Residents’ opposition renewed in public comments and correspondence
In a report to the Sarasota County Commission, dated Nov. 3, county staff estimated that it would cost $250,000 to construct 22 parking spaces in right of way on Ocean Boulevard in the northern part of Siesta Village.
“[T]he concept of adding additional parking spaces in this area has been discussed for several years; however, no action has been taken,” the report pointed out. That lack of action, it said, was a result of the initiative’s not having been made a county priority “or due to public opposition.”
Additionally, the report noted, “One suggestion received was to mark these new spaces with a stated time limit or hours they could be used. Without an effective enforcement means,” the report added, “[T]his is not a recommended measure.”
The parking proposal was revived during the Oct. 6 County Commission meeting, when Siesta architect Mark Smith, a long-time leader of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber Chair Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, requested that the commissioners consider it.
“Parking is a premium on Siesta Key,” Smith told the board members, “and this, we believe, is a good solution.”
He had created a potential design, which he showed the commissioners. In the right of way on the western side of Ocean Boulevard — across from the Old Salty Dog restaurant — Smith indicated room is available for 18 diagonal spaces. Then, in the right of way on the eastern side of the street, in front of the former Lofino Building — which stands at 5011 Ocean Blvd., next to the Old Salty Dog — space is available for another four diagonal parking spots, Smith added.
Five years ago, when the concept first was raised, Commissioner Alan Maio noted, “We didn’t have the money for this.” At this point in time, Maio added, “We’ll find the money.”
Maio originally represented all of Siesta Key as part of his District 4 territory. After the redrawing of the commission district lines in November 2019, the island was split between Districts 2 and 4.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents District 2, also voiced his support for the parking proposal after Smith discussed it on Oct. 6.
The Nov. 3 report says, “If directed to move forward with this project, staff will prepare a funding plan and a Capital Improvement Project for Board consideration. This could be prioritized by the Board as part of its strategic planning process.”
Among sources of funding, the report continued, 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.
The commissioners will conduct their next regular meeting on Nov. 17, which would be their earliest opportunity to address the staff findings.
The report also pointed to continuing opposition on the island to the parking proposal.
On Oct. 20, during the commission’s regular meeting, Bernette B. Hoyt, a resident of the Whispering Sands condominium complex — in front of which 18 of the spaces are proposed — protested the plan. She and two other representatives of Whispering Sands had met with Commissioner Ziegler, she said, to voice their concerns. He had suggested she bring those concerns to the attention of the full board that day, Hoyt added, which she did during the Open to the Public comment period.
Referring to Ocean Boulevard, Hoyt said, “This well-traveled roadway … is the northern entry to the Village, with incoming traffic from the north bridge, delivery trucks, municipal buses, bicyclists and pedestrians, all heading south from Ocean. This stretch of road is already congested.”
Hoyt continued, “Adding 22 pull-in parking places will increase the hazards along this roadway [and] alter the lush welcome to our Village to one of a strip mall.”
The center lane on Ocean Boulevard, she pointed out, is used routinely by delivery trucks, including 18-wheelers. “How well can a sober driver, let alone someone who’s had a few, back out into oncoming traffic, avoiding the center [turn lane] with left-turners in it and then maneuver around the bus or a driver exiting Whispering Sands Drive?” she asked.
Drivers leaving Whispering Sands would have to contend with a blind view, thanks to vehicles parked in the spaces, she pointed out.
Further, the speed limit on Ocean Boulevard drops from 35 mph to 20 mph in the Village, she noted, “but rarely do cars slow down” until they pass the Circle K convenience store, which is south of the Old Salty Dog and the SunTrust Bank plaza.
The safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, and the ability of buses “to navigate an already congested roadway,” Hoyt told the commissioners, “should be the first and most compelling priority.” Otherwise, she said, the county could be setting itself up for liability lawsuits.
(Sarasota County Area Transit bus service to Siesta via Route 11 already has been suspended, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; it has been replaced by an on-demand, curb-to-curb service. By the spring of 2021, SCAT staff plans to officially eliminate Route 11 and utilize what it calls a Mobility on Demand program, providing door-to-door passenger service akin to Uber and Lyft travel options.)
Members of the community would like to work with the commission to come up with parking solutions, Hoyt told the board members. “We can do this without a piecemeal approach of 20 spaces here, there, sprinkled throughout the Village.”
“In the future,” Hoyt added, “include the community you serve on these issues … that impact us.”
The commissioners did not respond to her, other than Chair Michael Moran offering thanks her for remarks. They typically do not engage in dialogue with Open to the Public speakers.
Opposing views expressed in correspondence
The Nov. 3 staff report did include a letter of support for the parking proposal from Tush, the chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. Dated Aug. 26, it went to Moran and the other commissioners. “This is a rare opportunity for the County to add public parking that is located within a business district,” Tush pointed out. With the creation of the new spaces, he added, 22 fewer vehicles will be “driving up and down the street searching for a place to park or illegally parking down a side street in a residential neighborhood.”
In a telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader in August, architect Smith pointed out that more parking restrictions have been imposed in recent years on residential streets in close proximity to the Village. That was another impetus for reviving the Ocean Boulevard proposal, he said.
A second attachment to the Nov. 3 county staff report was a letter to the commissioners and County Engineer Spencer Anderson, signed by Frank Jurenka, president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council. Noting that the Council’s members represent approximately 100 condominium complexes on the island, Jurenka also decried the parking proposal. He expressed safety concerns similar to those Hoyt voiced on Oct. 20.
A third attachment was a letter from the Whispering Sands Condominium Association.
It noted, “Planning to remove flourishing vegetation to be replaced with asphalt parking is contrary to what we value in Siesta Key.”
The Siesta Key Breeze, the open-air trolley service that the county launched in March 2017, “is a successful example of community efforts to address excessive vehicular traffic,” the letter added.
That letter, too, reprised concerns Hoyt had expressed.
“We ask that you study and consider these significant issues thoroughly before proceeding any further with plans to irretrievably alter our landscape with more traffic, more cars, more asphalt, more parking,” the letter said. It was signed by Tony Arena, president of the Whispering Sands Condominium Association.
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner told the News Leader in October that that nonprofit opposes the plan, primarily out of concern for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.
The staff board report did explain that no bicycle lanes exist on Ocean Boulevard. However, it noted, “sharrows” painted on the road indicate “shared use of the normal travel lanes.”
The sidewalk on the north side of Ocean Boulevard would not be affected, the report said.
“Additional pedestrian safety signage could be added on Ocean Blvd. near the intersection of Treasure Boat Way for improved emphasis to slow traffic entering the high pedestrian area of Siesta Village and these new parking spaces,” the report pointed out.