Residents of area argue that patrons of lot will exacerbate problems for them, but business owners point to ‘dire need’ for parking in that part of Siesta Key
A proposal for a public parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key — which originated with the Sarasota County Commission about three years ago — ultimately won the endorsement of the county’s Planning Commission on May 7.
However, the plans for adding another 29 spaces to the 14 already at the site — plus landscaping and buffers — ended up pitting residents who live near the site against business owners.
Several residents on Sarasea Circle, which is almost directly across Midnight Pass Road from the county-owned parcel, expressed their strong opposition to the parking lot proposal.
Lori Allison, who was among eight protesters of the project during the public hearing, told the Planning Commission that Sarasea Circle condominium owners already have had to contend with members of the public walking down their private road to reach the shoreline. More will do that if the parking lot is built, she stressed.
“Unless you’re going to patrol that, you’re probably going to be getting a hundred calls a day from all the residents [in the area], ’cause we already have an overflow of people,” Allison told the Planning Commission.
“I totally object to this [plan], wholeheartedly,” Joseph Anderson, also of Sarasea Circle, added. “We feel this will abuse our private access beach and also our private access street. … This could also bring more criminal disturbances, which I’m afraid of …”
Ken Stokes, a member of the county’s Transportation Division in the Public Works Department, explained that signage could be erected in the public lot to direct people to Beach Access 12 or Beach Access 13, but each of those accesses is approximately 1,000 yards from the 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road site.
Allison disputed the effectiveness of such signage for patrons of the lot. “They’re not going to go down to 1-800 Gary’s beach,” she continued, referring to Gary Kompothecras, who lives near Beach Access 13, next to Point of Rocks. (Kompothecras is known for his medical and referral service, which he advertises by encouraging people to call 1-800-ASK-GARY.)
They also are not going to head to Beach Access 12, Allison said, and they are not going to take the Siesta Key Breeze trolley to the public beach. (During the county staff presentation, Stokes noted that the trolley routinely loads and unloads passengers at a Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) stop in front of the South Midnight Pass Road parcel. The trolley runs between Siesta Village and Turtle Beach Park.)
John Malfettone, another Sarasea Circle resident, pointed out that members of the public often park in the condominium complex’s lot, even though signage warns them not to do so. “People do not pay attention to signs,” he said, adding, “We have confrontations with those people.”
Offering a completely different view, Clayton Thompson, owner of Clayton’s Siesta Grille on Old Stickney Point Road, and Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters — which extends between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road — talked of the desperate need for employee parking, as well as spaces for patrons of the businesses in what is known as the South Village portion of the Key.
“The parking situation, unlike what those folks just told you, is dire,” Thomas said, referring to the residents from neighboring condominium complexes.
“I’m told time and time again by my customers” that they cannot find spaces to park, Thomas continued, so they just drive on by his restaurant.
Thomas also pointed out of the South Village business community, “We’ve been treated like a red-headed stepchild down there. We’ve not had the public services that we needed.”
Tush, who also is chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, told the commissioners, “This is an extremely rare opportunity to create more public parking in a business district on Siesta Key without a huge price tag. I don’t know that we will see this opportunity again, as everything’s already developed.”
Further, Tush told the commissioners that if the project won County Commission approval, “the Chamber would love to help in any way we can” in terms of making sure signage is erected to inform patrons of the lot about the Siesta Key Breeze stop and the locations of Beach Accesses 12 and 13.
Debate did ensue among the Planning Commission members about whether to recommend that the County Commission implement a decal parking permit system, so the lot’s use could be restricted to employees of restaurants and shops in the immediate vicinity.
However, Planning Commissioner Neil Rainford told his colleagues that he found it problematic to seek the imposition of such a restriction. After all, he pointed out, the property is county-owned. As a county taxpayer, he said, he did not think that the decal proposal “does the county any good. … I just see that getting really, really messy down the road.”
Chair Laura Benson concurred with Rainford. “The county should not be purchasing property for the use of private business.”
Benson added, “I know that there are issues with parking in that area.”
As for the Sarasea Circle situation, Benson continued, “Yes, we all have known for years that people have used that private road …” However, she pointed out, the residents can police their own property, as other condominium homeowner associations do on Siesta Key.
