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Siesta Key Island Chatter January 2019

Staff report

River Road/Siesta roads swap will not be finalized before end of year, county staff says

As late as Oct. 9, Sarasota County staff still was anticipating that a swap with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) involving River Road and roads on Siesta Key would be concluded by the end of this calendar year.

However, in response to a request for an update, county staff said that instead of wrapping up the swap prior to Dec. 31, FDOT plans just to submit to the county a draft road transfer agreement.

On May 22, the commissioners agreed on the facets of the road swap, which would entail their commitment to assume authority over Stickney Point Road and Siesta Drive west of U.S. 41, excluding the drawbridges — which the state would continue to control — as well as Higel Avenue and the segment of Midnight Pass Road north of the Stickney Point Road intersection. In exchange, the state would assume authority over River Road. County leaders had proposed that in late 2017 as a means of accelerating the widening and other improvements of River Road that commissioners have sought for decades.

FDOT staff had told county leaders that as long as River Road remained a county road, it would have a lower priority on the department’s work program lists. Only if River Road became a state road, FDOT representatives pointed out, would the department be able to consider speeding up the scheduling of the improvements.

The commissioners welcomed the news of the road swap negotiations when then-County Administrator Tom Harmer announced them. Burgeoning home construction in Venice and North Port, the coming relocation of the Atlanta Braves’ Spring Training operations to a new West Villages facility, and concerns Hurricane Irma underscored about the need for a much better evacuation route for both South County residents and Charlotte County residents were primary factors board members cited in supporting the idea.

However, details had to be ironed out, including what specific responsibilities the county and the state would have.

Siesta projects among county’s 2019 MPO priorities

On Dec. 11, when the Sarasota County commissioners updated their transportation priorities for state and federal consideration in 2019, Siesta transit improvements were listed at No. 15 on a list of 22 projects. The board approved the recommendations to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which will review them before finalizing a list for FDOT and the federal government.

On the 2018 list, the multimodal improvements on Beach Road from Avenida del Mare to the Midnight Pass Road intersection were ranked 38 among the MPO’s priorities. That was noted on a chart county Transportation Planning Manager Paula Wiggins provided the commissioners in advance of the Dec. 11 meeting — as a reminder of action they took earlier this year. (The MPO has changed its timing for local governments to provide new priorities, she told the board.)

A Dec. 11 memo from Wiggins to the board says the goal of the Siesta project is to construct bus stop shelters and crosswalks, along with other improvements to assist handicapped people under the guidelines of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Yet another project on the list that would involve Siesta is a Sarasota County Barrier Island Study, which the commissioners ranked No. 9 for 2019. In her memo, Wiggins explained that that study would take a comprehensive look at the islands from south of Lido Key to Manasota Key, “to determine and resolve circulation/traffic operations and to evaluate island-to-mainland connections to the east.”

FDOT is working to complete a Barrier Islands Study covering the area from Manatee County south through Lido. The County Commission has been supportive of that project, for which Manatee County leaders and the Longboat Key Town Commission advocated. A final report on that study is expected in the spring of 2019, Longboat Town Manager Tom Harmer said this fall.

The county commissioners previously have talked about their desire for a southern Barrier Islands Study, partly to help them focus on improvements they can make to help alleviate traffic congestion for Siesta residents and beachgoers during tourist season.

Tourist Development Tax revenue down for October

The effects of red tide are obvious in the first Tourist Development Tax (TDT) figures for the 2019 fiscal year.

Siesta property owners and businesses that collect the 5% tax on accommodations rented for six or fewer months reported taking in $233,703.36 in October, according to data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office.

In comparison, in October 2017, the Siesta total was $294,786.15, based on data through the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

Over the past several years, Siesta has reported the highest figure for collections by the end of the fiscal year. Typically, though, it begins each new fiscal year lagging the city of Sarasota. That is the case in the most recent report from the Tax Collector’s Office. Entities in the city turned in 39.45% of the total amount for October of this year, compared to 23.15% for those on Siesta.

Siesta Key Association meeting date changed

SKA will hold its first meeting of 2019 on January 10 to help alleviate scheduling conflicts with holiday travel.  The monthly meeting is normally scheduled on the first Thursday of the month. The meeting will be held at Boniface Church, located at 5615 Midnight Pass Road at 4:30 pm in the Parish Hall, all are welcome. This month’s topic, short term rentals, Planning Services will be Speaking on Short Rental Ordinance Enforcement.

