Siesta Seen

Mysterious artwork appears on 162 Beach Road parcel; new signage in the Village violates county regulations; Fandango Café demolition permit OK’d; SKA officer talks of long waits for some FDOT actions; new and proposed state laws for condominium associations on Condo Council’s upcoming agenda; Jan. 21 recital planned at Siesta Key Chapel; Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant project expected to be finished by the end of this month; north Village median suffers in another accident; resident fishes python out of canal; fog blankets the pass, but only one boating incident reported; Givens Street light shining, finally; and resident offers a Top 10 list

Two people appear to be working on the art installation at 162 Beach Road in early January. Photo courtesy of Catherine Luckner

On Jan. 12, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner told The Sarasota News Leader she had been observing changes on the 162 Beach Road parcel, which the owners agreed last year to sell to Sarasota County.

She spied two men on the property in early January, she said, and they appeared to be creating an art project dominated by cairns. Four days later, she continued, the undertaking appeared to be complete.

Luckner kindly sent several photos to the News Leader, which forwarded one of them to Sarasota County staff to learn whether anyone in the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department had an explanation for the transformation of the parcel.

Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone reported back on Jan. 18, saying that PRNR staff members he consulted was unaware of the objects on the property until after he provided them with Luckner’s photos, via the News Leader. Then they contacted the county’s Environmental Permitting Division.

Regardless of what the objects are, it appears they will have to be removed, Bartolone said in a brief telephone interview.

In a Jan. 18 email, he offered the following information from Howard Berna, the county’s permitting manager:

“The Coastal Setback Code is applicable here (Chapter 54, Article XXII of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances). In particular, Section 54-723(a) lists out prohibitions seaward of the Sarasota County Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL) including:

  • (1) Construction or excavation;
  • (2) The installation of non-native plants and landscape boulders in or on a beach, dune system or coastal hammock habitat, except as provided for within Section 54-723(g)(8);
  • (3) Alteration or removal of native plants located within a dune system or coastal hammock habitat.”

Berna added, “It appears that these cairns are inconsistent with item (2) and quite likely item (3) above.”

The News Leader would appreciate any information from readers about the artists and the project. Please email rachel@sarasotanewsleader.com.

By the way, Bartolone also told the News Leader this week that the county closed on the 162 Beach Road parcel on Dec. 28, 2017. Owners Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey had sought $1.7 million for the property, but the County Commission voted on Sept. 13, 2017 to maintain its earlier offer of $1.4 million. The couple finally accepted that.

Another view shows close-ups of distinctive elements in the art installation. Photo courtesy of Catherine Luckner

Questions arise about new signs in the Village

The second week of this month, the News Leader learned, the manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. noticed small red-and-white signs attached to different structures while on his monthly walk-through to determine whether any upkeep issues needed to be addressed.

One of the signs was at Big Olaf’s, Michael Shay reported.

The top line on the signs says, “Protect Our Sea Life.” That is followed by the notice, “$250.00 fine for cigarette butts on the ground.”

When Shay checked on Jan. 10 with Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, about whether the Chamber staff knew anything about the signs, she responded in an email, “New to me!”

The next day, the number of signs Shay counted had doubled, from three to six, he told the News Leader.

This is one of the signs that appeared in Siesta Village early in January. Photo courtesy of Michael Shay

Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator who supervises Village maintenance for Sarasota County, checked with Code Enforcement staff and learned that the posting of any signs on county property or rights of way is illegal. Additionally, she notified Shay and Chamber leaders, a county permit is required if a person wants to post a sign on private property. “This type of sign would not be approved,” she pointed out of those Shay had spotted.

Moreover, Cece explained, no fine exists in the county Code of Ordinances for the offense of dropping cigarette butts on the ground.

She also noted that the signage “creates a liability for the County, within the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District,” where the county oversees maintenance. (The property owners in the district are assessed annually by the county for the Village upkeep.)

In December 2012, after the City of Sarasota lost a lawsuit over its prohibition of smoking on Lido Beach, the Sheriff’s Office ceased enforcing the prohibition against smoking at Siesta Public Beach. Because of a state law, local governments cannot forbid smoking in public places, the Office of the County Attorney explained to the county commissioners.

