Siesta Seen

Higel/Ocean Boulevard drainage project to get underway May 2; traffic tie-ups vex Higel drivers on April 25; March crime stats reported; grass fire on south Midnight Pass causes little damage; Condominium Council offers voter numbers for Siesta precincts; county staff still planning trolley shelter at Beach Park; and Adopt-A-Road team issues latest report for Ocean Boulevard clean-up

This aerial map, which County Engineer Spencer Anderson presented to the SKA members on Sept. 9, 2021 shows Banan Place and Lotus Lane. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Residents in the vicinity of the Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard intersection have received notices in the mail about the fact that the long-planned drainage improvement project in that area is to get underway on May 2.

Additionally, on the morning of April 19, The Sarasota News Leader learned, portable electronic signs appeared on Ocean near the Gleason Avenue intersection, for traffic heading north, and on Higel for traffic heading north in the area of the Out-of-Door Academy.

During a September 2021 presentation to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, explained that county staff was able to obtain a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to undertake the initiative, which will be close to Banan Place. The goal, Anderson said, is to divert stormwater onto Ocean Boulevard, from where it will flow into a ditch with piping and then, after treatment, into the island’s canal system.

Fiddler Bayou used to be the outfall for stormwater in the project location, Anderson noted at the time. However, accretion of sediment in that water body had led to the flooding problems, he indicated.

This is a section of the engineering plans for the Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard drainage project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The plans included in the county’s Invitation for Bids materials explained, “The project consists of the construction/improvement of the existing [storm drain] system to reduce roadway flooding and improve conveyance of stormwater runoff to the outfall.” The plans pointed out that the total area involved has been estimated to encompass 1.26 acres, with 1.10 acres of that expected “to be disturbed.”

Bids on the project originally were due to be opened on Sept. 10, 2021, Anderson said. He was concerned, however, he told the SKA members, because few companies had submitted offers. The reason, Anderson continued, was that county staff had proposed a construction timeline that was “kind of during [tourist] season,” which, he acknowledged, was not a good idea.

Therefore, he added, staff might have to delay that initiative until late spring of 2022.

Apparently, that delay did become necessary.

County staff wanted very much to see the work completed before the rainy season began, Anderson said.

Traffic backups a week early

On April 25 — a week before the Higel/Ocean drainage project is set to start — the News Leader heard complaints about long traffic tie-ups on the two roads.

The red balloon marks the 3900 block of Higel Avenue. Image from Google Maps

The northbound lane of Higel was closed for most of the day between the Ocean Boulevard and Siesta Drive intersections.

Finally, the lane was reopened late that afternoon.

In response to a News Leader inquiry about the work, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant sent the following information on the morning of April 26:

“Could have been one of a few things,” she wrote:

  • A lane closure related to the upcoming drainage improvements.
  • A lane closure related to the issuance of a right of way permit for a new driveway for a single-family residence in the 4000 block of Higel.
  • A lane closure related to a right of way permit for a directional bore for TECO gas lines in the 3900 block of Higel.

“For these types of things,” Grant added, community members are welcome to call 3-1-1 or the county Call Center, 941-861-5000.

When the News Leader shared that with one person who experienced the traffic problems, that resident “voted” for the TECO project, based on what he had observed.

Sheriff’s Office report 671 calls on Key in March

During the April 7 Siesta Key Association meeting, the new Sheriff’s Office substation leader on the Key, Sgt. Dan Smith, introduced himself to members and presented the report on crime statistics for March.

Smith noted that the number of calls for service in March was 671, a 93% increase from the total for February. He attributed that hike to spring break activities.

And in response to a member’s question, Smith said the original Sheriff’s Office schedule called for enhanced enforcement for spring break to end on April 15. However, given how busy tourism has remained on the Key, Smith indicated that the date might be extended a couple of weeks.

Altogether, Smith noted, 33 incidents — 5% of the March total — were crimes involving people or property. Those are the types of cases that the FBI used to classify as “Part I” crimes. (As of Jan. 1, 2021, the Sheriff’s Office staff has explained, “[T]he FBI has mandated that collection of crime statistics be categorized under the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). There may appear to be a slight increase in crime due to the transition from Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) as NIBRS counts more crime categories …”)

Among that set of March incidents, Smith pointed out, a robbery was reported during a dispute over a parking space at Siesta Public Beach Park. The victim was attempting to hold the space by standing in it, Smith explained. The suspect exited a vehicle that had attempted to enter the space, he said, which resulted in a physical altercation. The suspect ended up taking the victim’s cell phone, he added. However, the suspect did end up returning it, Smith said.