Condo Council January membership meeting

The Siesta Key Condo Council will hold its annual membership meeting on Jan 15, 3 pm at the Siesta Key Chapel, 4615 Gleason Ave. The main speaker is Dan Lobeck, Lobeck & Hanson Law Firm.

Another vehicle crash reported

At 8:18 p.m. on Dec. 1, a motorcyclist traveling north on Ocean Boulevard — who was not wearing a helmet — allegedly hit a rock or some other type of hard object protecting a resident’s mailbox, bounced off of it and landed in the drainage ditch.

A resident who lives near the scene — at the Gleason Avenue intersection — reported that the motorcyclist was injured. The resident had no information about the extent of those injuries.

Unfortunately, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office did not investigate the incident, so no report was available from that office. When the Florida Highway Patrol handles an incident, as it did in this case, it does not readily make its reports available. A reporter has to trek up to Bradenton or down to Venice several days after the fact to pay a not inconsiderate sum and collect a copy of the report.

The resident who shared information about the incident did opine that it was lucky for the motorcyclist that the crash did not occur in the sharp curve just a bit further north on Ocean Boulevard. That curve has seen its share of collisions over the years, as vehicles have failed to follow the road and, instead, have plowed into a homeowner’s wall.

After the last crash a few months ago, that homeowner installed boulders next to the wall in an effort to prevent future wall-building projects.

Improved handicapped access planned for Beach Access 2

Better beach access on Siesta Key for handicapped individuals was expected to be available at Beach Access 2 by Christmas.

During the Nov. 27 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Charles Hines talked about the fact that only one handicapped parking space was designated at Beach Access 2, which is at the western end of Avenida Messina. Yet, handicapped people need easier access to the beach, Hines said.

As a result, he continued, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff had been taking a look at ways to improve the situation. “Hopefully, they come back with some ideas.”

In response to a question following up on those comments, county Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby wrote in a Dec. 4 email that staff members in the Capital Projects Division of the Public Works Department met on Dec. 3 to discuss options for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking at Beach Access 2. “Capital Projects will be providing concept plans later this week and hope to complete the new plan prior to the Christmas holiday,” Lusby added.

Complaints about inadequate beach access for handicapped individuals arose during public comments to the board on Aug. 29. Angela Briguglio, who uses a wheelchair, talked about the limitations on Siesta Key for people like her. She also noted the solitary handicapped parking space at Avenida Messina, adding that many community residents have mobility issues. “Does that mean one handicapped person can go to the beach [there]?”

She told the board that persons with disabilities in Sarasota County “seem to be an invisible demographic.”

Avenida Messina ends right at the beach, making it a more logical choice for improved access options, she indicated.

“There’s no place left in Sarasota County to meet the ADA requirements for beach access,” she told the commissioners. “It’s your job to protect those rights for me.”

What happened to the paid beach parking discussion?

In early July, shortly before the County Commission began its traditional summer vacation, Carolyn Brown, who still was director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, provided an update on staff research into paid parking options for Siesta Public Beach.

At the suggestion of Chair Nancy Detert, the commissioners agreed that they really needed to hold a half-day workshop to delve into all the relevant issues and come up with decisions.

Perhaps September or October would be a good time for such a workshop, Detert added.

As it turns out, that discussion will not happen until early 2019.

First, Brown ended up retiring in early October. The deputy director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR), Nicole Rissler, was named the new director a few weeks ago. However, around the time of Brown’s departure, the commission directed staff to finalize a “term sheet,” laying out the guidelines for the lease and/or sale of county property at Benderson Park to Mote Marine Laboratory for the site of its planned $130-million Science Education Aquarium. As County Administrator Jonathan Lewis characterized it, the board was directing staff essentially to drop everything else to make sure the Mote deal was concluded before the end of October.

Rissler was among county staff most involved in that process, as Lewis noted on Oct. 24.

Then, also in October, as the board members were trying to agree on a date for a continued public hearing on the county’s new Unified Development Code (UDC), Lewis suggested that time would be available on Nov. 27. Staff tentatively had reserved the afternoon session that day for the paid beach parking workshop, he said, but he indicated that he would like for more research to be conducted prior to that discussion. As a result, he added, the parking workshop could be held possibly in January.

The commissioners agreed to move the continued UDC hearing to Nov. 27.

The UDC is a comprehensive document that updates and combines the county’s Land Development Regulations and the Zoning Regulations in an effort to make them easier to access and understand. The board approved the changes on Nov. 27, but the UDC was not going into effect until Jan. 1, 2019.

