‘Died’ in committee
As this year was getting underway, state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota County was getting a lot of attention for filing a bill to prohibit the smoking of tobacco on public beaches.
Years ago, residents and visitors — including Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, known as Dr. Beach — enjoyed a smoke-free environment on Siesta Public Beach. That was before a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ruled that state law prevented the City and County of Sarasota from banning smoking in public places.
In early March, as the Florida Legislature’s session was getting underway, Gruters filed his bill, which was referred to three committees.
As the session went on, and water quality and other issues took high priorities, it could be said that Gruters’ bill was relegated to relative obscurity.
The final notice on the bill’s webpage for the 2019 session says that on May 3, it was “[i]ndefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.”
Additionally, the webpage notes, the bill “died” in the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Restroom planned at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park
During the 2020 fiscal year — which will begin Oct. 1 — Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department staff hopes to see work begin on a restroom at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park.
That was one project PRNR Director Nicole Rissler highlighted for the county commissioners on May 21, as they reviewed the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five fiscal years.
Her department already has $197,449 allocated for the work, Rissler noted, and another $500,000 will be available out of North County impact fees set aside for parks.
Staff has been collaborating with former Commissioner Nora Patterson and Patterson’s husband, John, Rissler said, as well as Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, “trying to get this moving forward to design and construction drawings.”
When SNL asked county Communications Department staff whether any more details were available, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded that the project entails a “small restroom.”
Grant added that PRNR staff had let her know, “It’s still really early on [in the planning] so not too much to share on it yet.”
A long-time Siesta resident, Nora Patterson served on the County Commission for 12 years. She had to step down in 2014 because of term limits. Prior to her county board service, she was a Sarasota city commissioner.
The county side of the park on Bay Island — just west of the Siesta Drive drawbridge — was renamed in Patterson’s honor in 2015. First, though, the park was the focus of a number of improvements, including a rebuilt seawall and an upgraded parking lot. It looks out over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Officially, the park is located at 946 Siesta Drive. The county website notes that it is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
More bus shelters proposed for the Key
Bus shelters were another topic the county commissioners addressed during their May 17 review of the proposed Capital Improvement Program projects for the next five fiscal years.
Rob Lewis, interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), reported that a number of the structures are planned on Beach Road during the 2020 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.
The SCAT stops designated for new shelters are those on the east and west sides of Beach Road at Siesta Public Beach and those on the east and west sides of the intersection of Beach Road and Lake House Circle.
Additionally, the SCAT stops at the Beach Road intersections of Midnight Pass Road and Avenida del Mare are to get replacement shelters, the list notes.
Finally, a new shelter is planned at the bus stop at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
In a related matter, Commissioner Christian Ziegler took the opportunity on May 17 to reprise comments he earlier had made to his colleagues, arguing for the need for shade for the Siesta Key Breeze trolley stop at Siesta Public Beach.
“Whatever we can do,” Ziegler told Interim SCAT Director Lewis, would be a help.” Ziegler called shade at the beach trolley stop a “high priority.”
“I made a personal visit to the site,” Lewis replied, adding that he understood exactly what Ziegler meant. He would be working with his staff and the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff, Lewis continued, to figure out the best solution. “There are some constraints on that parking lot,” he pointed out, because of the drainage system.
Still, Lewis told Ziegler, he had proposed a couple of different ideas to staff members for them to consider in dealing with that situation.
Trolley getting a lot of attention
As the Sarasota County commissioners have engaged in budget discussions in recent weeks, the Siesta Key Breeze has been in the spotlight quite a few times.
During the May quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, members were able to learn even more about how busy the Breeze has been.
Nathan Reid, general manager of the trolley operation for CPR Medical Transportation LLC of Washington, D.C., told the approximately 25 people present that from January to May 22, the Breeze had had more than 190,000 riders. “Great numbers.”
He did point out that CPR Medical — which won the contract for operating the trolley in July 2018 — took over the service just as the worst of the red tide bloom was making its presence known on the county’s shoreline, in August 2018. He called the period from August through October 2018 “a few rough months.”
However, Reid continued, when December 2018 arrived, “Things really cleared up, [with] a tremendous difference as far as ridership was concerned. I think people were just sitting at home, waiting,” he said, for red tide to subside so they could return to the beach. “It was an onslaught” in December, he added.
Still, he told the Chamber members, the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival in November 2018 did bring out lots of people. The weekend of the event, Reid said, trolley ridership was almost 7,000.
“That was coming down to the ending of red tide,” he added, so he and other company representatives had wondered how busy the Breeze would be.
“It’s almost scary to think about what this year might bring with the Crystal Classic,” Reid told the Chamber group. “But we look forward to it.”