Therefore, Cece asked for the Chamber’s help in notifying its members and other business owners that the signs needed to be removed. If they were not gone in a week, she added, county staff would remove them.

As a convenience to whoever had purchased, the signs, Cece added, the signs would be delivered to the Chamber office for return to the purchaser, if county staff had to take them down.

Further, she suggested that if the Chamber leaders wished to communicate with the public about the proper disposal of cigarette butts, perhaps a discussion at an upcoming meeting for Chamber members would be the appropriate time for that.

The next quarterly Chamber meeting for members will be in mid-February.

Finally, Cece wrote that she would be happy to provide more information to the Chamber about the county’s Code of Ordinances and its permitting requirements.

Demolition permit approved

Regular readers will recall that this column two weeks ago reported on the application for a county permit for the demolition of the former Fandango Café building on Old Stickney Point Road.

The permit was ready to be issued, the News Leader learned this week.

Graber’s Excavating Inc. of Sarasota was the company that submitted an online application to the county on Nov. 10, 2017, seeking the permit.

The building that once housed Fandango Cafe stands on part of the acreage zoned Commercial General on Old Stickney Point Road where a hotel possibly could be built. File photo

A note in the file initially said the application failed the “Resource Protection/Air Review.”

On Nov. 20, 2017, county employee Jody Brown wrote in the permit application file that either a determination that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants does not apply in this situation “OR [Graber’s must] provide an Asbestos Survey required per County Code 54-119.”

On Jan. 5, Brown noted that the report had been received. “No Asbestos Containing Material [was] detected,” Brown wrote. Therefore, no further surveys or testing was required, he added, and he gave his approval for the issuing of the permit.

The building is owned by Stickney Storage LLC, whose principal is Dr. Gary Kompothecras. Over the past year, island residents have protested Kompothecras’ plans to construct a new hotel on the Key.

The expiration date listed for the permit is May 9.

Dealing with FDOT

The Bay Island Siesta Association’s Make Siesta Drive Safer campaign — discussed at the Jan. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting — reminded SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner of another long process to achieve a desperately needed traffic improvement on the Key.

People who have lived on the island for many years, she said during that SKA meeting, probably remember that a blinking, caution light used to stand at the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Higel Avenue. “I think it took four deaths [in accidents at that spot],” she added, before the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) finally installed the stoplight.

Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Association, awaits his presentation to Siesta Key Association members on Jan. 4. Rachel Hackney photo

Addressing the Make Siesta Drive Safer members, Luckner said, “I think you’ve exceeded that data.”

Make Siesta Drive Safer members obtained extensive accident data as they launched their effort to enhance driver and pedestrian safety on Siesta Drive from Osprey Avenue to Higel Avenue and on Higel to the Midnight Pass Road intersection.

The committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association is seeking as much support as possible from residents and other organizations on the Key as it works with FDOT and City of Sarasota and Sarasota County representatives on a variety of initiatives.

Jan. 23 Condo Council meeting

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, the Siesta Key Condominium Council will feature Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck for a discussion of 2017 state legislation that affects condominium complexes, the organization has announced.

Dan Lobeck. File photo

Lobeck also will address proposed bills for the 2018 legislative session, which is underway a news release says.

Among the topics he plans to cover are criminal penalties that can be imposed against officers and directors of condominium associations; conflicts of interest and term limits; records and financial reports; and mandatory websites, the release notes.

A question-and-answer session will follow his remarks.

The meeting will include a report about Sheriff’s Office activity on the Key, an update on the legal challenges to the City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key, and the results of the council’s 2017 membership survey.

The Condo Council also has announced that Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents Siesta as part of his district, is scheduled to be the main speaker during the Feb. 20 meeting.

The Jan. 23 session will be held at Siesta Key Chapel, which is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on the northern part of the island.

An invitation to a recital

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21, Cynthia Roberts-Greene, music director-organist of Siesta Key Chapel, will perform a concert on the church’s newly installed 2017 Schantz pipe organ, Siesta Key Chapel has announced.

The concert will include works by Bach, Duruflé, Buxtehude and others, a news release says. “There is a suggested donation of $10 per person,” the release adds, noting all donations will benefit the Chapel Arts Series.

