Coast Guard reducing number of daily openings on Siesta drawbridges; Siesta Chamber weighs in on paid parking at the beach; two Ocean Boulevard collisions reported; Shop Local Card to debut this month; decommissioning of Siesta Wastewater Treatment Plant continues on schedule; and volunteers sought for Crystal Classic
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Nov. 16 to correct the information about the Siesta Drive bridge openings.
Early on the morning of Sept. 6, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it will indeed be reducing the number of openings of the north Siesta Key drawbridge and the Stickney Point Road drawbridge from three times an hour to twice an hour.
The change will go into effect on Oct. 5, the Coast Guard notice added, with the new rule to be in effect year-round.
Both the Stickney Point Road bridge and the Siesta Drive bridge will open on the hour and on the half-hour between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily.
Reductions in openings also will be in effect for the Cortez and Anna Maria drawbridges, the Coast Guard said.
“The request was made to the Coast Guard to change the operation of four drawbridges due to an increase in vehicle traffic throughout these areas at all times of the year,” the notice points out.
The proposed rule was posted by the Coast Guard on Feb. 13; the comment period closed on April 14. Altogether, members of the public offered 125 comments. Many of those who took the opportunity to express their views were residents and business owners on Siesta Key. The vast majority supported the reduction in the number of bridge openings, especially given the extent of traffic congestion on Siesta during season.
County property owners should get to park for free
During the most recent quarterly general meeting of members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Chair Mark Smith announced that the Board of Directors finally had settled on a position on the potential for a paid parking program at Siesta Public Beach.
“All Sarasota County property owners,” he said, should be able to park for free at the beach.
That was the decision the board members arrived at “after much discussion,” Smith pointed out during the Aug. 16 meeting, which was held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.
Perhaps two parking decals for the beach could be distributed on an annual basis with each Truth in Millage (TRIM) notice mailed out by the county, he suggested. (The TRIM notices go out each summer after local government bodies set their not-to-exceed millage rates for the coming fiscal year.)
People in the county who do not own property — as well as those who rent homes — could purchase a yearly decal, Smith said. Visitors to the beach would pay an hourly or day rate, in line with what other beach communities charge, he continued.
“All proceeds from Siesta Beach paid parking would be used on Siesta Key,” he stressed as the Chamber board’s view. “That’s what we believe it should be.”
Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café in Siesta Village, suggested that only homesteaded property owners in the county be provided the decals to enable them to park for free, as many property owners rent their houses and condos.
Smith responded that he believes everyone who pays property taxes should be able to park for free at the beach.
However, Kouvatsos countered, “If Mr. and Mrs. Smith own seven homes, I don’t think they should have seven passes.”
If they rent out those homes, Smith replied, the passes would be passed along to the renters as a benefit.
Smith also emphasized, “Other folks, on the mainland, shouldn’t have a problem with us using the revenue on Siesta Key, because it’s being generated by visitors to Siesta Key.”
When Siesta resident Michael Shay asked whether owners of hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the Mira Mar district in Siesta Village also should be allowed to get parking decals, Smith responded, “This is the position [of the Chamber] … the broad brush. … This [issue] was brought up by our illustrious county commissioners, who then went on [summer] break.”
The paid parking discussion arose during the county board’s regular meeting on July 12, the last one the commissioners conducted before heading out for their annual summer recess.
“I’m not saying it was a bad idea,” Smith added of the potential for the county to charge visitors to park at the beach. Still, he continued, by raising the issue and then leaving for five weeks, the commissioners “left the rest of us holding the bag.”
“We have no authority, FYI,” he said.
The Sarasota News Leader learned on Sept. 6 that a staff report the County Commission requested on July 12 had not been completed by the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) staff. That assignment called for staff to research options and then offer scenarios for the board’s consideration.
A notice on the commission’s Aug. 29 meeting agenda said the report was due on Aug. 25. However, given the hurricane preparations this week, the News Leader learned from county staff that no definitive timeline exists for PRNR staff to finish the initiative.
Single-vehicle accidents reported on Ocean Boulevard
The last week of August proved problematic, one might say, for two drivers on Ocean Boulevard. Coincidentally, the men were the same age.
Their involvement in two traffic accidents in the space of two days caused more than a little damage, though one incident was considerably worse than the other, based on Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reports.
On Aug. 27, a 26-year-old Sarasota man was charged with careless driving after “he suddenly struck the signs and [a] tree” and shrubs on Ocean Boulevard, about 115 feet from North Sandy Hook Road, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office report.
The incident involving Jose M. Malave in a 2014 BMW sedan was recorded at 1:24 a.m., the report says. The damage estimate was $10,000.
What he primarily hit was the big sign that welcomes people to Siesta Village. A median with similar signage on the south end of the Village was demolished in a traffic accident last year.
Malave was heading north on Ocean Boulevard at the time of the incident, the report says, noting that he was not suspected to have been under the influence of alcohol and he was not distracted.