This year, the Crystal Classic is set for Nov. 15-18.
Because of spring break visitors, Reid continued, “March was probably our biggest month.”
He did point out that one day in March, some teenagers took the Breeze sign off a trolley. Reid said he had told one of his colleagues, “Those kinds of things, we expect to happen,” given the number of 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds enjoying a week at the beach.
All in all, he added of the spring break period, “We thought it was a very good success.”
Reid also noted that the total number of riders in March was almost 63,000. The biggest day was March 24, with 3,000 people counted on the Breeze.
As for more recent data: The ridership for May was 24,906, Lisa Potts, communications specialist for Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), reported.
Beach cleanup planned
Join us out on Siesta Key Beach on July 5th to help Beach Club Siesta Key – 1947, The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage, Siesta Key, Siesta Key Summer House Steak and Seafood, Mad Moe’s Sports Pub & Grill, Smokin’ Joe’s and My Village Pub, when they team up to tackle the mess we know will be left over from the 4th of July Weekend.
Event begins at 8 am and we’ll be cleaning up our beautiful Siesta Key until 11 am.
Meet up point is at The Hub Baja Grill and we will be giving away T-shirts, snacks, bottles water and ice pops for this kid friendly event. Surfside Free Rides will be donating their time to transport the volunteers to accesses 3, 5 and 8.
Village property values rise again
The value of the property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District once again is up, based on the preliminary values released by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office on May 24.
The preliminary figure for the Village Public Improvement District this year is $77,015,705. The final
value for 2018 was $72,793,969. Thus, the new figure reflects an increase of close to 5.8%.
The owners of the property in the Public Improvement District pay assessments each year that finance the Village upkeep.
In response to one property owner’s questions via email in early May, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for the county who serves as the liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., noted that the 2020 fiscal year budget for the Public Improvement District will fall “as a result of more efficient and lower costs for contract services awarded last year.”
In 2018, county staff for the first time split the maintenance responsibilities into two contracts; one covers the general upkeep, including garbage collection, while the other is for landscaping and related services.
“This, combined with a paydown from the reserve fund has decreased revenue assessments to property owners from $141,594.00 this year (FY19) to $130,910.00 (FY20) next year,” Cece continued in a May 6 email to Michael Holderness, who owns the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites on Ocean Boulevard.
“Due to new construction/utility/undergrounding work occurring more frequently due to new storefronts that are converting to a more modern type venue with new utilities such as gas, the expense portion of the budget has been increased,” Cece added. “The other contingency variable is unknown public damage by car accidents, vandalism, graffiti, and other issues,” she wrote.
The Village Maintenance Corp expenses for FY19 were budgeted at $162,944, Cece pointed out. That figure has been increased in FY20 to a total of $173,547, she added.
And speaking of Village maintenance …
As usual, Michael Shay, manager of Village maintenance, had interesting tidbits to share with Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members when about 20 of them gathered at the Daiquiri Deck for their quarterly meeting on May 22.
Shay first noted that since the last quarterly meeting in February, a new, large bike rack has been installed at Bonjour French Café on Ocean Boulevard.
“We had a bench there that was very damaged,” he said. Over time, he had observed that a lot of the restaurant’s patrons were using bicycles, he continued, but “they were tying bikes to trees, benches, everything.”
Since the new bike rack was installed, Shay added, “I will say that I have not seen bicycles tied to the benches, which is a good thing.”
Next, Shay reported that a vehicle struck the bench in front of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar at some point, but no report was filed with the Sheriff’s Office about the incident. “We just fixed [that bench] this week.”
Then Shay reported that the arms were removed from one of the benches in the gazebo. They just disappeared, he added. “We found one of ’em.”
He was not certain why the arms were removed, he continued, questioning what other purpose the arms could serve. At any rate, he added, “We replaced [them].”
About six weeks ago, Shay said, an automobile accident in front of the Lofino Building, at the northern end of the Village, damaged plumbing lines and a “No Parking” sign.
Additionally, the bollard near the Coldwell Banker office “became like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” tilting at a 45-degree angle. County staff repaired that, Shay said.
As for garbage: During the traditional, prime spring break month of March, the Village usually sees big crowds, Shay indicated. This year, too, he noted, right before Easter in late April, “The Village was extremely busy.”
On a normal basis, he said, the company that handles the garbage collections — under contract with the county — does not pick up materials on Tuesdays and Saturdays. However, “For about a two-week period, we had to do seven days a week.” Waste Management, which collects the garbage that the contractor puts in the dumpster in the public parking lot between Avenida Madera and Avenida de Mayo, had to come in for extra pickups, as well, Shay added.
