Traffic Advisory Council votes unanimously to deny restrictions on Beach Road parking spaces

Sunset Royale property owners had sought a range of options, including prohibiting use of the spaces from midnight to 6 a.m.

Bob D'Orsi addresses the TAC. Rachel Hackney photo
Bob D’Orsi addresses the TAC. Rachel Hackney photo

Property owners at the Sunset Royale condominium complex on Siesta Key voiced frustration and their eagerness for the County Commission to address the matter after the county’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) this week unanimously denied their request to eliminate 12 parking spaces parallel to Siesta Public Beach, limit the spaces to loading zone use only or prohibit parking in them between midnight and 6 a.m.

“That’s just horrible,” Paul Parr told The Sarasota News Leader moments after the June 13 vote in Sarasota.

Bob D’Orsi, president of the Sunset Royale Condominium Association — who filed the petition on behalf of the organization — talked of plans to pursue the issue with the County Commission. “That’s the next move,” he told the News Leader: “start getting some support with the commission.”

Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for the county who is serving as the temporary staff liaison for the TAC, told the News Leader in a June 14 email that the matter will be forwarded to the County Commission. “All items that go before the Traffic Advisory Council are required to be heard by the Board of County Commissioners,” she wrote.

During an interview after the June 13 meeting, D’Orsi said, “I really thought for sure we were going to get the midnight to 6 a.m. parking [restriction].”

Both the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce provided letters to the TAC in support of that option, staff notified the council on June 13.

Parr told the News Leader he believes county staff sees keeping the spaces open all the time as necessary for good public relations.

In making the motion to deny the petition, TAC member Becky Ayech pointed out that she has been a county resident for close to four decades, “and beach parking has always been a problem in this county.” Any time local government can take action to ensure public access to the beaches, she continued, “I think that’s a great thing.”

TAC member Ken Swartz seconded her motion.

The Sunset Royale complex stands across Beach Road from the parking spaces next to the picnic shelters. File photo
The Sunset Royale complex stands across Beach Road from the parking spaces next to the picnic shelters. File photo

At the outset of the council’s consideration of the Sunset Royale request, Shanon Rodden, a technical specialist in the county’s Transportation Planning Division, explained that Sunset Royale is located at the intersection of Beach Road and Avenida del Mare. She noted that, prior to the beginning of the improvements at the public beach park, 18 spaces existed along the stretch of Beach Road at the focus of the petition; after the construction was completed early this year, 12 remained.

The speed limit on that portion of the road is 30 mph, she continued, and a 4-foot bike lane is adjacent to the parking spaces.

Staff’s research showed that vehicles using the spaces “do not impede traffic flow, create safety issues or impact emergency services operations,” she told the TAC.

Since about 1995, she continued, members of the public have been accustomed to parking on the street in that area, which gives them access to special events held on the western end of the park, as well as to the picnic shelters adjacent to the 12 spaces. Fishermen and people who take early morning walks on the beach are among the regular users of the 12 spots, she noted.

An aerial view shows Sunset Royale at the intersection of Avenida del Mare and Beach Road, with the Crescent Royale buildings next to it. Image from Google Maps
An aerial view shows Sunset Royale at the intersection of Avenida del Mare and Beach Road, with the Crescent Royale buildings to the east of  it. Image from Google Maps

Furthermore, Rodden explained, staff asked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for data about complaints regarding people or vehicles in those spaces, and the office responded that it handled 13 calls between May 2015 and May 2016. “[They] do not substantiate [the petitioner’s claims of] unlawful activity,” she added. Eight of them were unrelated to parking, she noted.

And while the beach park closes at midnight, she continued, anyone can walk out on the beach at any time, “so there should be parking availability.”

When Ayech asked whether county staff was aware of any street parking restrictions at Lido Beach, Rodden replied that staff was not aware of any.

