Siesta Seen

Coast Guard considering reducing opening times for Siesta Drive and Stickney Point Road bridges; of two recent parking lot proposals on the Key, only one appears to be moving forward with county review; a better pressure-washing firm found for the Village; and the co-owner of CB’s gets a widespread audience for her business story

Traffic is bumper-to-bumper on the Stickney Point Road drawbridge at times during season. File photo

The U.S. Coast Guard is considering reducing the number of openings per hour for both the Siesta Drive and Stickney Pont Road drawbridges.

The service in mid-February made available a survey — published on the Federal Register — that sought public comments on the bridge schedules; interested persons had until April 14 to respond.

Thus far, no changes have been made, The Sarasota News Leader has learned. “We’re still taking a look at the pubic comments,” Lt. Ashley Holm of the Coast Guard told the News Leader on May 15. “We have no timeline on making a decision],” she added.

Ron Farwell, who has been the Stickney Point Road bridge tender since 2013, said during a May 10 telephone interview that that drawbridge continues to open on weekdays at the top of the hour, at 20 minutes past the hour and at 20 minutes till the hour — but only if boaters request the openings. The weekend and holiday openings are solely at the request of boaters, Farwell pointed out.

The Code of Federal Regulations says the Siesta Drive bridge opens on the hour, 20 minutes after the hour and 40 minutes past the hour between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. On weekends and holidays, the regulations note, the bridge opens on the same schedule between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Those openings occur only if boaters request them, the regulations add. At all other times, the bridge opens by boater request.

On Feb. 13, the Coast Guard notice said it was proposing to modify the operating schedule for the two Siesta bridges, as well as the Cortez and Anna Maria Island bridges, because of “an increase in vehicle traffic throughout these areas at all times of the year.” The document added, “This proposed rulemaking would change the bridges’ operating schedule from … three times an hour … to twice an hour … throughout the year.”

The proposed schedule would have the Stickney Point bridge open on the hour and half-hour from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

The north Siesta bridge opens for a pair of sailboats to return from an outing in Sarasota Bay. File photo

The north Siesta bridge would open on the quarter hour and the three-quarter hour between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily. “This will align this bridge’s schedule with the opening schedule of the other bridges to the north and south,” the tentative rule points out.

“These proposed changes will meet the reasonable needs of vessel traffic passing through the bridges while taking into account the reasonable needs of other modes of transportation,” the proposed rule adds.

A News Leader check found 125 responses altogether were submitted prior to the April 14 deadline. The vast majority of those provided by Siesta Key residents and property owners indicated full support of the changes.

Farwell, the Stickney Point Road bridge tender, told the News Leader that although he believes the current schedule “is pretty decent,” he is well aware of people’s complaints about having to wait in traffic when the bridge opens. Still, he pointed out, “It’s only 4 minutes” from the time the drawbridge goes up until the time it is back in place. The passage of two boats, he noted, takes only an extra minute.

After motorists expressed much disgruntlement a couple of years ago about the bridge causing traffic back-ups on the south end of the Key, he said, representatives of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office spent time with him to survey the situation. They found the problem was the volume of traffic on Midnight Pass Road, Farwell added.

Nonetheless, one president of a Midnight Pass Road condominium association board wrote in the comments for the Coast Guard that he hears plenty of complaints about the bridge. “[People] say the [Coast Guard] is more interested [in] the boats than the citizens stacked up on [Stickney Point Road] beyond [U.S.] 41. People don’t want to rent anymore because of the traffic backups. Meetings and business are delayed for as much as an hour because of the bridge.

Gary Yee, president of the Bay Island Siesta Association, commented that his organization, which represents 290 homes, is fully in support of the proposed changes. “As you are aware,” he continued, “traffic on the North gateway (Siesta Dr.) to Siesta Key turns to gridlock many times during the day especially during season. I have recently witnessed the traffic back up all the way to Osprey [Avenue] and [U.S. 41] when the bridge is up.”

One man wrote that he has lived on the Key 35 years. “I fully support the bridge opening be reduced from 3 times per hour to 2 times per hour. The time wasted, pollution of hundreds of cars idling, and traffic backups to [U.S.] 41 make this change prudent and long overdue.”