Limited time to protest

As the county commissioners on Dec. 12 opened their regular meeting, they already were facing a long day, as the public hearing on Siesta Promenade was the lone business item on the agenda.

Underscoring that expectation, Chair Nancy Detert laughed at the end of the hearing, marked at 6:25 p.m. She had won a bet, she said, because the hearing was over by 6:30 p.m.

That morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance, Detert announced that she had a number of cards for the Open to the Public session, during which people typically address the board on topics not on the agenda or on discussion items, which do not afford an opportunity for public comments.

On Nov. 27, commissioners engaged in a discussion about the need to limit the time they allow for Open to the Public, especially when people sitting in the audience have paid attorneys and engineers, for example, to appear for items those people were told to expect around a certain time in the morning or afternoon.

The board has been providing an Open to the Public period at the start of each morning and afternoon session and at the end of each meeting.

On the morning of Nov. 27, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino and 14 of his supporters showed up for Open to the Public to criticize the board for not immediately having implemented two County Charter amendments Cosentino wrote, which won voter approval on Nov. 6. One amendment calls for the reacquisition of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that the commission vacated in May 2016, at the request of three sets of North Beach Road property owners. The second amendment forbids the board to vacate any road segment that is on a body of water or even has a “waterfront vista.” The county has filed motions in two related cases in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, saying the amendments contravene state law and are unenforceable. The presiding judge has not set a hearing on either case since the election.

As it turns out, Cosentino and a group of supporters also had signed up for Open to the Public on Dec. 12, with the Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota full of residents waiting to speak on the Siesta Promenade proposal.

Before the meeting began, Cosentino came into that room with Reopen Beach Road signs under one arm.

Detert announced that the board would allow only 15 minutes for public comments that morning. Anyone who had signed up for Open to the Public who was not able to make remarks before that time was up would have to wait until the conclusion of the Siesta Promenade hearing, she added.

Only two of the supporters of the Cosentino Charter amendments were able to address the board that morning.

At the end of the Siesta Promenade hearing, Detert did ask whether anyone remained in the audience who did not get to speak during Open to the Public that morning. No one responded.

Cosentino attorney granted extension for appeal brief

After 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Frederick P. Mercurio dismissed the last part of Mike Cosentino’s complaint against Sarasota County over the North Beach Road vacation, on Sept. 11, Cosentino appealed. That notice formally was filed on Oct. 10 with the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

Originally, all the materials for that appeal were due to be processed and forwarded by Nov. 29 to the Second District Court. However, a Nov. 30 notification in the Cosentino docket in the Sarasota County Clerk of Court’s records said, “To date, the Lower Tribunal Clerk has not received complete payment for this appeal record or an Order designating insolvency.” The notification added, “Please advise on how to proceed.” It was signed by Deputy Clerk Barbara Torres, a member of the staff of Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller Karen Rushing.

Another document in the court docket showed that Cosentino needed to pay $5,614 to Rushing’s office for the materials prepared for the appeal record. That cost sheet was filed on Nov. 8.

A related document in the case file showed that Sarasota County paid $3,562.50 for its materials for the appeal record.

Subsequently, on Dec. 5, Cosentino’s attorney, Lee R. Rohe of Big Pine Key, asked for an extension for the filing of his brief in the appeal. On Dec. 7, the Second District Court granted that request, allowing for the initial brief to be submitted by Jan. 21, 2019. The order indicates all the appeal materials must be submitted by Jan. 29.

And in one other matter related to Cosentino’s legal issues: The other attorney who has worked on his case, Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo, filed a motion on Nov. 14, pointing out that she no longer would be representing Cosentino in that action.

On Nov. 12, Cosentino filed a Verified Client Stipulation To Withdrawal of Counsel form, which says he did “hereby agree, stipulate, and consent” to Gomez-Mayo’s withdrawal from the case. The form makes it clear that Rohe will continue to represent Cosentino.

Coupons for food lovers

In this month’s edition discount coupons are being offered by The Oaks and Station 400. Station 400 is offering $5 off your next visit and The Oaks is offering a FREE appetizer with a $20 purchase. Both ads are located on page 15.

City email focuses on federal funding for Lido project

Scanning recently through the City of Sarasota email folder, a message to City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw from Michael D. Willis, president of the Color Nine Group in Silver Spring, Md. Was found, which — its mission statement says — “exists to help individuals, organizations, and governments achieve their full potential by providing developmental guidance and funding solutions with passion and expertise.”