In another incident, Smith continued, a person entered the bar area of a business and stole a drink and martini shaker. (That information prompted laughter among the SKA members.)

Additionally, he said, officers investigated a report of a residential burglary, which entailed the alleged theft of Airpods, a passport and a wallet. They were missing from a condominium that had been left unlocked, Smith noted. A person of interest had been identified in that case, he said.

This map shows the location of the crimes involving persons and property in March. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Among other crimes reported on the Key in March, the Sheriff’s Office’s written report — which the Community Affairs Division staff shared with the News Leader at its request — notes that, in one vehicle burglary case, an unknown suspect or suspects bent the frame of a door when trying to enter the vehicle. A second case logged as a vehicle burglary involved a male suspect on a bicycle who entered an unlocked vehicle, the report said.

Further, all three auto theft cases involved electric bicycles. Each had been secured by a lock that was cut, the report said.

In three of the four incidents in which regular bicycles were reported stolen, the Sheriff’s Office said the bicycles were not secured. The cable lock was cut in the fourth case, the agency added.

Among other details in the Sheriff’s Office’s summary of March cases on Siesta, 90 incidents of illegal parking were recorded; 36 noise disturbance cases were logged; and deputies handled 11 DUI cases.

Grass fire reported on South Midnight Pass Road

On April 15, the acting chief of the Sarasota County Fire Department, Mike Hartley, announced the decision to implement a countywide recreational burn ban. At that time, Wildlife Mitigation Officer Jay Bailey noted that the county was at the second-highest level of the state’s drought index.

A county news release explained, “Recreational fires in Sarasota County are defined as any non-commercial burning of approved fuel for pleasure, religious, or ceremonial reasons. This includes campfires, bonfires and any open fires not specifically permitted by Florida Forest Service.”

Just before 4:30 p.m. on April 23, firefighters responded to a call about a structure fire at 8977 Midnight Pass Road. Instead, it proved to be a grass fire in front of the Sunrise Cove condominium complex, the resulting Fire Department report pointed out.

A “small extinguished mulch and grass fire was found that charred a little portion of the wooden fence next to it,” the report said.

This aerial map shows the location of the condominiums at 8977 S. Midnight Pass Road. Image from Google Maps

The Engine 11 crew “ensured the fire was extinguished and left the scene with the owner,” the report added.

The crew arrived at 4:28 p.m. and had the incident under control at 4:29 p.m., the report noted.

The condominium complex is situated on Little Sarasota Bay, between the Turtles and Ophelia’s on the Bay restaurants.

Although no cause of the fire was indicated on the report, the document did say that the firefighters found no sign that human factors had contributed to it.

Because the alarm that the Fire Department received indicated a structure was on fire, a total of 19 firefighters/emergency medical technicians were sent to the scene, the report pointed out. Four of those individuals were assigned to the EMS unit from Station 11, which stands at 2200 Stickney Point Road, east of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection.

Station 11 typically responds to a Siesta incident if the Station 13 crew on Siesta is handling another call.

This map from the website of the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows rainfall distribution over the past year in its district, which includes Sarasota County. Image from SWFWMD

On April 25, Sara Nealeigh, the county media relations officer for the Emergency Services Department, issued an advisory to the news media, stressing that the countywide recreational burn ban “remains in effect due to the dry weather conditions and an increased chance of wildfires.

“In accordance with Sarasota County’s open burning ordinance, the mandatory burn ban will remain in effect until weather conditions change and the chance of wildfire decreases,” she added.

“A media release will be sent when the burn ban is lifted,” Nealeigh noted.

Condominium Council leaders provide election and voting details

St. Boniface Episcopal Church, located on Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key, hosts two Sarasota County precincts. File photo

The week of April 18, leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council offered their members a count of registered voter totals for each of the four Siesta precincts, as well as details about the Aug. 23 Primary and the Nov. 8 General Election.

Both County Commission district seats open for election this year represent parts of Siesta, the Condo Council pointed out: District 2, whose seat Commissioner Christian Ziegler won in 2018, and District 4, whose seat has been held by Commissioner Alan Maio since 2014. Maio is term-limited.

