Siesta Seen

‘Happy Anniversary’ to the Breeze; Cosentino removes portable toilet from 10 Beach Road; complaints aired about speeding boaters, dogs on the beach at Access 1 and variety of issues at Access 2; Cosentino’s proposed Charter amendments still well away from needed numbers; April proves very busy for the Village and the beach; and renowned organist to play at St. Boniface

People wait to board the trolley in front of Morton’s Siesta Market. Rachel Hackney photo

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, April 9, representatives of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce — along with County Commissioner Alan Maio and business owners — climbed aboard a Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which was parked at the Village gazebo. They had gathered to recognize the 250,000th rider since the service began on March 20, 2017.

The winner of multiple prizes donated by Siesta Chamber members was a woman named Noelle, who talked of her delight in being on Siesta instead of at her Connecticut home, where it had been snowing.

Maio joked that she would be expected to appear at future County Commission meetings to rave about the Breeze and help inspire continuation of funding for it. She said she would be happy to do that.

Before the board agreed on Feb. 28, 2017, to allow a trial run of the trolley, Maio pointed out, he had been assuring his colleagues and others that he expected the Breeze to have at least 2,000 riders a month. “We didn’t even come close,” he joked. “It’s 20,000 a month.”

That line was met with whoops and applause.

A bar chart shows monthly ridership figures for the Breeze. These were the latest numbers available this week, SCAT staff indicated to the News Leader. Image courtesy of SCAT

By his reckoning, Maio continued, every two riders on the Breeze represent one less vehicle on the island’s roads.

“We have traffic on the Key,” he said, acknowledging, “This is the one and only time I will admit that. I refuse to say the word, ‘Traffic.’”

Therefore, he continued, the Breeze had reduced the count of vehicles on the Key by 125,000 over the past year. “That’s a fabulous number.”

Prior to the official beginning of the festivities, Terry Thompson, vice president of East region for the firm Ride Right LLC, with which the county contracts for the Breeze operations, told The Sarasota News Leader, “You’re moving a lot of people [with the trolley]. That’s what it’s really all about: congestion mitigation.”

Thompson also pointed out that the firm had worked hard to find the right people to serve as drivers for the Breeze. “You can’t just have any [person],” he said. The driver’s personality is a big factor in ensuring riders enjoy their trips, Thompson noted.

The bonus, he indicated, is that the drivers the firm employs love their jobs.

Noelle holds her gift package as she listens to remarks by Commissioner Alan Maio. Rachel Hackney photo

The April 9 event had been scheduled after a forecast for severe storms on March 20 led to county and Siesta Chamber leaders agreeing that a better weather day would be preferable for the celebration of the first anniversary as well as the 250,000th rider.

Under sunny skies — but with humidity high enough to generate plenty of perspiration among some attendees — Kendra Keiderling, SCAT’s marketing, outreach and customer service supervisor, welcomed everyone gathered at the gazebo to join some regular riders aboard the trolley. Then, at the front of the vehicle, she talked of how people on the Key had made it plain that even though a SCAT bus regularly runs a route between the mainland and the island, “no one wanted a bus.” Instead, she said, they wanted a trolley.

Keiderling offered special thanks to a number of organizations and people on the island who had pushed for the service for years.

Portable toilet removed

The portable toilet stands near Beach Access 2 on Siesta Key on Jan. 10. File photo

At 9 a.m. on April 13, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino was due in Code Enforcement Special Magistrate Court to respond to Sarasota County’s Affidavit of Violation, issued on Feb. 1, regarding his keeping a portable toilet on his property at 10 Beach Road.

Early on the afternoon of April 11, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester informed the News Leader that Cosentino had telephoned staff to say that he had removed the toilet. Thus, staff no longer had need for the Code Enforcement hearing.

The toilet had been on the property since late December 2017.

Howard Berna, the county’s manager of environmental permitting, signed the Affidavit of Violation, which pointed out that the installation of a portable toilet on the beach “in a coastal high hazard area” is inconsistent with the county’s Coastal Setback Code.

Cosentino had failed to place it landward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line by Jan. 31, as Berna had advised him to do, to avoid Code Enforcement action.

Mike Consentino addresses the County Commission on Jan. 25, 2017. File photo

Cosentino did not notify the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County about his removal of the toilet, G. Steve Huard, public information officer for the department, told the News Leader in an April 12 telephone interview. Neither Environmental Health Administrator Tom Higginbotham nor anyone on Higginbotham’s team had received information about the action until the News Leader contacted Huard on April 11, Huard added.

