By Rachel Brown Hackney
Another survey about paid parking at the beach
On Feb. 8, the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) launched the survey it had promised members it would undertake in regard to County Commission discussions about charging for parking at Siesta Public Beach.
Condo Council members were requested to complete the survey by Feb. 16.
The commissioners have asked the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff to continue to explore facets of a paid-parking program and report back as information becomes available.
The email blast from the Condo Council says, “To pay or not to pay for parking on Siesta Beach has been debated many times over many years. It is now being considered at the County Commission level. We want to know what you, our SKCC members, think about this issue so that we can present an SKCC position on this issue.”
The survey form points out, “Traffic congestion and parking frustration on Siesta Key have caused many visitors, residents and business owners to plead for a better way to preserve our quality of life and share our treasured Siesta Key with others.” It adds that the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which the county began operating in March 2017, runs from Siesta Key Village to Turtle Beach Park on the south end of the island. Funding for that service has been assured for another three years, the survey notes.
“The SKA, the SKCC and [the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce] are working together to find more ways to preserve the island we love as we share our bit of paradise with others,” the survey continues. “We would need your input and participation.”
The survey indicates that the SKCC is seeking free parking at the beach for all county property owners. That could be accomplished through the mailing of two parking decals per household with the annual property tax notice mailed out by the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office, the document points out.
The survey indicates that people who do not own property in the county and those who rent homes could purchase a yearly parking pass or decal.
“Visitors to Siesta Beach would pay an hourly and/or day parking rate in line with [action pursued in] other similar beach communities,” the survey notes.
During the Jan. 23 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting, President Frank Jurenka took a few minutes to mark the deaths of former Directors Kathryn Cunningham and Helen Clifford.
(Clifford also served on the SKA board for a number of years.)
This reporter learned last week that two more well-known Siesta residents had died: Thomas Hamilton, 83, whose family owned the Bay Island Hotel for many years; and George Heiland, 77, who was the founder of the Blue Line, a copy shop offering art, office and drafting supplies that stood for decades at the intersection of Fourth Street and Fruitville Road in Sarasota.
The Bay Island Hotel, which was on the northern end of the island, closed in the early 1950s, according to the Sarasota History Center.
A ‘heads up’
Along with reviewing new state laws that apply to condominium associations, Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck provided Siesta Key Condominium Council members on Jan. 23 with what might be called a “preview of coming attractions.”
He focused briefly on bills filed in the 2018 session of the Florida Legislature, though their fate obviously will not be known for some time.
First, Lobeck said, House Bill 841 would allow association boards to post notices of upcoming meetings on their websites instead of having to conspicuously post them on the condo property. “This presumes just about everybody is in the electronic age now … and has access to the internet.”
That bill would apply to cooperatives, as well, he noted.
The second bill introduced in the session that Lobeck addressed was a bit more complicated.
Senate Bill 1432 regards “engineered life safety systems,” he said. “This is the big new thing now.” A law previously passed by the Legislature, he pointed out, requires any building 75 feet or taller to have one of those systems installed by Jan. 1, 2020. Yet, he told the approximately 60 people present, engineered life safety systems may be more expensive than sprinkler systems.
But what is an engineered life safety system?, he asked. “That’s a good question.”
The fire marshal in each Florida county is charged with determining the answer for that county, Lobeck explained. As of the previous day, he noted, he had been unable to get an answer from the Sarasota County fire marshal about what would constitute such a system in this county.
Nonetheless, he said, his research has found that an engineered life safety system could include some sprinklers, along with pressurization of stairwells. In the latter case, he continued, pumps would push air into a stairwell in an effort to repel a fire.
When a woman in the audience asked about complexes with open stairwells, he replied, “I don’t know.” It might be necessary to enclose stairwells, he added, pointing out again that the law is “brand new.”
Nonetheless, he continued, if Senate Bill 1432 passes, condo associations would be able to opt out of installing the engineered life safety systems, “as long as you took a vote by Dec. 31, 2018.”
Additionally, the bill would give associations an extra year to opt out of installing sprinkler systems — from Dec. 31, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018.
Associations would have to let tenants know that they had opted out of providing these safety requirements, he pointed out. They would have to “mark the building with a sign or symbol approved by the State Fire Marshal in a manner sufficient to warn persons conducting fire control and other emergency operations of the lack of a fire sprinkler system in the common areas,” the bill says.
