Reopen Beach Road executive director overstates number of valid signatures on petitions; Cosentino establishes a new foundation; SKA launches survey on paid parking at the beaches; Siesta Isles experiences change in installation method for new sewer pipeline; and Calle Minorga parking lot plan on hold
During the Aug. 3 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, the new executive director of Reopen Beach Road, Mary Anne Bowie, told the approximately 65 people present that the nonprofit has more than 7,000 signatures on the two proposed Sarasota County Charter initiatives it launched last year. That figure actually is a bit overstated, The Sarasota News Leader learned on Aug. 7.
Staff of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office told the News Leader that the office has received 6,608 valid signatures on proposed Amendment 4.1 and 6,501 on proposed Amendment 4.2. To get either initiative on a ballot, Reopen Beach Road needs 13,866 valid signatures of registered Sarasota County voters.
Yet, Bowie’s statement was, “We already have over 7,000. Yay!”
Bowie added that Reopen Beach Road also hopes to set a record for the shortest amount of time needed to get privately initiated amendments before voters. “We should be on the ballot before the end of the year,” she added, drawing applause.
Mike Cosentino, president and treasurer of the nonprofit, told the audience that the record is 18 months, but the average amount of time it takes is 36 months.
In response to a question, Cosentino added that no time limit exists on a charter petition initiative. Sarasota County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh indicated that, as well, in an answer last year to the same question from the News Leader.
Cosentino also told the SKA audience that the county will call an election within 90 days of receiving the necessary number of valid signatures on a petition. However, the News Leader found that the Sarasota County Charter provides for 60 days.
“These things are very expensive,” Cosentino did acknowledge in discussing special elections.
On Aug. 7, the News Leader also took the opportunity to ask Supervisor of Elections Office staff about the cost of a special election for such ballot initiatives. Administrative Assistant Cathy Fowler responded that the expense would be between $450,000 and $500,000 for a standalone election. However, she explained, if Reopen Beach Road waited for “a regularly scheduled election,” such as a primary or general election, no additional expense would be necessary.
A majority of the county’s voters must approve a proposed amendment for the section to become part of the charter, the charter points out.
A slide Bowie showed the SKA audience on Aug. 3 said that from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, Reopen Beach Road representatives gather petitions at the corner of Adams Lane and Washington Boulevard, in front of the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office in downtown Sarasota. The Tax Collector’s and Supervisor of Elections’ primary offices are in the Terrace Building.
Reopen Beach Road was incorporated in the State of Florida on June 22, 2016. Along with Cosentino, who lives on Avenida de Mayo on Siesta Key, the officers named in the state Division of Corporations records were Eric Seace of Roberts Point Road, vice president; Jill Lyons of Calle de Costa Rica, secretary; and Jamey Burns of Island Circle, director. In the most recent filing with the Florida Division of Corporations, Burns has been replaced by Linda Valley of Moonmist Circle, the News Leader found.
The organization is a 501(c)(4), which designation — under IRS guidelines — allows it to engage in lobbying efforts “if the causes coincide with the organization’s purpose,” according to nonprofithub.org. If an organization is a 501(c)(3), any lobbying or other legislative activity it undertakes “must be kept insubstantial,” nonprofithub.org explains.
As for the proposed amendments themselves: The first says the following: “Article III, Section 4.1. Preserve County-Owned Parks, Preserves, Beach and Water Access and Waterfront Vistas. The County shall not sell, and shall retain ownership of, County-owned Parks and Preserves, and shall not vacate or sell County-owned road segments or right of way along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista. The County shall encourage maximum right of way use for public access and viewing of waterfront vistas. Whenever feasible, the County shall make these areas accessible to mobility impaired persons.”
The second says, “Article III, Section 4.2. Siesta Key Beach Road as Public Right of Way. The County shall rescind the vacation of, or re-acquire, Beach Road on Siesta Key as it existed on January 1, 2016, and shall not vacate or sell this County-owned road segment(s) or right of way. The County shall provide maximum right of way use of Beach Road for public access, including vehicular use and viewing of waterfront vistas. The County shall make Beach Road accessible to mobility impaired persons.”