On Jan. 22, Higginbotham told the News Leader he was working with legal counsel “to determine the best course of action” regarding the portable toilet at 10 Beach Road. Health Department staff, Higginbotham pointed out, had notified Cosentino of Cosentino’s need to apply for a permit for the toilet, which Cosentino had not done.

During an April 12 telephone interview, Cosentino told the News Leader that he had kept the portable toilet in place to collect a set of data regarding its use. He is commissioning a report on the usage, he said, which he will turn over to Sarasota County environmental staff.

Additionally, “[S]eason is over,” Cosentino noted in a statement he provided to the News Leader via text on April 12. Moreover, he said during the interview, “It’s tough for me to simultaneously be outside legal limits of the law while I’m complaining about the county breaking the law.”

Cosentino filed a complaint against the county in June 2016, arguing that the County Commission violated the county’s Comprehensive Plan in voting 4-1 in May 2016 to vacate a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that had sustained repeated storm damage over the years.

Each year, Cosentino pointed out, millions of dollars in Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax (TDT), or “bed tax,” revenue is collected by entities on Siesta Key. Yet, the county does not provide restrooms at its beach accesses, only at Siesta Public Beach and Turtle Beach parks.

More than enough TDT revenue is collected, he continued, to pay for portable toilets. Thanks to his keeping such a structure on his 10 Beach Road property, he said, children were spared from stepping in or swimming in human waste.

He wrote in the text that he hoped the data from usage of the toilet “will eventually compel the county to follow my example and provide the very necessary amenities that our locals and visitors deserve.”

When the News Leader asked him on April 12 about the notice he had received from the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County regarding the toilet, Cosentino responded that Virginia C. Bess, the department’s septic system permitting program coordinator, had written to him early this year to say that he was violating provisions of the state statutes by having the portable toilet on his land.

In a handwritten Feb. 2 response to Bess — a copy of which the Health Department provided to the News Leader at the publication’s request — Cosentino wrote, “It is my opinion that the rules cited in your letter are not pertinent or applicable to the current situation.”

He referenced Florida Administrative Code Rule 64E-6.101(7)(b), which contains language regarding “permanent use or placement.” Cosentino continued, “The portable toilet at 10 Beach Road is there for its intended temporary, not permanent use. Such use is clearly allowable without a permit pursuant to [Florida Administrative Code] 64E-6.101(7)(A). Perhaps this was an oversight on your part. I don’t, at this time foresee such use becoming permanent; however, should that change I will certainly do so in compliance with the statutory guidelines pertaining thereto.”

Cosentino further referenced Bess’ comments in her letter regarding “permit and variance application language,” adding, once more, that it “simply doesn’t apply to the current situation.”

He also had met with Bess, he told the News Leader, though he never had had any contact with Higginbotham.

Sheriff’s sergeant addresses numerous complaints

Sgt. Jason Mruczek. File photo

Speeding boaters on the canals, loud partying at Beach Accesses 1 and 2, and dogs on the beach at North Shell Road were among the issues Siesta Key Association (SKA) members raised when Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, stood at the podium during the SKA’s regular meeting on April 5.

First, however, Mruczek reported that since the office’s traditional Spring Break operation began on March 1, “this week so far has been our busiest.” A lot of high school students from Indiana “are down here now,” he added. “It’s been busy at night.”

Overall, he told the approximately 45 people present, “I feel like it’s been a little slower” than last year in terms of the number of people on the beach.

Sheriff’s Office personnel have encountered “no real major problems,” Mruczek said. The parking issue “has been a little bit better, too,” than in prior years.

Still, he continued, “Beach Access 2 is the never-ending story of complaints.”

After the February SKA meeting, members told the News Leader about their frustrations regarding young people gathering at Beach Access 2 in the evenings and staying into the night, playing music at high volumes and being generally disruptive to the residents who live in the vicinity, on Avenida Messina and Beach Road.

“So we’re down there a lot,” Mruczek pointed out during the April 5 SKA meeting. “Evening time is usually the biggest problem down there,” he pointed out, with officers having to deal with traffic congestion, underage drinking and people taking glass bottles onto the beach, which is a violation of a county ordinance.

One woman who lives near Beach Access 2 thanked Mruczek for getting the handicapped parking sign erected again after it had ended up in the portable toilet on the 10 Beach Road property that Mike Cosentino owns.

The woman then told Mruczek that two other signs — red reflectors that are used to warn drivers not to go out on the beach — are missing from Access 2.

“It’s a more complex project that we’re dealing with,” Mruczek acknowledged without elaborating.

As for the boating issues: Dave Thomas, who lives on one of Siesta’s many canals, explained, “There are a lot of boats that are exceeding normal, commonsense speed limits on the Grand Canal” and other bodies of water in the area. “Because there’s so much residential [development on the canals],” Thomas added, “it’s a safety issue,” with the speeding vessels posing dangers to people and wildlife. The wakes from the boats can damage property, too, he noted.