Siesta Key Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on Siesta Key.

For more information, call 349-1166.

Cynthia Roberts-Green. Contributed photo

Almost there

On April 7, 2016, residents packed the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a number of them eager to vent frustrations about a year-long delay in the schedule to decommission the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant.

They had come to the SKA’s monthly meeting to hear a report on that project, whose primary goal was to send all of Siesta’s wastewater to county facilities on the mainland, where it would be treated; that would mean no more discharge into the Grand Canal.

Most important to residents at that April 2016 meeting, several indicated, was that the transformation of the plant would mean no more horrid odors as they tried to engage in outside activities in their neighborhoods.

Along with running a sewer forcemain and a new water main from the mainland, under the Intracoastal Waterway, to Siesta, the overall project called for transforming the Siesta wastewater plant to a master pumping station, David Cash, the manager of the county’s Water/Wastewater Division, and Gregory S. Rouse, a county engineer who had been involved in the design process, explained to SKA members and guests during that April 2016 meeting.

Rouse said that residents in a mainland neighborhood where lines had to be laid had protested about the initial design of that facet of the work. Therefore, staff agreed to changes in the design. Knowing that would add a bit to the project schedule, county staff also won permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to allow the Siesta plant to continue to function until June 2018.

An engineering drawing shows facets of the final phase of the project, which entails the transformation of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant into a master pump station. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Originally, the county’s plan called for wastewater treatment to end on Siesta as 2016 ended.

County Commissioner Alan Maio noted the change in the timeline during his “State of the County” update to SKA members as part of their 2016 Annual Breakfast Meeting. Then the news spread among residents who live near the plant.

As SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner put it during the Jan. 4 SKA meeting, “Everybody was so angry last year.”

Almost exactly 21 months after that contentious April 2016 meeting, Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, reported to about 70 members and guests on Jan. 4 that the end of the project truly was near.

If Hurricane Irma had not struck the state in September 2017, Luckner said, he believed the county could have met its late December 2017 deadline for ceasing the treatment of wastewater on Siesta Key.

The new master pump station was about 90% complete as of early January, he noted, and the final sewer line tie-ins were expected to be completed at night by the end of January. The latter work involved areas of the northern end of the island, Luckner said.

A county graphic shows the segments of the project designed to lead to the decommissioning of the Siesta Wastewater Treatment Plant. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The new sewer forcemain had been pressure-tested, he continued. Testing at the pump station was planned for late January, as well, he added.

A few “punch list” items remained to be addressed in the right of way of the Siesta Isles subdivision, where drilling was necessary to feed the forcemain to the plant, Luckner said.

Nonetheless, “Everything looks like it’s all set to go,” Luckner pointed out.

Again?!

The landscaped medians and decorative signs that mark the entry to Siesta Village from both the northern and southern approaches just seem to be magnets for accidents.

Damage to the median just north of Siesta Village is visible on the morning of Jan. 10. Rachel Hackney photo

On Jan. 9, Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported that the northern median was struck sometime after midnight. Signage ended up in the grassy area just east of the median, he added. “You can also see that the plants have been run over again!” he wrote in an email to Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sheriff’s Office, leader of the Siesta substation, and Lisa Cece, special district coordinator who supervises the Village upkeep for the county.

Regular readers will recall that very early in the morning of Jan. 1, someone struck the Village sign on the southern approach. On Aug. 27, 2017, a 26-year-old Sarasota man was charged with careless driving after he struck the welcome sign on the northern end.

The southern median has been a victim of traffic incidents, as well.

Snake alive! — but barely

The 12-foot python lies next to the canal at the Volpe home on Siesta Key. Photo courtesy of Joe Volpe

Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Joe Volpe found an unwelcome “visitor” at his home on Jan. 16, he told the News Leader: a 12-foot python that appeared to still be alive but that was suffering the effects of the cold temperatures.

He fished it out of the canal, he said.

Volpe ended up contacting a private trapper to come to his home to collect the critter.

