Formal County Commission approval of budget amendment puts Siesta Village parking space project and Midnight Pass Road/Beach Road roundabout on track to construction

22 Ocean Boulevard parking spots could be created before end of year, county Public Works director says

This is a county graphic included in a Nov. 3, 2020 staff report about the planned new parking spaces on Ocean Boulevard. It shows how the diagonal slots could be created in the right of way. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With no one having signed up to address the issues, the Sarasota County commissioners took just a minute and 12 seconds on Jan. 26 to approve a formal, $610,000 budget amendment for two controversial Siesta Key projects — the construction of 22 parking spaces in county right of way on the northern end of Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village and a roundabout planned for the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Beach Road.

With the agenda item listed as a Presentation Upon Request, none of the board members asked for staff remarks.

After closing the public hearing, Chair Alan Maio asked for “a motion and a second.”

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the budget amendment, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

Then Maio looked down the dais at his colleagues as he asked, “Any comments?” No one responded, so he proceeded with the vote, noting that he was supporting the measure, as well.

A staff memo in the Jan. 26 board meeting packet pointed out that, on Nov. 17, 2020, the commissioners unanimously requested that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis amend the 2021 fiscal year budget to add the parking space project at an estimated expense of $250,000.

This is the schematic Siesta Key architect Mark Smith showed the County Commission, with parking spaces indicated in the rights of way on Ocean Boulevard on the northern end of Siesta Village. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, told The Sarasota News Leader in January that if the commissioners approved the Jan. 26 budget amendment, construction possibly could begin in the fall or near the end of this year. However, he pointed out, “[T]hat is a very rough estimate at this stage.”

The Jan. 26 staff memo also noted, “The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce provided project proposal information to surrounding community groups about the parking plan. The Siesta Key Association (SKA), the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) and the Whispering Sands Condominium Association have provided written and oral feedback against the new proposed angled parking [spaces],” citing safety concerns.

The right of way where the majority of the new parking spots are planned is in front of a section of Whispering Sands.

Funding for both the parking spaces and the design of the roundabout — which is anticipated to cost $360,000  — falls “within the scope of the Operations, Safety and Signalization Program [Capital Improvement Program] project,” the Jan. 26 staff memo said. The funds will come out of gas tax revenue the county receives, the memo added.

On Oct. 6, 2020, Siesta architect Mark Smith, a long-time director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, appeared before the commissioners to revive the proposal for the Village parking spots. Smith pointed out that the plan arose out of his discussions in 2015 with Commissioner Maio on the need to expand public parking in the Village.

Smith then showed the commissioners a concept he had created, with 18 spaces on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, across from the Old Salty Dog restaurant, and four more in front of the former Lofino Building, which is just north of the Old Salty Dog.

This is another aerial view of the affected portion of Ocean Boulevard, with the building at 5011 Ocean Blvd. and the Old Salty Dog on the right. Image from Google Maps

“Parking is a premium on Siesta Key,” Smith pointed out, “and this, we believe, is a good solution … What we’d be removing is palmetto and cabbage palms.”

Five years ago, Maio said, “We didn’t have the money for this.” Five years later, he added, “We’ll find the money.”

County Administrator Lewis tasked Anderson of Public Works with analyzing Smith’s proposal and coming up with an estimate for the work. The Public Works Department report was completed in early November 2020.

The Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) have been adamant opponents of the plan.

Both nonprofits have stressed that the angled parking spots will create hazards for drivers trying to back out of the spaces as vehicles enter Siesta Village. Not only do vehicles tend to speed entering the Village from the north — as SKA members frequently have complained — but large delivery trucks often are parked in the center turn lane so deliveries can be made to area businesses.

Further, SKA President Catherine Luckner has pointed out to the News Leader that the affected section of the sidewalk is one of the few wide enough for pedestrians and bicyclists to share with ease, “and we need to keep those wide spaces.”

During the SKA’s Jan. 7 meeting, Luckner and members continued to talk about their opposition to the parking spaces.

Views regarding the roundabout

This is a graphic county Public Works Director Spencer Anderson has shown the County Commission, comparing an improved signalized intersection to a roundabout at the Beach Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As for the roundabout: A survey county staff undertook last year about residents’ view of that proposal found that 29.89% of respondents preferred improvements to the signalized intersection, while 32.07% wanted no changes at the at all.

Those who favored a roundabout represented 33.15% of the 552 responses, the Jan. 26 county staff memo about the budget amendment pointed out.

During SKA meetings since the County Commission agreed to move forward with the roundabout, SKA President Luckner has noted the survey results, indicating that it was clear to her that the majority of those who provided responses were opposed to the plan.

Nonetheless, Anderson of Public Works has emphasized FDOT’s desire to create more roundabouts, as those structures are seen as safer designs for intersections, with crashes typically resulting in less serious injuries because of reduced vehicle speed.

SKA leaders have put their focus on design facets that will increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. They have emphasized the fact that many walkers and bikers use the Midnight Road/Beach Road intersection in heading to Siesta Public Beach, which is in the same vicinity.

This slide, which Public Works Director Spencer Anderson showed SKA members in October 2020, compares ‘points of conflict’ between pedestrians and vehicles in a signalized intersection to those in an intersection with a roundabout. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The design of the roundabout is expected to cost about $360,000, Anderson told the commissioners. When that work has been completed, it will be provided to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) “for incorporation into [FDOT’s] larger resurfacing project on Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point Road to [Shadow Lawn] Way,” the Jan 26 staff memo added. “Construction is anticipated to begin as early as late summer 2022.”

The design must be transferred to FDOT by the end of October, Anderson has noted.

In regard to other public outreach about the project, the Jan. 26 staff memo also explained that, on March 10, 2015, “FDOT held a public workshop to exhibit intersection alternatives from [its] Preliminary Design and Engineering Study of the intersection at [State Road] 758/Midnight Pass Road at Beach Road on Siesta Key. Public Works and FDOT representatives held a Zoom meeting with several Siesta Key stakeholders on May 22, 2020,” the memo continued. Then, on Oct. 5, 2020, Anderson appeared before SKA members at their regular meeting to discuss the revived roundabout plans.