“We don’t get hardly any patrols up and down the Grand Canal” or other canals on the Key, Thomas continued. The boaters “will push the limit because they figure they can get away with it.”
The only resource homeowners have, he continued, is “to stand there and yell at the boater going by. That’s never a friendly confrontation.”

A resident cannot reliably predict the boating party’s response, Thomas noted. “Nobody likes to be yelled at, so at times, you get into a bit of a confrontational [situation] and [see] the one-finger salute [from the boaters].”

“Actually,” Thomas acknowledged, “some people slow down, but quite a few are resentful.”

It also is difficult to be heard over the sound of the engines, he added.

An aerial map shows part of the canal system on Siesta Key, with a red balloon denoting a segment of the Grand Canal. Image from Google Maps

One of his biggest concerns, Thomas pointed out, is that small children often swim in the canals, and people kayak in them. Drivers of big boats cannot spot swimmers and kayakers easily, he said. “I’ve seen some near accidents with people.” For example, he told Mruczek, he had witnessed a situation in which a big boat nearly struck “kids in this little fishing skiff.”

“Police presence there would be very helpful,” Thomas added, especially between 5 and 7:30 p.m., which has proven to be the worst time for speeding boaters.

A sign that the county had installed some time ago to warn people to slow down on the Grand Canal has been missing for about three weeks, Thomas continued. He had used the county’s SeeClickFix app to report that, he said, but, so far, the sign has not reappeared. When he recently asked staff about the delay, Thomas added, he was told the sign issue is “‘part of a more complex project that’s being taken care of.’”

In times past, Thomas said, the county was able to use a vacant lot on the canal as the site for placement of an electronic sign that advised boaters to maintain a slow speed. That property has a new building on it, he said; nonetheless, one of a couple of vacant parcels in the area might work as a new location for a temporary sign.

Mruczek promised to talk with the captain of the Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol about extra enforcement on the canals and about the signage.

“Anything’s better than nothing,” Thomas replied.

People enjoy a sunny afternoon at Beach Access 1 at the western end of North Shell Road. Rachel Hackney photo

Another woman brought up the issues regarding North Shell Road, where Beach Access 1 is located. People have turned that area into a “dog beach,” she told Mruczek, adding that the previous morning, she witnessed two dogs relieving themselves on the shoreline. That occurred around 7 a.m., she added.

Parking has also “gotten out of hand at night,” she continued.

When Mruczek asked if she meant people were still in the area after 9 p.m., she replied, “Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’ve got you guys on speed dial.”

Mruczek told her he would talk with the supervisors of the evening and night shifts for the Sheriff’s Office on the Key. Deputies had been enforcing the closing of the beach access to parking at 9 p.m., he pointed out, even though anyone can walk on the beach after that hour.

When Mruczek asked her when she most often has seen people with dogs on the beach at Access 1, the woman responded, “All day long. … We’re left with the trash and the urine, and it’s really getting out of hand.”

The county’s parks ordinance does not permit dogs on the beach in any location, except service animals, Mruczek explained.

The dogs she has been seeing are not service animals, she assured Mruczek. “They’re not on a leash,” she added, and the owners just let the animals run freely.

Deputies do drive up and down North Shell Road regularly, said the man seated next to the woman, but they typically do not walk out on the beach and observe the activities there.

As for the parking at that beach access: The woman noted that when deputies used to hand out $20 tickets, people would laugh at them. Now that the deputies are writing $75 tickets for parking violations, she continued, at least people are more responsive to the threat that they will be fined.

The couple declined to identify themselves, citing the concern about repercussions from their complaints to Mruczek.

Then Bob Miller, the SKA’s treasurer, reported that two more “No Parking” signs had been erected on the county right of way adjacent to the Siesta Estates neighborhood — across from St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where the SKA meetings are held. Still, he said, people continue to park on that right of way.

Recently, he continued, he called the Sheriff’s Office because of the number of vehicles there, even though the drivers could donate $10 to St. Boniface and leave the vehicles all day in the church parking lot.

When he called and spoke with a dispatcher a second time the same day, Miller said, the dispatcher told him that a deputy was ticketing vehicles parked illegally all the way up at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Midnight Pass Road. “They had two more officers come out,” he noted, who helped write tickets.

Based on the number of vehicles he saw in the county right of way that day, Miller added, he estimated the deputies must have written at least 70 tickets.