When the News Leader contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about the snake, Melody Kilborn, public information coordinator in the FWC’s Southwest Region Office in Lakeland, undertook a bit of research. In a Jan. 17 email, she wrote that the type of snake Volpe captured was a reticulated python. From 1989 up until this week, she continued, the FWC “has received 12 verified reports of reticulated pythons in the wild,” adding that they likely escaped from owners or were captive animals or pets that had been released into the wild.

In response to a related News Leader question, Kilborn noted that the pythons found outside south Florida that have been reported to the FWC are not considered to be part of the “breeding population of Burmese pythons.”

State newspapers have had quite a few stories in recent years about Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

Where did Lido go??

About 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11, the News Leader learned, heavy sea fog rolled into Big Sarasota Pass. Visibility was so bad, one resident reported, that Lido Key — which is right across the pass — literally disappeared.

National Weather Service data recorded at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Sarasota noted “Fair” at 4:43 p.m., with visibility listed as 9 miles. Exactly one hour later, at 5:53 p.m., the listing said “Fog,” with visibility having dropped to one-half mile. At 6:53 p.m., the fog was persisting, the data show, with visibility down to a quarter-mile.

South Lido Key, including Ted Sperlling Park, usually are readily visible across Big Pass from Siesta Key. File photo

The fog, and then a mix of fog and mist, continued through the night. As of 5:53 a.m. on Jan. 12, the weather report replaced the “Fog/Mist” notation with “Sky Obscured.”

However, visibility was back up to 2.5 miles by 8:53 p.m. on Jan. 11.

When the News Leader asked Ashley Lusby, media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Department, whether any boating incidents occurred in the area as a result of the rapid deterioration of visibility, she responded that the Venice Fire Department did handle one situation linked to the weather that day, but nothing else appeared in the records that was linked to the weather.

Lorraine Anderson, public information officer for the City of Venice, provided the News Leader with a copy of the Venice Fire Department report. That said a 75-foot vessel collided with a 34-foot sailboat approximately 8 miles west of the Venice Inlet. “There was poor visibility in the Gulf,” the report adds. “No injuries, but substantial damage to the sailboat.”

That call was recorded at 4:38 p.m. on Jan. 11, the report notes.

Repaired at last

It took about five months, but the streetlight that had been out at the intersection of Givens Street and Ocean Boulevard, just north of Siesta Village, finally is shining again, the News Leader learned this week.

Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported in August 2017 that the light was not working. In spite of several conversations and emails Shay conducted with Florida Power & Light Co. representatives, FPL just was slow in getting the streetlight operational again. Conversely, the utility company had streetlights put out by Hurricane Irma shining again in much quicker fashion, Shay noted.

A Siesta Top 10 list

Fans of The David Letterman Show especially liked the comedian/talk show host’s Top 10 lists.

In that spirit, a Siesta resident whom the News Leader knows well but who wishes to remain anonymous submitted a list titled 10 Most Annoying Things Done on Siesta in 2017. Do any of these resonate with other readers?

  • No. 10: People who stop to get gas at Circle K and then leave the car at the pump while they go into the store and chit-chat for 10 minutes.
  • No. 9: People who do not pick up their dog’s “potty” and then, when “caught,” offer the excuse, “It’s bio-degradable.”
  • No. 8: People who put out their garbage three days before pickup day without using a garbage pail with a lid on it, so animals that roam at night can feast on the garbage and make a mess that no one ends up cleaning up.
  • No. 7: People who throw garbage and cigarette butts out of car windows.
  • No. 6: People who leave their garbage on the beach for someone else to pick up.
  • No. 5 People who stop their vehicles in the middle of the street for pedestrians who are jaywalking: a sure way either to get the pedestrians hit or to get themselves rear-ended.
  • No. 4: People who drive 40 mph in the Village’s 20-mph zone.
  • No. 3: People who ignore “No Trespassing” signs.
  • No. 2: For-sale signs, open house signs and yards sale signs that are planted in the county right of way and left there indefinitely for someone else to dispose of after the fact.

And the No. 1 most annoying thing on Siesta Key in 2017: The misguided “groupies” in the Reopen Beach Road “cult” who pollute paradise with billboards, other annoying signs and portable potties. This is a case of a vocal minority trying to force their beliefs on the silent majority.

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