With the subject line “RE: Army Corps Work Plan FY19,” Willis’ Dec. 7 email said, “I just wanted to tell you again great work on the Lido [Key Beach renourishment] project. “The [U.S.] Army Corps [of Engineers (USACE)] released its annual Work Plan recently and it included only two shoreline projects and neither of them were ‘New Starts.’ That means Lido is the only ‘New Start’ shoreline project to be funded through the Army Corps Work Plan since at least 2014. Considering the delays and lawsuits the project faced, it is an impressive feat to have kept this project on Corps HQ’s radar. Your timely meetings with Corps HQ, the Congressional Delegation, and constant contact with the [USACE’s] Jacksonville District were instrumental in securing the funding. Great work!”

On June 11, the USACE announced it had included $13,462,000 in its Fiscal Year 2018 Work Plan for the first segment of a 50-year initiative to renourish a critically eroded, 1.6-mile stretch of South Lido Key Beach.

Although an emergency renourishment project is underway on Lido, two Siesta Key-based nonprofit have continued to take legal action to try to prevent the USACE from dredging about 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass during the first step of the long-term project. Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) is preparing to file a complaint in U.S. District Court, and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) has a case underway in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota. Both organizations argue that the USACE did not undertake sufficiently in-depth analyses of its project plans to ensure Siesta Key would suffer no harm from the dredging of the pass and the ebb shoal in the pass.

The SKA is due back in court on Dec. 20 to present arguments on its latest motions in its case.

On Dec. 7, DavisShaw forwarded Willis’ email to City Manager Tom Barwin and copied the city commissioners.

“Just to let you know, per [Willis], all those trips up really did pay off,” she wrote.

“Great, great, great job!” Barwin responded.

“Wonderful! Thanks all who made this happen,” Mayor Liz Alpert replied.

Siesta goes fully for Maio

When Republican County Commissioner Alan Maio of Nokomis defeated Democrat Wesley Beggs of Sarasota in the Nov. 6 General Election, he took 53.89% of the 203,686 votes cast in the race.

Maio represents District 4, which encompasses Siesta Key.

Not all of the 213,220 voters who participated in the General Election marked a choice in that race, according to the official returns published by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

When we took the opportunity to examine the precinct results in the District 4 contest, we learned that Maio defeated Beggs by a bigger margin in Precinct 411, located at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, than he did in the overall statistics. Maio won 54.69% of the 2,684 votes cast at Precinct 411.

Siesta Key Chapel was the site of two precincts during the election. In Precinct 401, Maio was the victor with 59.21% of the 294 ballots cast; in Precinct 403, he took 52.68% of the 877 votes.

In Precinct 421, located at the Turtle Beach Recreational Building, Maio garnered 52.24% of the 961 votes.

However, just east of the Key, in Precinct 413, located at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church, Beggs won 51.46% of the 4,034 votes cast there.

That church is located in Pine Shores Estates, and many of the residents have been vocal opponents of the proposed Siesta Promenade project next to their neighborhood.

Maio accepted many donations from developers during his re-election campaign this year.

Letting the new sergeant off easy

When Sgt. Paul Cernansky, the new Sheriff’s Office substation leader, appeared for the first time on his own in front of a Siesta Key Association (SKA) audience — on Dec. 6 — he seemed poised for a bombardment of questions.

Siesta Sand suspects that after seeing Deputy Chris McGregor field a number of questions during the November SKA meeting, Cernansky showed up this month with the expectation that he, too, would be spending more than a couple of minutes at the front of the room.

Cernansky opened his Dec. 6 remarks with, “No news is good news,” in terms of the November crime report.

Again — as has been the case over the past several months — burglaries of unlocked vehicles were the primary focus, he said. “We arrested several of the [alleged perpetrators] and charged them.”

Cernansky encouraged all the meeting attendees to keep their vehicles locked.

Next, he said that both the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival in November and the Siesta Key Seafood and Music Festival, held the first weekend of December, “were very successful events.”

Then he added, “That’s really all I have. Things are nice and quiet.”

When he asked whether anyone had questions, no one raised a hand.

Secretary Joyce Kouba told the audience, “You’re not going to let him off that easy, are you?”

Perhaps people had issues they would prefer to convey to Cernansky privately, Vice President Catherine Luckner suggested.

Even then, no one raised a hand or offered a comment.