Taking a different view, one person commented, “As a boating resident of Siesta Key I am very familiar with the two Sarasota bridges, Stickney Point and Siesta Drive, being considered for reduced openings. Both of the Sarasota bridges have small waiting areas on each side of the bridge. It is difficult for even a single boat to hold a position while waiting for an opening, especially if there is wind or current pushing toward the bridge. With multiple boats — more likely with reduced opening frequency — it is likely to lead to more collisions and groundings as they try to avoid each other while waiting for an opening. This is especially problematic for sailboats because they are most likely to need a bridge opening, have relatively smaller engines for maneuvering, and generally have greater draft which further reduces the space they can operate in.” 

A new parking lot in the Village?

The property at 5160 Calle Minorgais has been vacant for years. File photo

In advance of the April 20 Development Review Committee meeting for Sarasota County staff, the agenda noted two projects proposed on Siesta Key. The first called for a “temporary parking lot located at 459 Beach Road,” while the second was for a “proposed parking lot located at 5160 Calle Minorga.”

As it turned out, both items were withdrawn from staff consideration before the meeting. In fact, county spokesman Drew Winchester told the News Leader in a May 2 email, the 459 Beach Road application “is no longer under review.”

Since then, a new application has been filed for the Calle Minorga lot. It was scheduled for the May 18 Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting.

During those sessions, staff members representing various departments typically offer suggestions — based on their expertise — about whether facets of a proposal need fine-tuning as the applications begin the formal review process.

A News Leader perusal of the first and second applications for the Calle Minorga parking lot revealed only one significant change. The revised version does not list an owner or contract purchaser, but the original one stated the owner was CASTO, a firm with a Lakewood Ranch Boulevard office that develops and manages commercial, industrial and residential real estate, according to its website.

The second application submitted to county staff includes this proposed layout of a parking lot at 5160 Calle Minorga. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Both applications note that the parcel is 0.241 acres and that the project would entail a 10,000-square-foot parking lot with 35 spaces. The applicant is John F. Cavoli, who has his own engineering firm on Bee Ridge Road.

The property is owned by a limited liability company, 5160 Calle Minorga, according to Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records. On Sept. 1, 2011, that company purchased the land for $450,000, the records note.

According to the state’s Division of Corporations, the registered agent for 5160 Calle Minorga LLC is Sentinel Management LLC of 1221 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. The registered agent for the latter company is Jeffrey R. McCurdy, who lists the same address as Sentinel Management. Two members of the firm listed in the records are Barry Silverstein and Dennis J. McGillicuddy.

In 2016, the Calle Minorga parcel was the site of a proposed miniature golf course. In November 2016, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln — who was acting as the representative of the couple behind that project — told the News Leader, “We’re still evaluating [our next steps]. “There were some local residents who indicated their vociferous objection to the project,” he added of the Nov. 2 neighborhood workshop held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.

Siesta architect Mark Smith — who also serves as the chair of the Chamber of Commerce — handled the drafting of the parking lot layout for the new proposal for the land. When the News Leader spoke with him in early May about the project, he explained that about 19 years ago, the site was home to four or five “termite-ridden cottages.” Some were occupied, he added.

A Realtor showed him one when he was searching for a location for his office, Smith said; he was not interested in the cottages. Not long afterward, the buildings were demolished.

The property is zoned Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI), he pointed out. Therefore, “it’s fine for an office. … But there’s not many people opening offices out here.”

On the other hand, Smith continued, quite a lot of people are interested in parking spaces.

“It’s limiting,” he added of the zoning, “but parking’s allowed.”

“All these years,” Smith said, “somebody could have been making some money out of [the property as a parking lot]” — at least enough to pay the property taxes on the land.

Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office records show that the total property tax bill for 5160 Calle Minorga in 2016 was $6,495.63, up from $6,070.86 in 2015, thanks to the climb in property values.

If people are willing to pay $5 an hour to park without towing worries, Smith said, the proposed parking lot on Calle Minorga might pay for itself.

County property records and state Division of Corporations records indicate developer Shawn Koleta owns the property at 459 Beach Road. Rachel Hackney photo

He continues to be a big fan of the new paid parking program at Davidson’s and Crescent Beach Grocery, he added. The $5 fee per hour, he pointed out, is a lot cheaper than a $200 bill to recover a vehicle that has been towed.