Announcing a retirement
During the May 22 quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Michael Shay announced that he will be retiring as the Village Maintenance Corp. manager at the end of the current fiscal year, which will be Sept. 30.
He will have served in the position for five years, he pointed out to SNL before the meeting began.
He is hopeful, he told the Chamber members, that his replacement will be hired in August or September, before he steps down, so he can train that person. That, he said, would lead to “an easy transition beginning Oct. 1.”
“Thank you for everything that you do,” Chamber Chair Eric Fleming told Shay. “And good luck with your retirement.”
Just how expensive is that fireworks show on the Fourth?
As part of her update during the May 22 membership meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the organization’s executive director, Ann Frescura, pointed out that she and her staff and the board members were working to raise the $50,000 needed to put on the annual July Fourth fireworks show at the beach.
Of that amount, she said, $40,000 goes toward the actual pyrotechnics. The remainder is needed for permitting procedures with Sarasota County and rentals to accommodate sponsors for whom the Chamber hosts a preferred viewing site party.
Come to Siesta Key and enjoy the fireworks
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce (SKCC) is proud to announce the 29th Anniversary of the 4th of July Community Fireworks Celebration, Thursday, July 4th, at Siesta Key Beach. The fireworks show will launch at dusk at the Siesta Key Public Beach (948 Beach Road) and is free and open to the public.
The celebration is completely reliant on generous community donations from businesses, accommodations, and residents. All donations directly fund the fireworks.
Donations of all levels are greatly appreciated, however, sponsorship packages of $500 and above include parking passes and access to the preferred viewing area which opens at 6:00 p.m. and includes complimentary beverages and light snacks. To make a donation, please visit siestakeychamber.com, or call the Chamber office at 941-349-3800.
Gone at last
This reporter had an opportunity to drive down Old Stickney Point Road on May 31 to check on the status of the former Fandango Café structure next to the Siesta Key Storage building.
The home of Fandango had been demolished, just as a representative of owner Dr. Gary Kompothecras had indicated it would be before the end of May.
A dumpster still stood on the site at 1266 Old Stickney Point Road, and a piece of heavy machinery was idle in the background. Nonetheless, the site appeared to be relatively clean on May 31 — and the canal behind the property was visible again.
No document yet has appeared on the county website to show that Siesta resident Kompothecras has applied for a Special Exception to construct the boutique hotel he has proposed on the former Fandango site.
Kompothecras is known not only for the MTV Siesta Key series he created, but also for the 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service he established.
Help sought with ‘adopt-a-near-shore area’
New Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo announced during the nonprofit’s June meeting that she is working with Keep Sarasota County Beautiful (KSCB) about the SKA’s adopting and keeping clean an area of the Key.
With the County Commission this spring having authorized the rebuilding of Fire Station No. 13 next to Siesta Public Beach, she said, she is hopeful that the SKA can adopt the public property behind the station, which offers access to the shoreline. The land includes a pond, she noted.
If she is successful with the initiative, she added of that area, “We can monitor it and just enjoy it.”
Gomez-Mayo said she would welcome members interested in volunteering for that project as she continues to work with KSCB.
Interested persons may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turtle nest marked near Access 2
Since the County Commission voted in May 2016 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, turtle nests have become more common in the area, island residents have noted.
In early June, Michael Holderness sent SNL a photo of a new nest marked off by volunteers just west of Beach Access 2, not far from where the vacated part of the road begins.
Turtle nesting season begins May 1 and ends on Oct. 31. Mote Marine Laboratory offers weekly counts of nests, by location, on its website.
Coconuts Outlet Store closing
After 37 years the Coconuts Outlet Store in the corner of Captain Curt’s Plaza, directly behind Captain Curt’s restaurant, is closing. Everything must go, Clothing/Bags/Jewelry/Crocs- $5 $10 $20 and 50% off racks – Open Daily 10-6. Located at 1218 Old Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key in Captain Curt’s Plaza. Many thanks to the Stewart Family of Captain Curt’s for being such great landlords over the years. This does not affect the main store Coconuts next to Crescent Beach Grocery.
Work continuing on new SKA website
Siesta Key Association (SKA) directors have been putting a considerable amount of time into creating a new website, they have told members in recent months.
On June 6, during the nonprofit’s regular meeting, Director Jean Cannon explained that Director Joyce Kouba “has been working night and day to get this done,” pushing for a mid-July launch. Everything from the old site is having to be brought up-do-date on the new one, Cannon added.
Noting that the SKA will not conduct a meeting in July, Cannon continued, “Hopefully, by August, we can stand up and say [the new website is] ready.”