Rainford ended up making the motion to recommend that the County Commission approve the Special Exception needed for the parking lot to be created on land zoned for residential multi-family housing, and Planning Commissioner Frank Strelec seconded it.
Planning Commissioner Drew Peters cast the “No” vote, having been the board member who suggested the employee decal parking permit idea.
Having spent so much time on Siesta when he was growing up, Peters said, he felt sure that the lot would be an inducement for more young people to do exactly as the Sarasea Circle residents had described: use the private road to reach the beach.
The County Commission is scheduled to hold its public hearing on the proposal on June 3, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader.
Details and more debate
During the formal staff presentation, county Planner Carlos Gonzalez explained that only 0.54 acres of the county property would be used for the parking lot. The county’s Public Utilities Department has a building on the remaining, easternmost 1.29 acres of the site.
Previously, the western portion of the land was home to a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office training facility. That has been demolished.
Along with the total of 43 regular parking spaces, Gonzalez continued, the lot would have two Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking spaces, bicycle racks and motorcycle parking.
A gate on the eastern end of the property, he noted — which can be accessed from Peacock Road — could be opened if an emergency vehicle needed to respond to an incident in the lot.
When Stokes of Public works took over from Gonzalez, he explained that people could park in the lot and use the trolley to head elsewhere on the island.
Moreover, Stokes said, “In general, there’s a shortage of parking for both employees of [the businesses nearby], as well as patrons or customers that may be looking to enjoy those [shops and restaurants].”
Stokes did acknowledge concerns of residents in the area about the hours the lot would be open. Those who live in the Sea Winds Condominium, to the immediate south, “obviously want to enjoy their peace and quiet in the evenings.”
Thus, he added, “Hours of operation have not been determined.”
The Municipal Lot in Siesta Village is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Stokes continued, though no commercial vehicles can be left there overnight. Additionally, he said, no parking hours have been imposed on the public lot at Turtle Beach Park on the southern part of Siesta.
Geno Pedigo, the treasurer of the board of directors of the Sea Winds Condominium Association, noted the “mixed bag of feelings” about the parking lot proposal among members of his organization.
Concerns had been expressed about the hours the facility would be open, he said, with some members asking about the potential of installing a gate at the entrance.
Still, he acknowledged, “I don’t know that there’s a direct opposition to it.”
Stokes did note that lighted bollards would be installed in the lot. “It’ll look very professional [as well as] nice and clean.”
As the board member began their discussion after the public comments concluded, Vice Chair Colin Pember said he would be in favor of having the lot open only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
However, Planning Commissioner Rainford voiced worry about that. If employees of the area restaurants parked in the lot, he pointed out, they would not get off work until an hour or so after those businesses closed. “We would need to be cautious in terms of how quickly we close [the facility at night].”
“I don’t want to add any additional regulatory hurdles,” Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper said. Further, he acknowledged, “There’s certainly a parking issue down there. … [Yet], I’m struggling with this because I think the concerns of the residents there are quite warranted.”
In response to a question from Chair Benson, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, confirmed that, because Sarasea Circle is a private road, “The county does not have any responsibility over [it].” The owner of the road, Wiggins continued, could “work with the Sheriff’s Department to police that area.”
Then, as the commissioners shifted their focus to the potential of a decal parking permit system, Commissioner Pember said, he saw that “as a significant legal problem.”
In response to a question from Pember, Assistant County Attorney Josh Moye said that if the board members wanted to include a recommendation for such a system in their motion, the Office of the County Attorney could research the legality of that before the County Commission public hearing on the parking lot proposal.
Finally, after spending approximately 90 minutes on the issue, Benson called for a motion. When Rainford made it, he included no stipulations except those county staff had proposed. They involved the Binding Development Concept Plan for the design and, in accord with a Sea Winds Condominium Association request, a 6-foot-high vinyl privacy fence that would be 290 feet long between the parking lot and the condominium complex property, with no landscaping.
Just before the vote, Commissioner Cooper told his colleagues, “I think, from a planning perspective, what we know is that the area is deficient in parking. If it is deficient in enforcement, then we need to fix that, as well.”