Speaking of Mike Cosentino …

A rendering Siesta resident Mike Cosentino commissioned showed how North Beach Road could look if the county had opted to build a step revetment system to protect it. Image from reopenbeachroad.com

The News Leader took the opportunity on April 5 to check in with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office to find out the status of the Sarasota County Charter petition drive that Siesta resident Mike Cosentino began in July 2016.

The petitions Cosentino and supporters have been gathering on behalf of Reopen Beach Road would try to revoke the County Commission’s May 2016 vacation of a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road and make it impossible, under the aegis of the Charter, for any future board to abandon similar county-owned waterfront property.

The elections office provided these figures on April 5: The total for proposed Amendment 4.1 was 8,489; for proposed Amendment 4.2, 8,362.

Cosentino needs 13,866 valid voter signatures to get the proposed amendments on a ballot.

As for the proposed amendments themselves: The first says the following: “Article III, Section 4.1. Preserve County-Owned Parks, Preserves, Beach and Water Access and Waterfront Vistas. The County shall not sell, and shall retain ownership of, County-owned Parks and Preserves, and shall not vacate or sell County-owned road segments or right of way along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista. The County shall encourage maximum right of way use for public access and viewing of waterfront vistas. Whenever feasible, the County shall make these areas accessible to mobility impaired persons.”

The second says, “Article III, Section 4.2. Siesta Key Beach Road as Public Right of Way. The County shall rescind the vacation of, or re-acquire, Beach Road on Siesta Key as it existed on January 1, 2016, and shall not vacate or sell this County-owned road segment(s) or right of way. The County shall provide maximum right of way use of Beach Road for public access, including vehicular use and viewing of waterfront vistas. The County shall make Beach Road accessible to mobility impaired persons.”

Speaking of the crowds on the Key …

A couple relax in the Village gazebo as crowds wander along Ocean Boulevard on the evening of April 5. Rachel Hackney photo

The News Leader mentioned Sgt. Mruczek’s comments about the number of visitors on the Key the first week of April to Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., who supervises the upkeep of the Village for the property owners. Shay confirmed Mruczek’s observation, pointing out that he had a good foundation for his view: the amount of garbage being collected.

“I believe that the last couple of weeks have been the busiest in the Village that I remember based on garbage volume,” he wrote in an April 6 email to the News Leader. “Our dumpster for the Village curbside garbage pails is emptied [twice a] week. For the last 2 weeks we have needed special pickups in addition to the normal 2 to keep up with the volume,” he continued. “And keep in mind we now have [two 96-gallon containers] for recyclables,” he pointed out, adding that the “garbage volume should DECREASE!”

Boro, the firm that handles the garbage collection as part of its custodial contract with Sarasota County has Tuesday’s and Saturdays off, Shay noted. “I have had to go in and empty the pails in the center of the Village [because] they are full by the morning that Boro doesn’t work!”

Boro Building and Property Maintenance won that custodial contract last November and began work on Dec. 10, 2017. After years of contracting with one firm to handle both the custodial and landscaping work in the Village, county staff felt more firms would be interested in bidding on the work if it were divided.

On April 9, when this reporter saw Shay at the Siesta Key Breeze anniversary celebration, he pointed out that the number of visitors has remained high. “We had an extra [garbage] pickup scheduled for today,” he said. A Waste Management representative told him that a truck would be in the Village early that morning, Shay continued. “They didn’t get here till 11 a.m.” Therefore, Shay had to dump 60 bags of garbage into the Village dumpster.

International renowned organist to play at St. Boniface

Katelyn Emerson. Contributed photo

The Siesta Key Chapel Arts Series and the Sarasota-Manatee American Guild of Organists will present concert organist Katelyn Emerson on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m. at Siesta Key Chapel Presbyterian Church, the two groups have announced.

Emerson was the 2016 winner of the National American Guild of Organists Young Artists Competition, a news release notes. “She will play on the new 2017 Schantz pipe organ,” the release adds.

Emerson performs concerts and presents master classes and lectures throughout the United States and Europe, showcasing repertoire from the 14th to the 21st centuries with “‘impressive technical facility and musicianship’” in performances that are “‘thrilling from beginning to end,’” the release adds, quoting Cleveland Classical. Among her upcoming and past recital venues are the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles; Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland; the Riverside Church in New York City; the American Cathedral in Paris; and the Musashino Civic Cultural Hall in Japan, the release notes. “She has received top prizes in numerous international organ competitions in the United States, Russia, Japan, and France,” it says.

Emerson is associate organist and choirmaster at Boston’s Church of the Advent, the release points out.

A donation of $15 is requested per person at the door, the release says. Siesta Key Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Avenue on the north end of Siesta Key.

More information about Emerson is available at www.katelynemerson.com. For more information about the concert, call 349-1166 or visit www.siestakeychapel.org.

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