The engineered life safety system opt-out “is controversial,” he added. The Legislature passed such a bill last year, he said, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Reportedly, Scott took that action because as the bill was sitting on his desk, government authorities in England were dealing with the aftermath of the high-rise Grenfell Tower fire, which broke out in the early hours of June 14, 2017. The Sun reported that in November 2017, police revealed that 71 people died.
“[Scott] thought it would look very bad,” Lobeck said, if he signed the bill in the aftermath of that tragic event.
Where’s our guest speaker?
Siesta Key Condo Council President Frank Jurenka conceded to being a bit anxious just after 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, when the featured speaker for the organization’s meeting — attorney Dan Lobeck — still had not arrived.
Lobeck “is conspicuous by his absence,” Jurenka told the audience.
As Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Siesta substation, was making his report to the group, Lobeck finally arrived.
Given the fact that Mruczek was responding to several questions related to traffic congestion on the island, it is probably safe to say that none of the meeting attendees were surprised when Lobeck announced the cause of his delay: “Traffic!”
And speaking of traffic …
During a question-and-answer session after Sgt. Jason Mruczek’s remarks, one woman at the Jan. 23 Condo Council meeting noted signage at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 that warns motorists to avoid gridlock. Yet, people proceed to block the intersection, she said, asking Mruczek, “Do you patrol that area?”
It was especially bad right after Christmas 2017, she pointed out, when drivers blocking the intersection were ticketed.
The Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit erected the signs, Mruczek responded, and deputies on motorcycles do ticket motorists who create gridlock. It is easier for motorcycle officers to make their way through such congested traffic to try to deal with those situations, he pointed out. The motorcycle officers generally handle the patrols at “problem intersections,” he said, such as Interstate 75 and Fruitville Road, and Midnight Pass and Stickney Point roads. Officers “wrote a lot of tickets last year,” he added, for blocking the latter intersection on the Key. The fine for that offense is $166.
In response to a Condo Council question about whether officers could direct traffic to alleviate the gridlock, Mruczek explained that that “is not really an option.” Referring to Siesta, he added, “There’s more cars than God made space to put ’em on roads.”
Then a man in the audience suggested that someone erect signs at both entryways to the island when the Siesta Public Beach parking lot is full, so drivers would not have to wait futilely in long lines to reach that destination.
Those signs could direct drivers to bus stops, the man added. Furthermore, perhaps a radio station could broadcast details about the status of the beach lot, the man said, so the signs could tell drivers to tune into that station. If the beach lot is full at 10:15 a.m., the man continued, “there’s absolutely no point getting in the line at 11.”
Even when the Sheriff’s Office puts up signs saying that the lot is full, resident Michael Shay pointed out, “you’d be surprised how many people still drive in … and drive around.”
The Sheriff’s Office does communicate quite a bit with Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff, Mruczek said, to try to deal with the traffic in the best possible way — especially before holidays, such as Memorial Day weekend and July Fourth. The office also posts regular updates on social media, including Twitter, he added, and it sends out news releases in advance of periods when heavy traffic is anticipated, effectively warning visitors, “You’re going to be sitting in traffic a lot.”
Still, Mruczek told the audience members, he would talk with Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff about the possibility of erecting more signage.
“That’s a good suggestion” about signage at the northern and southern approaches to the Key, Condo Council President Frank Jurenka said. “We’ll take that up … and try to let the proper people know.”
Another Condo Council survey
Among other business during the Jan. 23 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting was a report on a survey the organization conducted in the spring and fall of 2017.
Director Hilla Blatt said that of the 43 people who responded, 51% felt more meetings should be held during the year.
The current schedule calls for three, she noted. The other 49% of the respondents concurred that that number was sufficient, Blatt added.
Some thought has been given to holding a town hall type of session in March, she pointed out, but “we may not do it.”
Regarding the survey question about whether the members find the meetings of value, 93% marked “Yes,” the report shows. Another 4% had no opinion.
Responding to a question about whether the association should continue its annual Holiday Lighting Contest, 45% marked “Yes” and 43% had no opinion.
The Condo Council received a variety of answers to the question about the three important issues facing members’ associations, Blatt said. The top answer was “Unregistered rentals with short-term rentals.”
Each association has its rules, Blatt stressed, and they need to be enforced.
Among other answers to that questions were the following:
- Getting owners to pay maintenance fees.
- Water damage from pipes and questions regarding who is responsible for repairs.
- “Unruly and unreasonable owners.”
- Increased insurance expenses.
- Aging infrastructure.
- Construction rules and permitting.