Trying to make their case

Paul Parr addresses the TAC. Rachel Hackney photo
Paul Parr addresses the TAC. Rachel Hackney photo

With 3 minutes accorded to each public speaker, Parr was among those who addressed the parking space issue before the TAC. He explained that, in the first place, none of the property owners at Sunset Royale or the adjacent Crescent Royale condominium complex was made aware of the fact that the improvements to the public beach would include a new pavilion where weddings could be held. That structure is near the Beach Road parking spaces, he pointed out, adding that he found out about it only after a county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department employee contacted him to ask that he update his website regarding his rental property on Siesta Key to include information about that new structure. “This was never divulged in any of the public meetings [about the plans for the park upgrades], and it put us at a very strong disadvantage.”

(When county staff announced the groundbreaking for the Siesta Public Beach Park improvements in January 2014, the news release noted that the new features would include “a multipurpose overlook/shelter facility on the west side of the park for events such as weddings ….” During an Aug. 28, 2013 discussion with the County Commission about the new amenities, then-Commissioner Joe Barbetta chastised county Project Manager Brad Gaubatz when Gaubatz showed the board a chart indicating that that west pavilion would be planned for weddings. Barbetta reminded Gaubatz that the decision had been made to create a multi-functional facility at the site.)

Furthermore, Parr told the TAC members, “the [Beach Road] parking “does obstruct traffic,” and he invited them to come to Sunset Royale, sit on a condo balcony — especially on a weekend — and observe the issues that arise. People are inclined to fling open their vehicle doors without looking for approaching traffic, Parr said, and bicyclists veer into the traffic lanes, for example.

He added that the reconstructed beach parking lot on the western end of the county facility would be much better for members of the public using the picnic shelters and the pavilion.

TAC member Becky Ayech listens to discussion. Rachel Hackney photo
TAC member Becky Ayech listens to the discussion. Rachel Hackney photo

During his turn at the podium, D’Orsi explained that, with the park improvements under way much of last fall, people were unable to utilize the Beach Road spaces as regularly as they do now; that accounted for the low number of complaints Rodden cited from the Sheriff’s Office.

“There is a lot of nighttime activity there,” he said of the parking spaces, especially on Sunday nights, after the conclusion of the Drum Circle on Siesta Public Beach. “It is not unusual for people to be there all night long.” If people were sitting in front of their homes “at 3 o’clock in the morning, playing the radio, [talking] and having a few drinks, it would disturb you,” he told the TAC members.

Over Memorial Day weekend, he continued, people often stood in the road or put their belongings on the street to try to save those spaces for drivers. Yet, such activity in the beach parking lot can result in an offender getting a $100 citation from the Sheriff’s Office, D’Orsi pointed out.

Designating the 12 spaces for loading zone purposes would be a much better use of the sites, he said.

When TAC member Swartz sought clarification that the beach parking lots are closed from midnight to 6 a.m., D’Orsi told him that is correct. Yet, the Beach Road spaces have no time restrictions, D’Orsi stressed.

Moreover, the restrooms in the beach park close at 10 p.m., D’Orsi noted. “We get people at midnight knocking on our doors,” begging to use condo owners’ bathrooms at Sunset Royale, he told the TAC.

When Swartz asked about whether public drinking is legal at the beach, Sgt. Darrell Seckendorf, the Sheriff’s Office representative on the TAC, explained that consumption of alcoholic beverages is legal on the beach itself; however, such consumption in the open on Beach Road is not. Seckendorf said he would make certain deputies who patrol the area around the public beach are on the lookout for such activity.

TAC Chair Morgan Skoegard (left) talks with Ken Swartz before the meeting begins. Rachel Hackney photo
TAC Chair Morgan Skoegard (left) talks with TAC member Ken Swartz before the meeting begins. Rachel Hackney photo

Yet another Sunset Royale condominium owner, Al Viviano, told the TAC members that about a week before he and his wife, Joanna, closed on their property earlier this year, they took friends from Atlanta to the condominium complex at night. “I was surprised what I saw,” he added. “All the spots were filled; kids sitting on the hoods of the cars, talking loudly. … It was a shock to me.”

Only one member of the public asked the TAC to deny the petition. Skip Parrish reminded the council that the beach park predated the construction of Sunset Royale across the street, so anyone who bought a condo in the building should have known what to expect.

Parrish added that he is part of a group that swims at the beach early in the mornings, and he and others appreciate being able to park in the Beach Road spaces. He pointed out that that is one of the few areas in the county where the public has access to the beach after the parks close.