County staff anticipates completion of project by summer of 2022
Improvements to the Sarasota County side of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park — including a structure with two family restrooms — could be completed by the summer of 2022, Nicole Rissler, director of Sarasota County’s Parks Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), has announced.
Rissler’s comments came during a Nov. 18 virtual meeting that PRNR hosted to offer members of the public the opportunity to ask questions and provide comments about the county plans.
The restroom building has been designed by Seibert Architects of Sarasota, Rissler pointed out. It reflects a concept created by long-time, renowned Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, she added, and it incorporates elements of the Sarasota School of Architecture.
Additionally, in response to concerns residents have raised, county staff plans to erect an automatic gate near the entrance to the park from Siesta Drive, Rissler said. Similar to gates at other county parks, she noted that it would lock at the time the park closes each day. (The county website says the park is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Nora Patterson Bay Island Park is located on both the north and south sides of Siesta Drive, just west of the drawbridge, Rissler explained. The county owns the property on the southern side, while the City of Sarasota owns the northern section. Thus, improvements have been proposed just for the county segment.
The entire park is within the city of Sarasota, she pointed out.
Officially located at 946 Siesta Drive, the county section encompasses about 1.4 acres, Rissler said. It has a concrete bulkhead on two sides, plus a variety of benches and parking spaces, some of which were designed to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. In fact, she continued, the restroom structure will be built close to those ADA spaces, and the restrooms will be ADA-compliant.
The county acquired the park property in the late 1970s, Rissler added. PRNR staff has been told that the site formerly was home to the Bay Island Hotel.
Recreational fishing and enjoyment of the scenic views are the primary reasons people visit the park, she said.
Not only do visitors have a view of the Intracoastal Waterway, but they also can observe boat traffic as it heads to and from Sarasota Bay.
“This is a very popular park,” Rissler noted. Yet, it has had only a portable toilet to accommodate visitors. “A porta-potty is not our first choice in any of our parks.”
The new restroom building will be paid for by North County impact fees and City of Sarasota park impact fees, she said.
A document provided to the county commissioners as part of their budget workshop in late May put the cost of the improvements at $1.1 million. The accompanying notation pointed out that the initiative had a “High” priority, with “Medium” and “Low” the other two options for staff.
The project was ranked No. 8 among PRNR priorities, in fact, for the 2021 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.
Staff worked to find a location in the park for the restrooms that would preserve as many trees as possible, Rissler told the Nov. 18 virtual meeting participants.
The reason the building must be elevated, she explained, is that it needs to conform to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations for construction in a flood zone.
“We did investigate a ground-level restroom at grade,” she said. However, the design would have had to ensure flood-proofing. “It just financially wasn’t feasible at this location.”
The first level of the structure will allow for visibility to the south and views toward the Intracoastal Waterway, she added.
Planning for a ramp that would conform to ADA guidelines was “one of the biggest hurdles,” she said. The ramp will have one switchback, Rissler continued. “A small bench is proposed for halfway up for anyone that would possibly need to stop [and] rest …”
“We have really tried to limit the size of this restroom [facility],” Rissler said, because of the constraints posed by the size of the park itself.
The restrooms, like the new gate, will lock automatically when the park closes. However, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will have means of unlocking the doors, Rissler pointed out, as deputies routinely undertake checks at county parks to ensure no one accidentally becomes locked in a restroom.
In discussing the planned new gate, Rissler said, “That has been long requested by many community members,” especially those who live close to the park.
Plans could change slightly, “as we go through permitting,” she continued, “but [the gate] will need to be off the road,” so it will not create line-of-sight issues in regard to the Siesta Drive drawbridge.
No changes in traffic circulation within the park have been proposed, she added.
PRNR staff hopes to have the design of the restroom structure completed in April 2021, Rissler said, with permitting finalized in August 2021.
Anyone who would like to offer comments or questions may send an email to PRNRmeetings@scgov.net.
Questions and more concerns
County staff has received multiple complaints about business transactions and other types of unpermitted activities taking place in the park, Rissler acknowledged. Staff is working with law enforcement officers and with the county’s Code Enforcement Division staff, she said, to try to curtail those.
County regulations prohibit sales of food and beverages, as well as rentals of sports equipment are prohibited, she added. However, the County Code of Ordinances does allow charter fishing operations to make use of the park, she pointed out.
Anyone identified as a violator of the county rules receives a letter from staff, Rissler said.
Nora Patterson Bay Island Park is not the only county park where problems arise, Rissler told the workshop participants. In fact, issues arise at all the parks, she added. “Sometimes people take care of [the parks] and follow the rules,” she continued, and sometimes they do not. The majority of the time, she emphasized, members of the public do abide by county park regulations.
Members of the Bay Island Siesta Association, which represents homeowners on the northern part of Siesta Key, emailed a number of questions to PRNR about the proposed park improvements, Rissler said after she finished her formal presentation.
In response to one question, Rissler noted that staff has no plans to expand the activities at the park, since it is “very small.”
In regard to concerns about homeless persons staying in the park, Rissler said that staff will work with the Sarasota Police Department, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Homeless Outreach Teams of both departments in dealing with that issue.
In response to another question regarding people remaining in the park late at night, Rissler added, “I think [the installation of the gate] will significantly help with some of that after-hours use.”
Another Bay Island Siesta Association question pertained to lighting in the park. “We have not gotten to that level of design yet,” Rissler replied. However, the plans will take into account the proximity of homes.
The goal will be to enhance safety for visitors without creating problems for nearby residents, she added.
Further, since the park is located within the city of Sarasota, she said, the improvements will have to comply with city zoning regulations. The city’s zoning code “does require less than 1 foot-candle of illumination at any property line,” Rissler pointed out.
In response to another question, she noted that the restrooms will be cleaned on a routine basis, just as those in the other parks are.
Asked whether the county has other restroom structures similar to the design for the one in Patterson Park, Rissler pointed to the facilities in Ted Sperling Park, on South Lido Key Beach, and the restrooms at Caspersen Beach Park in Venice. However, she stressed, the building at the latter location “is a much larger facility.”