A different Cosentino nonprofit
On Aug. 3, not only did SKA members hear about Reopen Beach Road’s efforts, they also learned about a new nonprofit organization Mike Cosentino has established.
Incorporated with the State of Florida on June 8 of this year, Siesta Key Beach Community Trust, whose mission — according to that documentation — is to support “Sarasota & Siesta Key Community by acquiring and protecting beach & water access property and by providing amenities necessary for accessibility for our elderly [and those who are mobility- and vision-impaired].”
Along with Cosentino, the directors are Thomas Jackson and Cynthia Breslin of Sarasota.
During the SKA meeting last week, Mary Anne Bowie, executive director of Reopen Beach Road, talked of plans to rebuild the old groin — which she referred to as a pier — on the property Cosentino bought last year at 10 Beach Road. That work would be done through the new nonprofit, she added.
When Cosentino spoke to the audience later, he said it is his intention to give both the 10 Beach Road parcel and a second one he owns west of it to the new trust. His focus, he added, “is access for he elderly and mobility-impaired.”
He wants to create the Sunset Point Community Pier, he said; he is working on how best to ensure his property will remain available to the public in perpetuity.
Bowie talked, too, of Cosentino’s lawsuit against Sarasota County, which seeks to overturn the County Commission’s May 11, 2016 vote in favor of the road segment vacation. If the entire length of North Beach Road again were open, she continued, it would “in all likelihood be a worldwide attraction, with its amazing unobstructed gulf view drive, bike/walk/skate and travel way.”
“We’re holding our own right now on the lawsuit, Bowie said.
Another hearing has been set in that case for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27. At that time, Judge Frederick Mercurio will consider a Sarasota County motion for partial summary judgment on another count of Cosentino’s second amended complaint, 12th Judicial Circuit Court records show.
In April, Mercurio granted a motion by intervenors in the case — Dennis and Wendy Madden — to dismiss one count of Cosentino’s complaint. The Maddens were among the three sets of couples who petitioned last year for the road segment vacation. (See the related story in this issue.)
In his June 2 filing in the case, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce argued that Cosentino “wrongly claims the County Charter requires a coastal setback variance applicant to disclose percentages of ownership of their property.” Additionally, Pearce wrote, Cosentino is wrong in contending that the county failed to meet the legal deadline for posting the official notice of the road vacation in the aftermath of the County Commission decision.
SKA launches another survey
On Aug. 4, the SKA emailed its latest survey to members. This one is in response to a July 11 County Commission discussion regarding the potential for charging people to park at Siesta Public Beach.
Commissioners indicated a keen interest in using the resulting revenue to boost mass transit options that would decrease traffic on the Key.
A note on the SKA website says, “An invitation to complete a survey seeking member views on paid parking at the Siesta Key Public Beach and other Siesta Key sites was sent to all currently active SKA members … The survey will be open until September 6, 2017. … If you received an invitation but have not completed the survey, please take a few minutes to do so in the next few weeks. We want to hear from all members!”
The note adds, “If you are a current member and did not receive a survey invitation, please send an email to email@example.com and we will look into the problem. Please note that to ensure these surveys are completed only by active SKA members, the invitations are sent to the address we have for you in your member profile. In order to ensure the integrity of the survey, invitations cannot be forwarded, so please keep your member email address current. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any issues with survey invitations.”
The survey also asks members how they feel about the possibility of the county’s charging for parking at Turtle Beach, in the public parking lot in the Village, at a proposed new parking lot/Siesta Key Breeze stop on South Midnight Pass Road and at all the county’s beach accesses.
Further, it inquires about members’ views on whether county property owners and/or those people whose primary legal residences are in the county should pay to park.
This survey is the third the SKA has undertaken thus far this year. The first was on the open-air trolley — the Breeze — that the county operates for free. The second encompassed questions about a series of hot topics on the Key — from the potential for a new hotel to members’ views on the proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use development at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
Last year, county staff and the contractor had settled on the horizontal directional drilling method to install new sewer pipelines in the Siesta Isles neighborhood. Those lines will transfer effluent off the island from what used to be the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant; it is being transformed into a master pump station.
