Avenida Leona residents on Siesta Key win parking restriction for their street and a change in the petition process for the county’s Traffic Advisory Council

New provisions implemented for situations involving ‘self-contained’ communities and dead-end streets

An aerial map shows Avenida Leona on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

All told, it took about 19 months. In the end, residents of a Siesta Key neighborhood not only won Sarasota County Commission approval for a parking prohibition on their street, but they also achieved a policy change regarding petitions submitted to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council.

In late December 2018, Avenida Leona resident Dr. Edward Braun submitted a petition to the Traffic Advisory Council (TAC), explaining, “During tourist season our street is used extensively for parking by tourists.” Although neighboring streets have signs prohibiting parking on both sides, he continued, Avenida Leona has no such provision. “Cars are constantly parking on both sides of the street endangering pedestrians and bicyclists, making it difficult for our service vehicles to travel, and no doubt obstructing emergency vehicles if such were needed.”

Because of a lack of quorum in June 2019, when the petition was scheduled for a TAC hearing, no action could be taken. Then, on March 10, Commissioner Alan Maio brought up a related issue during a regular commission meeting: Braun had informed him in an email, Maio said, that a change in county regulations had made it impossible for the TAC to address the Avenida Leona petition.

Braun’s original petition had five signatures on it, which is what Braun had been told was necessary. Later, Braun learned that he would need 61, or 20% of the number of residences within 1,500 feet of Avenida Leona.

Braun had noted in the March 9 email to Maio that Braun had appeared before the TAC that day, only to be told of the extra signatures would have to be secured.

Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

After the meeting, Braun continued in the email to Maio, Becky Ayech, the TAC chair, “advised me that although the members of the Committee felt that one-sided parking on our street was justified, a sentiment shared by Captain John Donovan of the Florida Highway Patrol, what was needed was a ruling by the County Commissioners that in this particular instance the petition rules be altered to allow the signatures of 20% of the residents of our street to suffice on our petition rather than 20% of the residents within 1500 feet.”

“What do we need to do as commissioners to get our Traffic Advisory Council some leeway in this signature rule?” Maio asked his board colleagues on March 10. “We don’t need a fire truck and ambulance not fitting down the street.”

Ultimately, the commissioners approved direction for staff to research the issue and provide the board with a report on the findings.

Because of staff’s efforts to contend with the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis explained, it probably would be July before that staff report could be issued.

Resolving the petition issue

As it happened, the County Commission ended up addressing the two related Avenida Leona items on its July 7 Consent Agenda of routine business matters. The first called for adoption of a resolution “amending the procedures for the submission of petitions to the Traffic Advisory Council, repealing Resolution No. 2014-040.”

A PowerPoint presentation prepared for the board on that issue said, “Current signature requirements are a hardship for petitioners in self-contained communities and dead-end streets.”

The second item called for adoption of a resolution “prohibiting parking on the south side of Avenida Leona from Calle Minorga to the eastern end of the road, including cul-de-sac.”

The board members unanimously approved the Consent Agenda.

The resolution proposed for amending the TAC petition process included two new sections, as noted below:

This graphic shows facets of the previous signature requirement for petitions submitted to the Traffic Advisory Council. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This graphic shows the new signature petition requirement for the TAC for dead-end streets. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“B. For matters impacting local roads confined within a self-contained community without a Homeowners Association, the Petition must be signed by: i. The greater of 5 unrelated individuals or 20% of the residents within the self-contained community. A ‘self-contained community’ is defined as a community that has a single or few focused points of access from several internal, intersecting, local residential roads to adjoining arterials or collectors.

“C. For matters impacting local roads that are dead-end streets without a Homeowners Association, the Petition must be signed by: i. The greater of 5 unrelated individuals or 20% of the residents on the street from the beginning of the street to the dead-end.”

A county staff memo explained that the TAC considered those proposed changes during a meeting on June 8. By a vote of 6-0, the members approved a recommendation that the County Commission adopt the changes.

When The Sarasota News Leader contacted Dr. Braun this week about the board actions, he wrote the following in a July 15 email: “The main purpose of pursuing this [parking] restriction was to make sure that emergency vehicles always had access to homes on our street, especially during the peak of the season. The fact that in the process of obtaining our own approval we were able to provide for changes that will make it easier for others in similar situations, who may have been dissuaded in the past, is an added bonus.”

Braun also pointed out, “Perseverance was the key to success and our residents feel more secure with the parking restriction and thank all who helped achieve its passage.”

More details of the parking prohibition request

This slide shows Avenida Leona looking west. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A separate July 7 staff memo provided to the commissioners dealt with a revised Avenida Leona parking prohibition petition that Braun had resubmitted to the TAC on May 17.

In that new document, Braun wrote that visitors “park, often haphazardly, on both sides of our street. This is a quite frequent event, most often on weekends, holidays and special events.”

Again, as he had in the original petition, Braun emphasized residents’ worries about the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate the street under such circumstances, “thus posing a severe danger to our homes and their occupants.”

During the June 8 TAC meeting, the draft minutes said, Amjid Hussain, an engineer with the county’s Traffic Engineering & Operations Division, explained that Avenida Leona has no sidewalks or bike lanes, and the speed limit is 25 mph. “Vehicles have been parking in the 11-foot travel lane on both sides which hinders emergency response vehicles,” he added, according to the minutes.

This graphic shows where the two new ‘No Parking’ signs will be placed, as well as similar signs on neighboring streets. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A staff PowerPoint presentation provided to the commission in its July 7 meeting packet further pointed out, “Nearby streets Avenida Madera and Avenida Milano have no parking on the south side.”

The final slide said that staff supported the request “to prevent negative impacts to emergency services operations.”

The July 7 county staff memo also informed the commissioners that no one spoke in favor of or against the Avenida Leona parking petition during the TAC session. Additionally, the memo said, “Staff has not received any emails or phone calls regarding the request.”

None of the commissioners — including Maio — commented on the agenda items before the vote that morning. Typically, unless one of them has a concern about a business matter on the Consent Agenda, board members do not offer any remarks before or after taking their vote.

With staff trying to take care of a lot of matters before the commissioners began their month-long summer break on July 12, the Consent Agenda for July 7 was long; it encompassed 52 items.