As for the 459 Beach Road proposal: News Leader research found in county Property Appraiser’s Office records that that the property was sold on Feb. 28 to 459 Beach Road LLC. In 2016, the land alone was valued at $1,419,700.

The record on the Property Appraiser’s Office website says that 459 Beach Road is transitioning to a commercial use.

When the News Leader checked state Division of Corporations records, it found that the registered agent of 459 Beach Road LLC is Najmy Thompson, a Bradenton attorney who handles transactions for controversial developer Shawn Koleta. Regular readers may recall that Sarasota County Building Department and Code Enforcement staff dealt with numerous complaints about Koleta’s efforts last year to transform an Avenida Messina residence into a rental property.

On March 30, county staff issued a Notice of Violation to 459 Beach Road LLC because a parking meter was installed, “but commercial parking is not permitted at residences,” county spokesman Jason Bartolone wrote in response to a News Leader question. “The property had come into compliance by the next day and the meter was taken out of service,” Bartolone added.

The application for the parking lot at 459 Beach Road included this proposed layout. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The application submitted to the county for the “Temporary Private Parking Lot” on the property listed the owner’s name as CASTO, the Lakewood Ranch real estate firm that was listed on the first application for the 5160 Calle Minorga parking lot project. The 459 Beach Road application said the parcel is 0.584 acres and that it is zoned Residential Multi-Family. The plan was to create 35 spaces on the site.

Because of the residential zoning of the property, Mark Smith told the News Leader he did not see how a parking plan would be able to proceed without a lot of opposition from the neighbors.

He reminded the News Leader that a number of years ago, Treasure Boat Way residents shot down a suggestion that the county construct a public parking lot on what was then a vacant parcel at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Treasure Boat. The site seemed ideal for the purpose, he added, because of its proximity to the Village. However, Treasure Boat way residents feared noise and other disruptions would result.

Nonetheless, Smith said, “I still hear from people that say that should have been a parking lot.”

A more powerful pressure washing

Business owners have expressed frustrations over the years about the inadequacy of the annual pressure washings in the Village. As Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. has pointed out, remaining gum residue has seemed to be the worst problem.

That is all the more reason Shay happily reported to the News Leader this week that the firm Sarasota County uses for projects all over the county undertook a recent pressure-washing test in the Village with excellent results.

The gazebo, which is a focal point in Siesta Village, also has been the site of some of the worst paver stains. File photo

That test section was from the northernmost property line of the Beach Club to the southernmost property line of Beach Bazaar, Shay said. About 80% of the gum was gone afterward, he noted, “which is something that we never had [seen] done before.”

The crew, he added, was even willing to go back over an area if it appeared the work was not satisfactory after the initial pass. “That’s important to me. … In the past, you got what you got.”

Shay said that Lisa Cece, the business professional in the county Transportation Department who oversees Village maintenance matters on behalf of the county, provided the firm the specs for a couple of other segments — those she felt were the worst, based on her regular visits to the Village — so the firm could provide quotes for them.

Shay learned that the cost of the test segment was “much more reasonable” compared to the expense the Maintenance Corp. has been shouldering for pressure washing, he added. After he and Mark Smith, director of the Maintenance Corp., review the quotes, Shay expects they will give the firm the go-ahead to tackle those two other areas.

What a story!

The article appears in the April issue. Image from the Fishing Tackle Retailer website

We believe that anyone who ever has had the pleasure of hearing Aledia Tush, co-owner of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, talk about her “back story” knows how interesting it is. Tush was excited to see that the editors of Fishing Tackle Retailer, a monthly magazine, felt that way, too.

Titled The Most Unlikely Tackle Shop Owner, an article she wrote about her history with CB’s appears in the magazine’s April edition. It also features a photo of Tush with one of the many big fish she has caught over the years.

“Investing in a bait and tackle shop is a pretty unconventional wedding present to give your daughter,” she begins her tale, “but my father didn’t see it that way.”

This year, she points out, she is celebrating 40 years of owning the Stickney Point Road business that originally was known as Mr. CB’s Bait and Tackle.

The article is available through the magazine’s website. Visit www.fishingtackleretailer.com.

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