family settled permanently in Sarasota in the 1920s after wintering in the area for several seasons. I can celebrate generations of my family living in this area for nearly 100 years. I feel very much a part of their historical traditions. I have a keen interest in the history of this area and its transformations over the years. I would enjoy putting my knowledge to practical use.”

In the answer to another question on the form, Connelly noted that she reopened Crescent Beach Grocery in 2003; her father, George Connelly, established the business in 1952.

“I am also owner of Crescent Beach Shopping Center at the corner of Midnight Pass and Stickney Point Roads,” she pointed out.

Trolley ridership takes a big jump

During her presentation at the Feb. 7 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, reminded the approximately 65 audience members of the mass transit options visitors and residents have regarding the Key.

Before she left the office that day, she said, she asked Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff for the latest ridership numbers for the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which was launched in March 2017.

From Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 31, Rissler pointed out, the Breeze had more than 70,000 riders.

“Certainly, it’s being used.”

That news prompted a couple of gasps in the audience.

A check with Lisa Potts, SCAT’s communications specialist, to make certain this reporter had heard the figure correctly. In a Feb. 8 email, Potts replied, “[W]e actually had a little over 73,000 riders between December 2018 and January 31, 2019.”

Siesta architect Mark Smith, long-time leader of Siesta business organizations, has said that he believes every two riders on the trolley represent one vehicle not on the island’s roads.

As for other mass transit options: Rissler noted during the SKA meeting that SCAT’s Route 11 service circulates from Cattlemen Road through downtown Sarasota over to the Key and to Gulf Gate.

Additionally, Route 33 runs through Pinecraft — located primarily in the vicinity of Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road — and then to Siesta Key on a loop. “We’re trying to promote those routes, as well,” Rissler added.

St. Michael’s Women’s Guild Fashion Show

All are welcome to attend St. Michael the Archangel Women’s Guild Fashion Show and Luncheon on Wednesday, March 20 at Laurel Oak Country Club off Bee Ridge Road.  Check-in begins at 11:00 and the

Program begins at Noon. Fashions are provided by P.J’s on Main Street. Price is $50.00 Per Person. Call Carol at 941-349-2016 for reservations.

Crescent Club sale

Over the holidays, word spread that Dr. Gary Kompothecras — of 1-800-ASK-GARY fame — had bought the Crescent Club on South Midnight Pass Road.

Regular readers realize this is not his first purchase in that vicinity, as he owns a storage business and the former Fandango Café site, where he has said he plans a boutique hotel. (Nothing new on that front of late.)

The actual new owner of the Crescent Club, which is located at 6519 Midnight Pass Road, is CCSK Land Holdings LLC, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. The sale price was $3.4 million, and the closing date was Jan. 4.

Information available from the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller’s Office shows that CCSK Land Holdings took out a $2.4 million mortgage on the property, with the date of final payment set as July 4, 2021.

Research indicated that Kompothecras long has had an association with the registered agent of CCSK Land Holdings, Vincent Payne, whose office is located on Sawyer Road in Sarasota.

On May 1, 1997, Crescent Club Inc. bought the property for $300,000, the Property Appraiser’s Office records note. Crescent Club Inc. transferred the parcel to Crescent Club LLC in June 2013, the records say. The registered agent of Crescent Club LLC is Julia A. Brown, who long was known as the owner of the Crescent Club.

In late December 2018, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Kompothecras plans to maintain the Crescent Club as a bar. He has a home on nearby Crescent Beach that has been featured often on MTV’s Siesta Key series, starring his son, Alex. In fact, Kompothecras himself has made more than a few appearances on the show, whose latest season is underway.

In 2018, the total taxable value of the Crescent Club property — including the building — was $825,800. Most of that is because of the land; its value was put at $625,100.

The total area of the property is 25,000 square feet, the Property Appraiser’s Office records show.

The building was constructed in 1949, the records note, but the “effective year” of construction is 1995. The Property Appraiser’s Office explains “effective year” as “an appraisal judgment which reflects the condition and utility of a structure.”

Red tide the focus of March Condo Council meeting

The Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) announced it would host a special meeting on red tide on March 12.

During the January SKCC session, an attendee asked about the nonprofit’s participation in efforts to raise awareness about red tide. “While the SKCC is in no position to finance research,” a Jan. 28 email blast said, the SKCC’s mission statement “would support awareness and governmental pressure to see advances in Red Tide Control.”

A group called the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, which has been working on ideas about how to mitigate red tide blooms, agreed to present its findings to SKCC officers and members, the email blast added. In programs for a number of Sarasota organizations, the email blast continued, the Longboat group has put its focus on what governmental bodies can do to improve water quality. The task force has cited the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay “as an example of what a consolidated effort can produce,” the email blast pointed out.

Red tide, the email blast emphasized, would be “the only topic of the meeting.”

Japanese dodder vine

Help wanted, please, with an invasive pest

Residents of a condominium complex on south Siesta Key are asking the public for help with a serious environmental concern. 

They have many oak trees on their property. For the past six or seven years, an invasive plant called Japanese dodder vine (cuscuta) “has overtaken some of our oak trees,” they explained in an email. “It is a string-like parasitic vine without leaves which lacks ability to make its own chlorophyll and attaches itself to the trees, winding around all the branches.”

“Every year we pull it out by hand,” they continued, “as we are told that herbicides could kill the trees as well.” Arborists they have consulted do not seem to know anything about this exotic pest, they added. 

“We have seen this vine growing on several oak trees along Midnight Pass Road on the south end of the Key and would like to reach out to others either on the Key or otherwise who have or have had dodder vine to see if they have found ways of eradicating it,” they wrote. “Up until now, we have just pulled it out, but with its prolific seed production, it always returns very quickly.

“If anyone has had experience with dodder, please contact us through directly at 941-349-7373.”