By Bob Stein
Needs, Public Restrooms
Now that the 2019 Season is in the books, a major need that should be addressed by Sarasota County prior to the 2020 Season is public restrooms in Siesta Key Village.
The number one question posed to the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce volunteers, according to Executive Director, Ann Frescura, is: “Are there public restrooms?”
Frescura went on to say, “The sign hanging in front of the chamber’s office says, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. Visitors assume when they see the Visitors Center sign, there are public restrooms.”
Another business that receives a lot of inquiries is Robin Hood Rentals since they are one of the first businesses visitors pass entering the Village. Owner Mark Toomey said, “When beach goers enter the Village from Beach Access 5, many are looking for a bathroom. I get at least a 100 requests a day in Season.” Due to the frequency of this request many of the businesses in the Village have signs on the doors stating, “No Public Restrooms.”
If the county could address this need, the problem would be where to place them in the Village, along with building the facility under FEMA regulations.
Years ago at the Siesta Key Association’s annual breakfast meeting the subject was brought up for additional restrooms at the beach accesses to County Commissioner Alan Maio.
The very first query fired off to Maio in the Q&A session, handled by then SKA President Michael Shay, focused on the restroom issue. A man in the audience of about 140 people told Maio “those facilities are sorely needed when weddings take place on the northern end of the beach park and at beach access 7.”
“That makes complete sense,” Maio responded. “How do I argue with that? Here’s the dilemma: FEMA.”
Maio was referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has specific guidelines for how high off the ground the first floor of new construction must stand in a floodplain.
“FEMA’s going to require [any restroom structure] to be way up in the air,” Maio continued. Add in the necessary ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he added, and “believe me, the cost of pipes and getting sewer there is the least of it.”
If anyone is interested in seeing the type of structure Maio was talking about, take a peek at the public restrooms on Blackburn Point Road prior to entering Casey Key.
In Season and during major events and holidays, the county places a RESTROOM trailer on the Siesta Public Beach parking lot. Could this be the solution for the Village from January to Easter? The question is where to place a trailer?
No one wants to lose parking spots, but one could be placed in the Municipal Parking Lot. It is close to all the businesses, yet out of site. I can hear the answer already from the county, “Bathrooms are on the wish list. … Right now, there is no identified funding source for that.”
If anyone has an idea how to solve this problem, please email your solution to Islandvp@verizon.net.
The stop light proposed on Stickney Point Road and Avenues B and C
The Siesta Promenade development proposed to be built on 24 acres on the northwest corner of Tamiami Trail and Stickney Point Road has been in the news since its conception years ago. (See the related story on page 3 of this edition).
I do not wish to rehash all the worries about density and extra traffic going to and from the Siesta Promenade, but rather focus on the proposed stop light and the possible traffic problems this light may have on entering Siesta Key during peak times of the year.
On March 25 at 11:15 a.m. I was driving north on Hwy 41 approaching Stickney Point, attempting to enter the Key. Traffic at the intersection was partially blocking the northwest corner heading south, so I proceeded north to Upper Beachwood. Fortunately, that side street was not totally blocked. Once I approached Stickney Point Road from Beachwood, it was 11:30, so the bridge went up. Care to guess what was happening at Stickney and Hwy 41 at that time?
Herein lies the problem, and this will be the County Commissioners’ problem as they take possession from FDOT of the Stickney Point Road from Midnight Pass to Tamiami Trail, excluding the bridge.
Let’s look back on how we got here
In a Dec. 19, 2017 email, Nathan Kautz, an FDOT traffic services engineer, notified Kimley-Horn employees that they had not proved that a traffic signal would be warranted at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
Kautz added that the median opening at Glencoe Avenue would need to be closed to accommodate traffic headed from the east to a northbound queue, “if a signal is warranted.” Further, Kautz wrote, “How Avenue A will work with the queues at the proposed signal should be addressed.”
In a Nov. 6, 2017 email to Kimley-Horn employees, Kautz noted that some of his colleagues had asked for assurance that the proposed signal at Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C would not cause westbound traffic queues to back up into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
In a Nov. 17, 2017 letter to Kautz, Christopher Hatton, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn, wrote that the firm’s traffic studies indicated westbound traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of [Stickney Point Road] & US 41.”
At the Neighborhood Workshop that took place on Aug. 23, 2018, one recommendation Benderson has for improving traffic flow, Mathes said, is for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to re-time all the signals on the U.S. 41 corridor. He estimated the number of traffic signals impacted to be between 30 and 50. The department does periodic re-timing, he explained.
FDOT has advised county and Benderson staff that it would not adjust traffic signal timing just to facilitate the flow of vehicles associated with Siesta Promenade, if the project is approved and constructed.
Worries about Avenue A
On Dec. 12, 2018 as the Sarasota County commissioners were taking their votes on the Siesta Promenade project, the issue of the proposed closure of the median at the intersection of Avenue A and Stickney Point Road also arose. That proposal was one of several included in reports from the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm, which worked with Benderson Development Co. on Siesta Promenade.
Commissioner Alan Maio referred to earlier testimony that day by the Benderson representatives. “The applicant has no intention to [change] the access turn movements in the median for Avenue A.”
Therefore, Maio proposed including that as a stipulation in the motion to approve the Critical Area Plan for the project.
“I understood it as an expression of intent,” Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy responded.
“It’s a matter of intent,” Maio said, as the Benderson representatives, with — as Maio noted — cameras running to record the meeting for county records, told the board “they’re not touching Avenue A.”
Roddy suggested that the Avenue A matter be part of the rezoning motion for the project. However, he also advised the board first to allow more testimony from Paula Wiggins, the county’s Transportation Planning Division manager.
“My only concern,” Wiggins said, “is that [Avenue A] is a known area of crashes,” and it has been studied by the Florida Department of Transportation. “The applicant is not proposing to do anything with that intersection.”
Yet, she told the board, she did not feel the Avenue A issue should be included as a stipulation in the rezoning motion. After the conclusion of a planned “road swap” with FDOT in coming months, when the county will assume authority over Stickney Point Road, she continued, if crashes continue to occur at Avenue A, “and we don’t correct the deficiencies [there], we would be liable for anything that happens there, knowing that there is an existing problem.”
“Now you’ve got that all in the record,” Maio told her.
“Staff recognizes that there is a significant issue … for those businesses and residents on the south part of Stickney Point,” Wiggins responded, adding that staff would come back to the board with any proposals for changes.
Hines could become our hero
During the day-long, Dec. 12, 2018 public hearing on the Siesta Promenade mixed-use project, Hines at one point said to Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, “If you don’t build anything, the evidence is absolutely clear: That intersection is a disaster.”
Hines added, “It truly is a public safety problem,” especially because of the fact that the Stickney Point Road drawbridge can open as often as twice an hour and the four lanes on Stickney Point Road drop to two lanes on Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key.
On Dec. 13, the day after the commissioners approved Siesta Promenade on split votes, Hines sent an email to Paula Wiggins, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis; and Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department.
“Considering the results of yesterday’s hearing and the discussion in regards to [U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road],” he wrote, “I really believe it would be worthwhile if we have a serious discussion in regards to our strategy and plans in regards to this congested area. Much like we did, with great success, with River Road and the diverging diamond, if we all believe and know that this is an area that’s only going to get worse over the next few years, we need to have a real strategy and plan to address it.”
I urge Commissioner Hines to figure this out, and soon.