However, recently, as crews worked in Siesta Isles, they found they were unable to make the 90-degree turns necessary to lay the pipe by that method, Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, wrote in a report that SKA Director Bob Spicer delivered in Luckner’s absence during the Aug. 3 meeting of the nonprofit.
Therefore, the contractor has had to switch to the conventional “open cut” method, a county notice to residents explains.
John J. Saputo IV, a construction project manager in the county’s Public Works Division, sent o the News Leader a notice that went to Siesta Isles residents when the News Leader sought more details about Luckner’s report.
No more than 40 feet of area is open at any given time, Luckner wrote, and the trench is covered at night for safety purposes.
“This will be a more disruptive construction process; however, the contractor will maintain traffic via flagmen as the road will be reduced to a single lane of traffic where pipe installation is taking place,” the notice to residents continues. “Access to driveways for those with even numbered addresses may be limited during the forcemain installation.”
The notice also points out, “Efforts will be made to restore temporary driveway access at the end of the day for the affected homeowners. The contractor will contact you prior to any construction taking place in front of your home that will impede your access.”
“In addition,” it continues, “there has been a change in pipe route at Shadow Lawn Way. The pipe will now be installed on the North (Westbound) side of the road. This change will reverse the detour necessary for ingress and egress to Siesta Isles subdivision and will eliminate the need for a temporary signalized intersection at Beach Road and [Beach Way] Drive.”
The notice explains that residents will have access to Midnight Pass Road as an exit and that they will be able to return to Siesta Isles via Beach Road and Beach Way Drive.
Luckner’s report, as delivered by Spicer, made clear that not only is the work on schedule but, in fact, “it’s ahead of schedule.”
The decommissioning of the wastewater treatment plant is planned by the end of the year, county staff members have explained numerous times in recent months. The sewage will flow to county mainland treatment plants.
Some Siesta Isles residents no doubt are disappointed that the temporary signal is no longer going to be needed at the Beach Road/Beach Way intersection. As Tony Romanus, the former longtime president of the neighborhood association, told the News Leader last year, it can be problematic for drivers to get out onto Beach Road from Beach Way at times when tourist traffic is heavy. The temporary signal was seen as a “foot in the door,” so to speak, in an effort to persuade county leaders to install a permanent traffic signal at that intersection.
The Calle Minorga parking lot
This spring, a Sarasota engineering firm sparked interest when it filed an application with Sarasota County for a proposed private parking lot at 5160 Calle Minorga in Siesta Village.
When the News Leader checked early this month to learn whether any more detailed documentation had been submitted, county Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone reported that staff thus far had not received anything.
On Aug. 7, the News Leader called the office of the applicant — John F. Cavoli — to ask for an update. Jim Ready, a partner with the firm, responded, “That is not moving anywhere at this moment.” The parking lot, he added, “is in the early conceptual design process.”
Ready suggested the News Leader check back in about three months.
For a period of time, a “For Sale” sign was posted on the fence around the parcel. However, the News Leader confirmed on Aug. 3 that the “For Sale” sign had been removed. The property still is owned by 5160 Calle Minorga LLC, whose registered agent is Sentinel Management LLC of Sarasota. The two members of Sentinel Management are Barry Silverstein and Dennis J. McGillicuddy, according to state records.
Siesta architect Mark Smith — who owns his eponymous firm in the Village — created a potential parking lot design for the property, which Cavoli submitted along with the application to the county.
When the parking lot proposal went before the county’s Development Review Committee on May 19, a Zoning Division staff member did note that commercial parking is a permitted use for Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI) districts in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning; the Calle Minorga parcel is zoned OPI. Kristin Hellman also pointed out that spaces must be 9 feet wide by 18 feet in length, and a two-way drive aisle must be 24 feet wide.
Hellman further indicated, “Alternative parking surfaces” are allowed in the overlay district; shell, gravel or similar material may be used, “provided that any such driveway shall have along its edges at the street access point a ribbon curb or similar limiting structure to ensure that the entrance is not enlarged over time.”
Additionally, Hellman noted that a 6-foot-wide buffer would be required along Calle Minorga, and the lot would have to be separated from the alley to the west, “to keep cars from pulling straight out of the lot into the alley.” Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson said a 6-foot-wide buffer between the lot and the alley would be sufficient, Hellman added.