Nora Patterson Bay Island Park restroom project planned in next fiscal year; new bus shelters on the Fiscal Year 2020 list for Beach Road; Siesta Chamber working to raise $50,000 needed for July Fourth fireworks show; another delay allowed in Cosentino appeal of county lawsuit decision; Fandango building finally demolished; and sad news for the latest plover nest
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 11 to correct the date when Angela Briguglio appeared before the County Commission to argue for better means for disabled persons to access the county’s beaches.)
During the 2020 fiscal year — which will begin Oct. 1 — Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department staff hopes to see work begin on a restroom at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park.
That was one project PRNR Director Nicole Rissler highlighted for the county commissioners on May 21, as they reviewed the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five fiscal years.
Her department already has $197,449 allocated for the work, Rissler noted, and another $500,000 will be available out of North County impact fees set aside for parks.
Staff has been collaborating with former Commissioner Nora Patterson and Patterson’s husband, John, Rissler said, as well as Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, “trying to get this moving forward to design and construction drawings.”
When The Sarasota News Leader asked county Communications Department staff whether any more details were available, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded that the project entails a “small restroom.”
Grant added that PRNR staff had let her know, “It’s still really early on [in the planning] so not too much to share on it yet.”
A long-time Siesta resident, Nora Patterson served on the County Commission for 12 years. She had to step down in 2014 because of term limits. Prior to her county board service, she was a Sarasota city commissioner.
The county side of the park on Bay Island — just west of the Siesta Drive drawbridge — was renamed in Patterson’s honor in 2015. First, though, the park was the focus of a number of improvements, including a rebuilt seawall and an upgraded parking lot. It looks out over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Officially, the park is located at 946 Siesta Drive. The county website notes that it is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
More bus shelters planned on the Key
Bus shelters were another topic the county commissioners addressed during their May 17 review of the proposed Capital Improvement Program projects for the next five fiscal years.
Rob Lewis, interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), reported that a number of the structures are planned on Beach Road during the 2020 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.
The SCAT stops designated for new shelters are those on the east and west sides of Beach Road at Siesta Public Beach and those on the east and west sides of the intersection of Beach Road and Lake House Circle.
Additionally, the SCAT stops at the Beach Road intersections of Midnight Pass Road and Avenida del Mare are to get replacement shelters, the list notes.
Finally, a new shelter is planned at the bus stop at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
In a related matter, Commissioner Christian Ziegler took the opportunity on May 17 to reprise comments he earlier had made to his colleagues, arguing for the need for shade for the Siesta Key Breeze trolley stop at Siesta Public Beach.
“Whatever we can do,” Ziegler told Interim SCAT Director Lewis, would be a help.” Ziegler called shade at the beach trolley stop a “high priority.”
“I made a personal visit to the site,” Lewis replied, adding that he understood exactly what Ziegler meant. He would be working with his staff and the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff, Lewis continued, to figure out the best solution. “There are some constraints on that parking lot,” he pointed out, because of the drainage system.
Still, Lewis told Ziegler, he had proposed a couple of different ideas to staff members for them to consider in dealing with that situation.
Full fundraising mode for the Fourth
As part of her update during the May 22 membership meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the organization’s executive director, Ann Frescura, pointed out that she and her staff and the board members are working to raise the $50,000 needed to put on the annual July Fourth fireworks show at the beach.
Of that amount, she said, $40,000 goes toward the actual pyrotechnics. The remainder is needed for permitting procedures with Sarasota County and rentals to accommodate sponsors for whom the Chamber hosts a preferred viewing site party.
A Chamber webpage notes that people who pay $500 or more are able to enjoy the special accommodations, with parking provided, as well as free beverages and snacks. The viewing area opens at 6 p.m. on July Fourth, and the fireworks start at dusk.
The fireworks display is free to the public. This will be the 29thyear of the show.
Another delay in Cosentino appeal, plus failed amicus brief
Regular readers will recall that last year, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino filed an appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal after a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ultimately ruled in favor of Sarasota County on the last count in a complaint Cosentino filed against the county in June 2016.
This spring, Cosentino’s attorney at the time, Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key, sought an extension for filing a reply to briefs in the case. In late May, Rohe filed for yet another extension, which the Court of Appeal granted on May 29, the News Leaderhas learned.
The lawsuit claimed that the County Commission violated a county policy in voting 4-1 in May 2016 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road.
Cosentino lost an earlier appeal of one count in the case, after Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio ruled in the county’s favor.
With this second appeal, Cosentino’s answer to briefs from Sarasota County and intervenors originally was scheduled to be submitted to the Court of Appeal by May 23. However, the court gave Cosentino an extra 10 days from May 29 for the filing of his answer.