Malave told the responding deputy “he didn’t know what happened,” and no witnesses were found, the report adds.
He was wearing his seat belt, the report notes, and the vehicle’s air bag deployed. An EMS unit of the Sarasota County Fire Department transported Malave to Sarasota Memorial Hospital after he complained of arm pain, the report adds.
The vehicle was towed from the scene, the report notes.
In the second incident — which occurred at 2 a.m. on Aug. 29 — a 26-year-old Georgia man was heading southbound on Ocean Boulevard, toward the Village. After he rounded the curve at Given Street, the report says, he saw a tree lying across the road. Although he was able to slow down, his 2004 Honda Civic “skidded into the tree,” causing approximately $300 in damage to the front bumper and scratches to the hood.
The incident was close to the Pass Key Road intersection, the report points out.
County staff had to remove the tree, the report says. A Florida Power & Light Co. crew assisted, as the tree was leaning on a power line. It took the deputy until 5 a.m. to clear the scene, the report notes.
Samir Bakul Cholera also was wearing his seat belt, the report says; no air bag deployed in his sedan. He was not sure of his speed at the time of the crash, the report adds.
Shop Local Card to make its debut
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is preparing to kick off a new promotion at the end of this month, inviting people to “Shop, Dine & Stay Local.”
Cards that will be valid for 12 months will offer specials from participating restaurants, retail stores and accommodations, Ann Frescura, the Chamber’s executive director, reported at the Chamber’s quarterly meeting in August.
Although the promotion originally was planned to begin Sept. 1, she told the News Leader this week, she and her staff are aiming for the end of September. “The cards are at the printer’s.”
Nearly 30 businesses have signed up, she added.
During the Aug. 16 meeting, Frescura said she was pleased to see diversity among the participants in the promotions. “That’s what we were looking for.”
For examples of what the cards will offer, Frescura called on Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café.
The restaurant already had added to its menu “little doughnuts filled with Nutella,” Kouvatsos said. The holder of a Shop Local Card would be able to get a free order with the purchase of two breakfasts, she added. The doughnuts are priced at $6.95, Kouvatsos noted. “It’s a decent value.”
The Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) will offer drink specials, General Manager Stephanie Brown pointed out, while Mason Tush of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters said CB’s will give a cardholder a $20 discount on a boat rental.
“We can continue to add [businesses to the list] as new members come in,” Frescura explained. “It’s kind of an evolving promotion.”
A sign-up sheet she provided at the meeting said the cards will be sold at the Chamber for $25 each, or five for $100. They will be made of a hard plastic, similar in style to a credit card.
“These are perfect for residents, tourists, gift giving, and make great stocking stuffers!” the sheet adds.
Each participating businesses will receive a sign it can put in its window, it will be featured on a printed flyer and it will be included on the Chamber website’s list touting the promotion.
As Siesta Isles residents continue to deal with the physical manifestation of the project, Sarasota County staff has reported to the state that three phases of the project to decommission of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant are at least 80% completed.
In a July 24 update to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Scott N. Schroyer, director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, and Patricia Nihart, an environmental specialist in the department, pointed out that at that time, the conversion of the wastewater plant to a master pump station was about 60% complete. “The master pump station and [sewer force main being extended through Siesta Isles to the plant site] will allow the facility to be taken off line and decommissioned,” the report said.
Phase 1 of the overall project — which entailed drilling under the Intracoastal Waterway to extend the sewer pipeline from Phillippi Estate Park on South Tamiami Trail to Siesta Key — was approximately 95% finished, the report added. “The pipe is completed under the Intracoastal Waterway with certification pending.”
Phase 2, which involves the extension of sewer pipeline on the mainland, connecting from the Phase 1 work, was 99% finished, the report noted.
Additionally, the county is expanding its Central County Water Reclamation Facility to accommodate the flow of sewage from Siesta Key, the report explained. That project was approximately 80% complete, the report added.
(The March 2015 Fast Facts — county statistics and tidbits County Administrator Tom Harmer provides at County Commission budget workshops — noted that the Central County facility will be able to handle 6 million gallons per day — up from 4 million — after that part of the project has been completed.)
The FDEP permit under which the county operates the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant will expire on June 19, 2018, the report noted. However, Schroyer told the County Commission a few months ago that staff still was planning on decommissioning the facility by the end of this year.
Would you like to be a volunteer?
In its September newsletter, the Siesta Chamber has put out a call to volunteers for the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, which will be held Nov. 9-15 at Siesta Public Beach.
Volunteers are needed to assist with admissions; help direct guests waiting in line; and to handle beer, water and merchandise sales, the Chamber newsletter notes. The Chamber has a web address for people wishing to sign up, with slots open each day of the event. The Crystal Classic typically draws tens of thousands of visitors to Siesta Key.
For more information about becoming a volunteer, email Mia Leone at the Chamber: firstname.lastname@example.org.