Next step for Legacy Trail improvements will be removal of fences, sheds and other structures adjacent property owners have built that encroach on corridor

County Commission authorizes county administrator to execute licensing agreements in situations involving residential buildings and pools, for examples

A Sarasota County photo in a Twitter post on Aug. 10, 2018 shows a segment of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As Sarasota County staff has proceeded in its efforts to create the North Extension of The Legacy Trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota, staff has found 263 encroachments on the former railroad corridor that will serve as that new route.

Among those encroachments are fences, sheds, portions of residential structures, wells and drain fields, Hayley A. Baldinelli, manager of the county’s Property Management Division, told the County Commission this week.

The situations were identified on the survey undertaken in conjunction with the county’s June acquisition of the final stretch of former Seminole Gulf Railway corridor necessary for the North Extension, Baldinelli added on Nov. 19.

Along with the types of encroachments Baldinelli listed in her presentation, a county staff memo provided to the commission in advance of the meeting reported that “there are several areas where adjacent property owners are intermittently trespassing onto the Trail” to park cars and boats, and for temporary outdoor storage. “Additionally,” the memo said, “some of these encroachments impede upon the design elements and alignment of the Trail through the corridor. These conflicts impact the development of the [new] phases of the Trail.”

The county webpage devoted to The Legacy Trail extensions notes that, on Sept. 10, the County Commission approved an agreement with the Sarasota firm Jon F. Swift Inc. to manage the construction of the new segments. That company has begun its work, the webpage notes.

As a result of the staff information, the board voted unanimously on Nov. 19 to approve a revised version of the operation and use policy for The Legacy Trail. That authorizes County Administrator Jonathan Lewis or his designee “to remove or cause to be removed” any of the encroachments, at his “sole discretion,” according to language in that updated policy.

The county administrator also has the authority to execute licensing agreements with property owners along the North Extension corridor “if the encroachment is a permanent residence, in-ground pool, well or drain field that was identified” either on a Dec. 6, 2017 or a June 7 survey completed by the firm George F. Young Inc., the policy says.

Additionally, encroachment agreements will be allowed with owners of property abutting the segment of the Trail south of Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch, the policy says, “if the encroachment does not impede on the design and use of the Trail.”

A runner and a bicyclist approach each other on The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Such agreements would be no longer than a year, but they could be renewed annually thereafter, Baldinelli noted.

As a result of the commission vote, Baldinelli said staff would begin sending out letters to adjacent property owners, notifying them of the need to remove the encroachments.

After the initial notification period has ended, she added, staff will re-evaluate the status of the situations; people who have not removed encroachments will get another notice.

Finally, if action still has not resulted, Baldinelli told the board, staff will send a third letter to the property owners, indicating that the encroachments must be removed within 10 days of the date of that notice.

Along with the encroachments issue, Baldinelli reviewed with the board the general rules of The Legacy Trail, which opened in 2008 between Culverhouse Nature Park and the Venice Train Depot:

  • “Public access is allowed by pedestrians, bicycles and electric bicycles (Ebikes) which are generally regulated in the same manner as traditional bicycles.
  • “For mobility-impaired individuals who request to use other power-driven mobility devices, the County’s Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Department (“Parks”) will evaluate the request to provide reasonable accommodation on the Trail.
  • “Golf carts are prohibited along the Trail.
  • “All motorized, gas-powered or electrical vehicles are prohibited along the Trail, except for electric bicycles.”

These are part of the general use rules for The Legacy Trail, included in the resolution the County Commission approved on Nov. 19. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At the conclusion of Baldinelli’s presentation, Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out, “I knew we had encroachments.” Still, he continued, when he learned from staff that the total was 263, “That number was surprising.” Yet he said, “It’s a long trail,” and it has been there “a long time.”

When CSX still had title to the corridor, Maio continued, “It sort of was an anonymous, unavailable, out of-state owner.”

In his work as a principal with the Kimley Horn and Associates consulting firm in Sarasota prior to his 2014 election to the County Commission, Maio told his colleagues, he used to do a lot of driving along neighborhood streets. “I could see the hedges and the fences and the decorative features,” he added. Therefore, whenever county staff members have to undertake a sidewalk project, Maio said, “It is a nightmare for them, with people who have been using the [county] right of way.”

Commissioner Nancy Detert made the motion to approve the updated Legacy Trail Operation and Use Policy, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

Just before the vote of approval, Chair Charles Hines told Baldinelli with a smile, “Good luck, go faster and get [the encroachments] removed and get the [new Trail segments] paved as quickly as possible.”

An update for the public

Just four days earlier, county staff hosted two informational meetings about the upcoming improvements to The Legacy Trail.

On Feb. 14, 2017 the Trust for Public Land signed a contract with the owner of the railroad corridor — CSX — to purchase the land, for the North Extension, then County Chief Engineer Isaac Brownman told the commissioners during their regular meeting on Feb. 15, 2017. (CSX leased that part of the rail line to Seminole Gulf Railway.)

The county acquired the first segment of the North Extension corridor in December 2017.

Then, on Nov. 6, 2018, more than 70% of the county’s voters approved a $65-million referendum to pay for improvements necessary for the North Extension and for connections to North Port from Venice. On June 27, staff concluded the acquisition of the final section, from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road.

Much of the information presented at the Nov. 15 meetings was the focus of an update to the County Commission and the North Port City Commission when those two boards held a joint meeting on Oct. 2.

A graphic shows existing and the potential new connectors from The Legacy Trail to North Port. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Construction of the new surface sections and at-grade crossings of The Trail should begin in 2020, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained that day. The completion of that work is anticipated by the end of 2022, she said.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will construct the overpasses needed at Clark and Bee Ridge roads in Sarasota, she added, though that timeline is uncertain.

After the completion of all the projects, nearly 30 miles of a continuous, non-motorized paved surface will be available to the public, Rissler has pointed out. The Legacy Trail also could become a regional connection, linking Sarasota County with Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties, staff has reported.

On Nov. 15, approximately 300 people attended the two public information sessions staff hosted, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told The Sarasota News Leader. Although not every person present submitted a comment card, she said 126 people signed the attendance sheet for the evening session.

The county YouTube video with Rissler’s November update on the Legacy Trail may be viewed at this link.