Three Democrats have filed so far for the District 2 seat, but as of the deadline for this issue of the News Leader, Ziegler had not put his figurative hat in the ring. The official qualifying period begins on June 13 and concludes on June 17, the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Office notes.

The Democrats are Siesta resident Mike Cosentino, Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody and former Sarasota City Commissioner and Mayor Fredd Atkins.

Additionally, thus far, only two persons have filed for the District 4 seat, and both are Republicans: home remodeling contractor Mark Hawkins of Sarasota and Dr. Joseph Neunder of Venice, a chiropractor who is a member of the Venice City Council.

Altogether, the Council reported in its April 19 email blast to its members, the island had 7,245 registered voters, based on data from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

The Council noted the following totals per Key precinct:

  • 473 at Precinct 401, which is located at Siesta Key Chapel, on the northern end of the island.
  • 1,211 at Precinct 403, which also is located at Siesta Key Chapel.
  • 4,121 at Precinct 411, which the Council identified as the “heart of the Key.” It is located at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, which stands at 5615 Midnight Pass Road.
  • 1,440 at Precinct 421. It has been relocated to St. Boniface, the Supervisor of Elections Office notes.
This is a sample of precinct data available on the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website. Even more details for Precinct 411 are on the website. Image courtesy Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner

However, the News Leader found that the totals do tend to change. In accord with a new state law, staff of supervisor of elections offices must update voter registration lists annually, and that work must be completed “not later than 90 days before the date of any federal election.”

Additionally, citizens may go online at any time and update their party affiliation.

Late in the afternoon of April 27, the following were the updated figures for the Siesta precincts, courtesy of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office:

  • Precinct 401: 465. Of those, 129 were Democrats, 232 were Republicans, 96 had no party affiliation, and the remaining eight were registered with other parties.
  • Precinct 403: 1,229. Of those, 357 were Democrats; 587, Republicans; 262, no party affiliation; and 23, other parties.
  • Precinct 411: 4,109. Of those, 1,016 were Democrats; 2,058, Republicans; 978, no party affiliation; and 57, other parties.
  • Precinct 421: 1,432. Of those, 389 were Democrats; 699, Republicans; 321, no party affiliation; and 23, other parties.

What happened to plans for a trolley shelter at the Siesta Beach Park?

Regular readers will recall that, in May 2019, County Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked county staff about constructing a shelter at Siesta Public Beach Park, so people awaiting the Siesta Key Breeze would not have to stand long in the sun.

He and his three girls had enjoyed time at the beach one day, he explained, but the girls, especially, became pretty hot as they kept eyes peeled for about 20 minutes for the trolley. He described the experience as “Brutal,” with very little shade to be found.

On July 4, 2021 the Sheriff’s Office posted this photo on its Facebook page, showing the full parking lot at Siesta Public Beach. County staff has been working on how to fit a trolley shelter into space available at the park. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook

Staff promised to work on that initiative, though Ziegler acknowledged that he understood constraints exist in terms of trying to find the best site for the shelter in the park, given the layout of the facilities, including the parking lot.

In August 2020, staff told the News Leader that planning was underway for a shelter near the main entrance to the beach park.

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic did result in delays of a number of county initiatives, as staff dealt with various ramifications of the public health crisis — including drops in certain revenue sources.

Last week, a reader asked for an update on the shelter plans, so the News Leadercontacted county Communications Department staff.

In an April 19 email, Jane Grogg, director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), under whose auspices the Breeze operates, wrote that SCAT staff “has coordinated with multiple departments to advance the Siesta Key Beach Park shelter for waiting trolley and bus riders. Sarasota County will be working with the architect of the 2016 Siesta Beach park improvements to design the structure to align it with the overall design of the park. Once the design is complete, it will be shared with the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners and the public.”

Working to keep the Key clean

This image touts the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful Adopt-A-Road program. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On March 23, Siesta resident Michael Shay and his Adopt-A-Road team carried out their latest clean-up of the total length of Ocean Boulevard, Shay told the News Leader.

Over five hours, they filled six bags with garbage and another three bags with recyclables, he said. Those were the same as the figures in his Sept. 10, 2021 report, interestingly enough.

In his Nov. 17, 2021 report, Shay documented that the team collected five bags of garbage and one bag of recyclables.

In accord with the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful guidelines for the Adopt-A-Road program, Shay has to document the results of the team’s efforts.