Maio also defends his vote on allowing earlier staff work on a Comprehensive Plan amendment that could lead to a new hotel on Siesta Key
Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio reassured about 40 people during the Jan. 17 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting that he remains committed to protecting Siesta Key as the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proceed with plans to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key.
Referring to the county commissioners, Maio told the audience at Siesta Chapel, “We have said from the beginning … [that] nobody means to hurt Lido, but any replenishment plan cannot come by harming Siesta.”
“I said from my first day in office,” Maio continued, “‘Where the hell is Plan B?’” Regarding their proposal to remove about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from the pass, he said, he asked city leaders, “‘How could you think anybody’s going to allow that to happen?’” His follow-up query focused on their lack of an incremental plan “to save buildings where the water was lapping at them,” he pointed out. “And I never got an answer, and our [county] staff never got an answer.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued a Notice of Intent on Dec. 22, 2016, that it plans to issue a permit to the city and the USACE to enable them to dredge the pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Beach. Three organizations — Save Our Siesta Sand 2, the Siesta Key Association and the Florida Wildlife Federation — have filed appeals of that decision, seeking administrative hearings on their concerns. (See the related stories in this issue.)
Maio then referred to the fact that the commission did not vote to take any action after hearing a Jan. 10 staff update on the project. “We let things proceed as they’re proceeding. We’re not stupid.” Noting the administrative appeals submitted to FDEP by the three nonprofits, he added, “At any time, the county could join that appeal — when three of the five commissioners decide to do that, not before.”
Maio also reminded the audience, “This is going to be a long process.”
He plans to attend the Jan. 21 meeting of the members of the Lido Key Residents Association, he said, “and they consider me decidedly one-sided.” Still, Maio continued, “I’m not going to start dodging [people] because it’s uncomfortable. If that were the case, I would not have run against three people [in 2014]. I may lose votes in the future,” he said, but he hopes to make Lido proponents of the Big Pass dredging understand his position.
A person in the audience suggested that “a reasonable approach” could be for the city to truck in some sand from a mine in the state, as the Town of Longboat Key did last summer to renourish part of its beach. That would at least buy some time for the City of Sarasota to find a different primary source, other than Big Pass, the man indicated.
“Where is Plan B?” Maio reiterated, adding that the USACE has proven that it can adapt plans.
When the USACE originally unveiled the Lido Renourishment Project, Maio pointed out, USACE officials insisted that three groins would have to be built on South Lido to hold the sand in place between subsequent renourishments. “The pressure of citizens crying out,” he said, led the federal agency to redesign the project with two groins. “I don’t know what kind of science that is,” he added. “In a matter of weeks this all changed.”
The potential for a new hotel
Maio also took questions from audience members regarding the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that could lead to construction of a new hotel on the island on property already zoned Commercial General.
Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez, who was one of Maio’s opponents in the 2014 County Commission race for District 4, said she wanted Maio’s view on the potential for increased density and intensity on the island, if the amendment ultimately were approved.
A hotel would add a burden to the island’s infrastructure, she pointed out — a comment she also made during the County Commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 10.
“You always have a good grasp of the situation,” Maio told Ramirez, “but you’re not going to back me into that corner. I will tell you what I feel when I hear what [the proponent of the amendment] is doing. … So, Lourdes, with all due respect, [I am] not answering that one … till I hear what they have.”
Representatives of Dr. Gary Kompothecras, a Siesta resident best known for his “1-800-Ask-Gary” advertising campaign for his clinics, said during a Dec. 7, 2016 workshop on the Key that their client is interested in building a boutique hotel. Ramirez noted during the Condo Council meeting that current zoning on the island allows up to 26 hotel units per acre and a height of 35 feet.
In response to another question, Maio explained that in years past, April 15 was the deadline for all entities to submit proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments to county staff. “If you didn’t [meet that deadline], tough luck”; a person would have to wait until the next year.
Then commissioners agreed that the process resulted in “piling everything on staff at once,” he said, “all to be heard [by the board] in a short period of time.” Therefore, he continued, the commission changed the process so anyone could submit a proposed amendment at any time. All the Jan. 10 board vote authorized, he said, was for staff to start the process sooner on this particular amendment.
Ed Kroninger, a resident of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex on Old Stickney Point Road, then asked Frank Jurenka, president of the Condo Council, whether that group has taken a position on the issue.
“We discussed this at our last board meeting,” Jurenka replied. The decision was that “it was premature for us to do anything at this particular time.” Nonetheless, Jurenka said, the consensus was “that we would be violently against this change [in density on the island].”
Jurenka added that the organization would try to continue to monitor the process and that it would “send appropriate letters to appropriate people” as needed.
“I think it’s something that we really have to jump on,” Kroninger replied, referring to the island’s condominium complexes. “There’s a lot of money behind this. … There’s a lot of power behind this thing,” he added, referring to Kompothecras, eliciting applause from the audience.
“Perception means a lot,” another Marina Del Sol resident, Robert Sax, told Maio. During the Jan. 10 County Commission meeting, Sax reminded Maio, “You, sir, seconded the motion to allow this [amendment process] to move forward to the next phase.”
Even though Maio had explained that the amendment could have been filed anyway in April, Sax noted, Commissioner Nancy Detert “saw fit … to cast a ‘No’ vote,” because she wanted more information on the project behind the proposed amendment. “You’re supposed to be in our corner,” Sax told Maio.
“I am in your corner,” Maio replied. All he voted for, he reiterated, was to allow the process to start earlier.
“It sends a signal,” Sax said.
“Not, it doesn’t,” Maio responded. “How Commissioner Detert votes is her business. [Three] of us felt differently.” (Commissioner Charles Hines had not arrived at the board meeting prior to that discussion.)
“I just don’t understand this,” Sax said.
“You made your point three times now,” Maio told him.
Other island issues
Injecting some humor into his remarks, Maio said, “What a time to have [Siesta] as [part of my] district.”
Along with the controversial issues of the Lido project and the Comprehensive Plan amendment, he noted that Siesta resident Mike Cosentino has sued the board over its vote last year to vacate a 357-foot-long portion of North Beach Road, and Benderson Development is working on its Siesta Promenade project plans for the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
Yet another concern has been the county work designed to lead to the decommissioning of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant near the Siesta Isles community. That is scheduled for the end of this year.
Because of Cosentino’s lawsuit, Maio explained, he would not be able to comment on the North Beach Road issue. Later, when Cosentino asked him a question about the Lido project, Maio told him, “You came as close as humanly possible to Beach Road and never touched it, so thank you.”
The Siesta Promenade project will be the focus of a quasi-judicial hearing before the County Commission, Maio continued. The board already held a hearing — in October 2016 — on the boundaries of the project site, he noted. At that time, the members voted unanimously to continue the hearing, agreeing to conduct just one future public hearing on all the issues related to the project. Among them will be the rezoning Benderson is seeking.
“The date has not been set,” he added.
Audience member Jean Cannon pointed out that a Jan. 25 discussion is planned before the board on Siesta Promenade. That will involve a staff update on studies that will be required of Benderson as part of the planning process, staff has said. (See the related article in this issue.)