Timelines yet to be determined in most cases
It appears Sarasota County Public Works Department staff was a bit too optimistic about the timeline for projects on Siesta Key when The Sarasota News Leader asked for them as this month was beginning.
During a Sept. 9 Siesta Key Association (SKA) presentation, County Engineer Spencer Anderson provided a firm timeline for only one of multiple projects that are planned for the island over the coming year. That is construction of the new parking lot that the County Commission approved last year, to be located at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road.
With preliminary work having been completed at that site, Anderson said, the creation of the parking spaces was expected to get underway on Sept. 13.
As for the construction of the 22 new parking spaces slated for the northernmost part of Siesta Village: Anderson told the News Leader early this month that he hoped to see that project underway before the end of September. However, he acknowledged to the SKA members during their virtual meeting last week that he has no specific date yet.
Anderson added that staff believes the work will begin this fall, though. “We’re still trying to acquire the pervious system that’ll go in.” The pavers that will be used are much thicker and wider than those people walk on in Siesta Village, he said. “We’re not adding any additional impervious pavement to that area.”
Electric vehicle charging stations and a spot dedicated for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) use will be part of that initiative, Anderson added.
Further, he pointed out, the wide sidewalks and lighting will remain in place on both sides of Ocean Boulevard.
Showing the SKA members a draft of the construction plans, Anderson explained that most of the landscaping will be lost on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, but staff will try to preserve what it can.
The initial work will focus on the four spaces in front of the former Lofino Building, just north of the Old Salty Dog restaurant, he noted.
The goal with that plan, he explained, is to “get everybody accustomed to the construction.” Then, he continued, staff expects to take a weeklong break before creating the other 18 spaces in front of the Whispering Sands condominium complex.
Bernie Hoyt, a Whispering Sands resident, reminded Anderson that he had met with her and other representatives of the homeowners association a few months ago. She noted that the group had discussed the potential installation of a speed hump on the southbound lane of Ocean Boulevard, just as drivers enter the Village, to force them to slow down.
“That will be Phase II of this project,” Anderson replied. The first phase, he emphasized, will be construction of the parking spaces, as approved by the county commissioners.
Anderson then talked about the speed tables — or humps — that have been installed on St. Armands Circle. “Those have been, I think, pretty effective to get traffic to slow down,” he said. They create a safer environment for pedestrians in that commercial district, he added.
Anderson told the SKA members that he feels speed tables would be a good addition to Ocean Boulevard, perhaps close to the median on the northern outskirts of Siesta Village.
Hoyt also asked about the planting of a hedge as a buffer between the new parking spaces and the adjacent dwelling units in Whispering Sands, so headlights would not disturb the residents in those condominiums.
“I don’t think that that would be an issue,” Anderson responded in regard to that request. Nonetheless, he indicated, once again, that that would be a measure for Phase II.
The parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road
Anderson also reminded the SKA members that the County Commission had approved the design of the parking lot on South Midnight Pass Road on county-owned property.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office used to conduct training in a building that stood on the western portion of the site, Anderson noted.
During the County Commission public hearing, which was conducted on June 3, 2020, discussion arose about the potential of business owners in the commercial district just south of Stickney Point Road leasing the property from the county after the lot was completed.
After listening to concerns expressed by residents of condominium complexes in that area, in regard to their safety if the parking lot were a public facility, then-Commissioner Charles Hines and Commissioner Alan Maio zeroed in on the possibility of a business use for the facility. Maio suggested that business owners even could erect a gate that would open only for cardholders.
Hines talked about employee parking for the businesses, which would free up spaces closer to the restaurants and shops just to the north of the site.
As a result of those discussions, Anderson indicated to the SKA members, “We are negotiating with the Chamber of Commerce” on a lease for the parking lot. “They would pay the county … a monthly fee,” he noted. Over time, that money could add up to the county expense for the project, Anderson said.
“We do not anticipate [the facility] to be open to the public,” he pointed out, referencing what he called the “fairly likely,” successful conclusion to the negotiations.
It could take up to 60 days to finish the project, he added.
Perhaps part of the lot will end up being used for valet parking for nearby restaurants, SKA President Catherine Luckner noted. “I think people will be very relieved,” she added, referring to residents who addressed the commissioners during the public hearing.
Ocean Boulevard/Higel Avenue drainage work
Another initiative, which potentially could get underway soon, Anderson indicated, is a project in the area of the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Higel Avenue, near Banan Place.
“We were able to obtain a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Anderson pointed out, “to do a drainage improvement that will pop [stormwater] out onto Ocean,” from which it will flow into a ditch with piping and, after treatment, into the island’s canal system.