Additionally, the notation in the docket says the court will allow only one brief, instead of multiple briefs, as Rohe had indicated in his first request for an extension. Finally, the court’s response made it clear that the solitary brief from Cosentino “must not exceed twenty pages.”
Although Rohe filed the motion for the second extension, 12th Judicial Circuit Court records show — as the News Leader reported last month — that Rohe formally withdrew from the Circuit Court case in early May, citing “irreconcilable differences” between himself and Cosentino. On May 24, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh — who has taken over the case from Mercurio — filed an order agreeing to discharge Rohe as counsel.
The new attorney for Cosentino is Fred E. Moore of the Blalock Walters firm in Bradenton, her order noted.
In a related matter, Cosentino told the News Leader that a supporter of his efforts to improve public access to the county’s waterways planned to file an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeal.
“Amicus curiae” is a Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” As the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University explains it, “Frequently, a person or group who is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the matter, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court’s decision. Such briefs are called ‘amicus briefs.’”
The Institute adds, “State rules of civil and appellate procedure govern amici curiae in state cases.”
On May 23, attorney Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo — who represented Cosentino for a period of time in his 12th Circuit case — filed a motion with the 2nd District Court of Appeal on behalf of Angela Briguglio, asking the court to allow the filing of that amicus curiae brief.
On May 29, the court denied the motion. It did not elaborate on the decision.
Briguglio appeared before the County Commission on Aug. 29, 2018, as Cosentino and others urged the board members to place on the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election ballot two proposed County Charter amendments Cosentino had written. He and supporters had gained enough signatures of registered voters to comply with County Charter criteria for placing the proposed amendments on a ballot. Nonetheless, the Charter also requires that the County Commission vote to approve the appearance of citizen-initiated amendments on a ballot for voter consideration.
One Cosentino Charter amendment called for the county to reacquire the 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission voted to vacate in May 2016 — which prompted Cosentino’s lawsuit against Sarasota County.
The second amendment called for the county to preserve all county-owned parks, preserves, beach and water access, and waterfront vistas.
Both amendments ended up on the ballot, and both won sufficient voter support, though they are the focus of yet another battle between Cosentino and the county in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. Even before the amendments were approved during the November 2018 General Election, the county argued in filings in the court that the amendments were unconstitutional in that they would constrain the authority of the County Commission as provided for in the Florida Statutes.
On Aug. 29, 2018, Briguglio, who uses a wheelchair, talked about the limitations on Siesta Key for people like her. She also noted the solitary handicapped parking space at Avenida Messina, adding that many community residents have mobility issues. “Does that mean one handicapped person can go to the beach [there]?”
She told the commissioners that persons with disabilities in Sarasota County “seem to be an invisible demographic.”
Avenida Messina ends right at the beach, making it a more logical choice for improved access options, she indicated.
“There’s no place left in Sarasota County to meet the ADA [Americans with Disabilities] requirements for beach access,” she told the commissioners. “It’s your job to protect those rights for me.”
Gone at last
This reporter had an opportunity to drive down Old Stickney Point Road on May 31 to check on the status of the former Fandango Café structure next to the Siesta Key Storage building.
The home of Fandango had been demolished, just as a representative of owner Dr. Gary Kompothecras had indicated it would be before the end of May.
A dumpster still stood on the site at 1266 Old Stickney Point Road, and a piece of heavy machinery was idle in the background. Nonetheless, the site appeared to be relatively clean on May 31 — and the canal behind the property was visible again.
No document yet has appeared on the county website to show that Siesta resident Kompothecras has applied for a Special Exception to construct the boutique hotel he has proposed on the former Fandango site.
Kompothecras is known not only for the MTV Siesta Key series he created, but also for the 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service he established.
A downer week for the plovers
After two consecutive weeks of positive reports, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship program in the county, announced in her May 30 update that she had sad news about the snowy plovers on Siesta.
“Ms. Sanibel’s second nest was predated over the weekend,” Wilson wrote. “Again, the culprit was likely Ghost Crabs. Snowy Plovers are such a vulnerable bird with so many predators.”
“[A]lthough it is disheartening to hear that another nest failed we shouldn’t give up hope!” she continued. “I saw Ms. Sanibel and her mate copulating on Tuesday morning [May 28] so they are still trying! The other pair of unbanded plovers has also been seen scraping in the same area so that will hopefully turn into our next nest.”
“Scraping” is exactly what the word implies, Wilson has explained. Since the birds nest right on the beach, they scrape the sand to create an indentation for eggs.