Siesta Key Association and Siesta Key Condominium Council continue to protest plans
According to The Sarasota News Leader’s clock, it took 2 minutes and 37 seconds on Nov. 17 for Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio to gain full support of his colleagues for the creation of 22 new parking spaces on Ocean Boulevard right of way in the northern part of Siesta Village.
However, representatives of two organizations on the Key this week continued to voice strong opposition to the proposal, as they have from the outset, the News Leaderlearned.
Maio reminded his colleagues on Nov. 17 that the county’s Public Works Department, headed by County Engineer Spencer Anderson, provided the commission a report in early November that analyzed a parking proposal that Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce representatives presented the board on Oct. 6. Staff estimated the expense of constructing the new spaces would be $250,000.
The Nov. 3 report noted, “If directed to move forward with this project, staff will prepare a funding plan and a Capital Improvement Project for Board consideration.”
Among sources of funding, the report pointed out, are the county’s General Fund, which is made up largely of property tax revenue; gas tax revenue; mobility fees; the county’s 1-cent infrastructure sales tax, or “surtax”; Tourist Development, or “bed tax,” revenue; and private contributions.
On Oct. 6, architect Mark Smith, a long-time Siesta Chamber leader, showed the board members how he had designed 18 diagonal spaces in public right of way on the western side of Ocean Boulevard, across from the Old Salty Dog restaurant. Another four spaces could be carved out of right of way in front of the former Lofino Building, located at 5011 Ocean Blvd., Smith added.
The idea originated about five years ago, Smith pointed out, noting that he and Maio “got together with other Village businesses” to discuss how to expand public parking in Siesta Village.
During his Nov. 17 board report, Maio alluded to the staff report that the board members called for after Smith and Mason Tush, chair of the Siesta Chamber, addressed them during the Open to the Public portion of the Oct. 6 meeting.
“I think staff needs direction,” Maio said on Nov. 17, acknowledging, “I was outed” by Smith for the fact that the county did not follow through on the parking proposal in 2015. “I should have pushed it,” Maio continued. “But at that time, we were doing a lot of stuff.”
Maio also pointed out that, months ago, county financial management staff had expected county revenue sources to “double-digit crater” because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The predicted drops were in the 20% to 30% range, Maio continued.
Instead, he added, it appears that the final reports through September — when the 2020 fiscal year ended — would show a decrease in the 2% to 5% range.
“Is there any way in that delta that we can … come up with the $250,000 and not push this another year down the road — if that’s what the commission wants?” he asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.
“You just took my answer,” Lewis replied with a chuckle. “If that’s what the commission directs, we’ll do it.”
Then Commissioner Nancy Detert announced her support of Maio’s proposal.
Maio formally made a motion to direct Lewis to work with staff to amend the 2021 fiscal year budget to encompass the parking project. Detert seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
No timeline was indicated for the initiative.
“That’s great news,” Tush, the Siesta Chamber chair, told the News Leader, which this reporter reached him by phone that afternoon at his family’s business on the island, CB’s Saltwater Outfitters. “Any public parking in the business district is always needed.”
Tush said he did not know the issue would come up this week during the commission meeting. (It was not on the agenda staff posted on the evening of Nov. 12.)
Continuing strong opposition
Asked for a response to the commission action, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner provided the News Leader a formal statement on Nov. 18.
She first pointed out that Maio’s plan to call for the project to be undertaken this fiscal year was not on the Nov. 17 agenda. Moreover, she wrote, “SKA was advised this project would not be imminent. We had been working on alternatives to help Village parking in conjunction with the [Condominium Council].”
In regards to the plan “for 18 parking spaces on the west side of Ocean [Boulevard],” she emphasized, “[T]his area is residential and commercial use doesn’t begin until the [area of the] Michael Saunders Real estate office,” which shares a boundary with the Whispering Sands condominium complex.
The Gulf of Mexico side of Ocean Boulevard, Luckner continued, “has never had public parking spots,” as its zoning is entirely Residential Multi-family under the provisions of the Siesta Key Overlay District section of the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC). The UDC combines all the county’s zoning and land-development regulations.
Further, Luckner pointed out, the elevated sidewalk on the western side of Ocean Boulevard, in the northern part of Siesta Village, is the only one remaining on Siesta Key that allows for separation of pedestrians and bicyclists from the roadway. She attached photos to underscore that portion of her comments.
“It is also the only naturally beautiful entrance into our Village,” she continued.
Additionally, Luckner noted, 18 of the proposed spaces would be situated between the two driveways for Whispering Sands. Thus, the spaces “may impede the safety of access for more that 800-1000 residents.”
She added, “Safety is an issue [her emphasis] as vehicles would be backing out into the road,” and cars typically speed into the area, in spite of the 20 mph limit.
In a statement provided to the News Leader on Nov. 17, also in response to a request for comment, Frank Jurenka, president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, wrote, “The Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) has gone on record against the proposed addition of 22 parking spaces on Ocean Blvd on the premise that this proposal has serious safety issues and impacts the beautification/ambience of our Iconic Siesta Key.
“Today the 17th of November 2020, the Sarasota County Commissioners bowing to the Commercial interests on the Key authorized the expenditure of approximately $250,000 necessary to implement same.
“The SKCC believes that this decision is faulty and that while parking continues to be an issue, alternatives were not explored. These include alternative parking spaces/structures and the shift to enhancing pedestrian/bicycling/trolley alternatives to autos. This is a National Trend.
Jurenka added, that, to the best of his knowledge, “no study was done on this issue” prior to the board vote.
Separately, Diane Erne, vice president of the Condominium Council, provided the News Leader a copy of a Nov. 17 email she sent to the commissioners after the vote.
As a Sarasota native and resident of the Key, she pointed out, “I write to ask you to oppose the creation of 22 parking spaces on Ocean Blvd. I understand the need for additional parking and would like to suggest you look at other sites as options for additional parking.”
Among those are an area on Calle Minorga, where 10 to 15 cars could be parked; a lot located at 5032 Calle Minorga that likely could accommodate 50 vehicles; an area across from 301 Calle Minorga, with space for an estimated 10 cars; and the site of the self-storage building on Avenida de Mayo. That structure could be demolished and either a multilevel parking garage could be built in its place, she wrote, or the area could be used for expansion of the county’s Municipal Lot between Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Madera.
“All of the suggested sites are in the Village and would make better use of the $250,000 available for Ocean Blvd.,” Erne added. “The serious safety, traffic and liability issues that exist on Ocean Blvd would not exist on these alternative sites.”