Oct. 10 public hearing set on Siesta Key outdoor business displays guidelines

Sarasota County staff proposes the indefinite extension of the guidelines; leaders of island organizations and business owners concur about the lack of complaints

Mannequins standing outside Le Grand Bisou in October 2013 violated the Siesta zoning code. File photo
Mannequins standing outside Le Grand Bisou and clothes hanging on the door in October 2013 violated the Siesta Key zoning code. File photo

On June 4, 2013, more business owners than usual showed up for the regular meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), and to characterize these new attendees as unhappy might be an understatement.

They had learned in May that the Siesta Key Overlay District, which governs all sorts of activities on Siesta Key, did not allow them to display goods outside their shops. Two complained that county Code Enforcement Officer John Lally’s instructions for them to keep wares inside their stores were crippling their ability to make a living.

“For us, having something that just shows the customer that we’re open is crucial,” James Ritter of Siesta Key Outfitters said during the SKVA meeting.

Thus began an almost 16-month-long process that culminated on Oct. 21, 2014. Leaders of the SKVA, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) had worked together with a merchants group led by Mark Toomey, owner of Robin Hood Rentals, and Rick Lizotte, owner of Comfort Shoes — both Village businesses — to forge a compromise. That agreement was made formal by a vote of the County Commission to amend the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).

During the afternoon of Oct. 10, the County Commission will hold a public hearing on making those changes a permanent part of the SKOD. Officially, the agenda item will entail consideration of removing the sunset date on the use of the Temporary Use Permits for outdoor displays within the SKOD. The session will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Anderson Administration Center, located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.

When the board amended the ordinance in 2014, the measure had two sunset dates, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson explained in a Sept. 6 memo to the County Commission. One indicated the provisions would end two years after the adoption of the ordinance; the other indicated the guidelines would sunset on Oct. 21, 2015, unless the ordinance was re-enacted by the board. With county staff having recorded no complaints about the outdoor displays, she continued, she proposed eliminating the sunset date altogether.

Donna Thompson. File photo
Donna Thompson. File photo

She noted in the memo, “Staff has performed a review [of] the standards to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the merchants while maintaining the desired character for the SKOD.”

A Sarasota News Leader survey this week of SKVA and SKA leaders — as well as discussions with Toomey and Lizotte — found none of them aware of any complaints about outdoor displays since the County Commission approved the Zoning Code guidelines in 2014. Still, Toomey told the News Leader, “I’ll do my best to be there [at the hearing].”

He had not heard about it until the News Leader called him on Sept. 13.

Mark Smith, president of the Siesta Chamber and vice president of the SKVA, said in a telephone interview that Thompson mentioned the public hearing to him when was talking with her about another issue.

“She hadn’t gotten a single complaint,” Smith concurred with what Thompson had written in the Sept. 6 memo. “I hadn’t heard any either.” His view, he continued, is “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Smith told the News Leader he did bring up the matter during meetings of the Chamber and SKVA boards. None of the members recalled hearing any concerns voiced, either, Smith said.

Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, was among SKVA officers most concerned about protecting the Village atmosphere when the SKVA and SKA collaboration began with business owners. He told the News Leader this week that he also had not “heard any complaints about people taking advantage of the new code,” and “overall, I haven’t seen too much abuse of it.”

SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner and board member Joe Volpe said in separate telephone interviews that they had heard no complaints from residents. Volpe noted that he does make a point of checking out business owners’ displays when he drives through the Village. “They seem like they’re behaving,” he added.

Mark Toomey. File photo
Mark Toomey. File photo

“There you go,” Toomey told the News Leader when advised a reporter had heard no negative comments.

Lizotte was especially relieved when a reporter told him that it appeared no one would oppose eliminating the sunset date for the outdoor display provisions. “I was hoping that,” he said.

With his Comfort Shoes shop “stuck back in a corner” in Davidson Plaza, he pointed out, “it really is important to us to have [the SKOD provisions].”

SKOD rules prevent him from setting up any signs to alert customers to the store’s location, Lizotte explained. “So having an outdoor display is one of the key things that brings customers in.”

Lizotte added that he would talk with Toomey to make certain one of them attends the hearing, just in case any concern does arise.

The rules

Kevin Cooper, then executive director of the Siesta Chamber, began working with business owners after the June 2013 SKVA meeting to try to craft a compromise that would enable them to display goods while preventing the Village from taking on what Matthes described at one point as the kind of atmosphere one might find in Daytona Beach.

Luckner of the SKA also was concerned about not increasing the intensity or density of use in Siesta Village. “It’s about being good neighbors,” she said in a July 2013 interview with the News Leader.

The ordinance calls for a retail business to maintain a 4-foot-wide pedestrian clear zone from its parking area to its main entrance; 5-foot-wide pedestrian clear zones along sidewalk that run parallel to the storefront; and a 2-foot-wide setback from parking areas and/or streets. It also sets a maximum height of 7 feet above the sidewalk and prohibits the hanging of merchandise from any exterior portion of the building, such as an awning or door.

Businesses in Siesta Center were working in early 2014 to conform with the proposed new outdoor display guidelines as a show of good faith. File photo
Businesses in Siesta Center were working in early 2014 to conform with the proposed new outdoor display guidelines as a show of good faith. File photo

Furthermore, the measure limits the display area to two of the following:

  • A table with a maximum measurement of 72 inches by 36 inches and 30 inches in height;
  • A mannequin no larger than 24 inches in diameter and 72 inches in height;
  • A clothing rack no larger than 72 inches by 24 inches and 72 inches in height; or
  • A mobile cart no larger than 60 inches by 30 inches and 36 inches in height.

An applicant has to submit a sidewalk layout illustrating that the display area will abide by the guidelines, the ordinance says. The fee for the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) is $25, and the permit is valid for no more than one year.

Moreover, the ordinance states that two or more violations of any of the conditions would lead to the revocation of the TUP. In such an event, the merchant would have to wait a year to apply for another permit.