A shallow swale would be created atop the ditch, he explained.
Fiddler Bayou used to be the outfall for stormwater in the project location, Anderson noted. However, accretion of sediment in that water body had led to the flooding problems, Anderson indicated.
The plans included in the county’s Invitation for Bids materials explain, “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 note 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 that project were due to be opened on Sept. 10, Anderson said, although he was concerned that few companies might have submitted offers. The reason, he said, is that county staff has proposed a construction timeline that is “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.
If the timeline adjustment proves necessary, Anderson continued, then staff would try to hold off on the project until after the end of the school year, as the Out-of-Door Academy is in the affected area.
“It’s a big improvement,” he said, “and we hope to have it done before the majority of the rainy season starts next year …”
Margaret Jean Cannon, the SKA secretary and one of the leaders of the nonprofit’s Grand Canal Regeneration Project, told Anderson she was “very concerned” about the potential for negative impacts on the canal. She explained that the project team has been focused on upgrading the water quality in the approximately 9-mile-long Grand Canal.
The team has been working with homeowners on the installation of devices called mini reefs, which are made by a company called Ocean Habitats.
Phil Chiocchio of the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum, who initially proposed the undertaking to SKA members, in the fall of 2019, also expressed concern about the potential negative consequences of the project.
“Why can’t you get a permit to drain the accretion in Fiddler’s Bayou?” Chiocchio asked Anderson, referring to a water body in the affected area.
Anderson cited state restrictions regarding permitting in wetlands, adding that he was doubtful that county staff could win approval for such work in the bayou. However, he told Chiocchio, sediment collection is a facet of the Higel/Ocean project design.
Referring to the permitting situation, Chiocchio told Anderson, “That needs to be addressed, in my opinion.”
Drainage work at the Columbus Boulevard/Beach Road intersection
Yet another drainage project, Anderson continued — what he described as a minor one — already is underway in the area of the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and Beach Road.
Years ago, Anderson pointed out on a map of the site, “The beach was really not much of a beach here.” A lot of debris and rubble, instead, were present, he added.
However, in recent years, hundreds of feet of beach have accreted west of North Beach Road. As a result, he said,
“The drainage has been impacted coming off Columbus Boulevard.”
Staff already has made “a few minor modifications,” he noted, to restore ditches and swales to increase the capacity of stormwater to drain in that location.
So far, he acknowledged, staff has not seen the desired results during this year’s rainy season. “It’ll be a work in progress.”
The Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection
Turning to what he called “our favorite curve,” Anderson told the SKA members, “We are almost ready to start with some signage and some striping and guardrails and some delineator improvements” in the nearly 90-degree curve where Siesta Drive intersects Higel Avenue on the northern part of the Key.
“Right now, we have a lot of people who are concerned,” he said, about drivers veering out into the bicycle lane on the right side of the northbound portion of the curve. He indicated that those situations involve motorists trying to get around slower vehicles.
The delineators, he explained, would separate the travel lane from that section of the road to protect bicyclists and pedestrians.
Additionally, Anderson said, flashing arrows will be placed on the road in the curve. “These flashers do a great job,” he pointed out, even in the daytime.
Further, illuminated pavement markers will be installed in the middle of the road, he noted; those will be lit at night. Drivers will be able to see the curve much more clearly, he added.
That project “should start, probably, within the next 30 to 60 days,” Anderson said.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) agreed to pay the county $359,138 for that initiative, Anderson told the County Commission in October 2019. That is one of the facets of the “road swap” between FDOT and the county, which allowed FDOT to assume authority over River Road in South County. In return, the county will assume control of the roads on Siesta Key, except for the portions over the drawbridges.
Anderson pointed out to the SKA members on Sept. 9 that the county legally will not be responsible for State Road 758 and the other Siesta segments — including the portion of Stickney Point Road west of the U.S. 41 intersection — until FDOT begins improvements on River Road. He did not provide a timeline for the latter work to get underway.
The curve near Ocean Boulevard and Gleason Avenue
Noting the plans for the Higel/Siesta Drive curve, Anderson told the SKA members that staff is “looking at similar improvements, maybe not to the same magnitude,” in the area of another sharp curve. This one is in near the Gleason Avenue intersection with Ocean Boulevard.
Over decades, numerous accidents have occurred at that site. The homeowner whose property has been damaged multiple times has installed boulders to try to keep vehicles that veer off the road from causing more problems.
It likely would be six months or so, Anderson said, before the project involving that curve gets underway. Staff wants to see first how the improvements function at the Higel/Siesta Drive intersection, he pointed out, before installing any of them elsewhere.