Spots next to picnic shelters at the public beach will be off limits from midnight to 5 a.m.
As of Sept. 23, Sarasota County staff says, signs should be posted at 12 parking spaces on Beach Road — adjacent to Siesta Public Beach Park picnic shelters — prohibiting the use of those spaces between midnight and 5 a.m. daily.
That restriction was the 4-1 decision of the Sarasota County Commission this week in response to complaints from Sunset Royale and Crescent Royale condominium owners.
The buildings are across the street from the parking spots.
“I am ecstatic,” Paul Parr, one of the proponents of the late-night parking prohibition, told The Sarasota News Leader following the Sept. 7 board action. “I am very happy, and I think the commission did a real good job of parsing [the concerns and information].”
Parr said he was certain his fellow property owners in Sunset Royale and those at Crescent Royale also would be thrilled with the decision.
Commission Chair Al Maio — who is the Siesta Key representative on the board — made the motion for the restriction after passing the gavel to Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo. “I’ve spent a lot of time on this issue,” Maio said. When he was first elected in 2014, he continued, he visited with a number of the condominium owners in Sunset Royale and Crescent Royale. “I believe, based on listening to dozens of people, that between midnight and 5 a.m., there are a lot of activities [in or next to those Beach Road spaces].”
As Parr and Robert D’Orsi, president of the Sunset Royale Association, pointed out to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council members in June and the County Commission this week, residents and renters at the two complexes contend with considerable noise late at night — much of it, they say, emanating from the area of the picnic tables and the parking spots.
Commissioner Christine Robinson cast the lone “No” vote, having asked staff and D’Orsi numerous questions about the number of vehicle crashes and pedestrian injuries related to use of those parking spaces. Robinson also pointed out people arrive at the beach park early in the morning to collect trash on the shoreline; yet, the beach parking lot officially does not open until 6 a.m.
In June, the county’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) unanimously recommended that no change be made in how the 12 spaces are used. TAC member Becky Ayech told her colleagues and audience members that she had been a county resident for almost four decades, “and beach parking has always been a problem in this county.” Any time local government can take action to ensure public access to the beaches, she continued, “I think that’s a great thing.”
Delving into the facts and concerns
During his Sept. 7 presentation to the commission, Robert Fakhri, manager of the county’s Traffic Engineering and Operations Division, explained that 18 spaces originally were available on Beach Road adjacent to the beach park. However, the construction of park improvements over a two-year period necessitated the realignment of entrances and exits to the facilities, so six of the slots were eliminated.
Although residents had complained about incidents related to those spaces, Fakhri continued, a search of Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office records showed only 13 calls to that area between May 2015 and April 2016. (During the TAC hearing, D’Orsi pointed out that construction at the park diminished use of the spaces during much of that time.)
Still, Fakhri continued, representatives of Sunset Royale and Crescent Royale were petitioning for one of three options: elimination of the 12 spaces; restricting the spaces to loading zone usage only; or prohibiting parking after 10 p.m. each day.
Fakhri also told the commission that both the Siesta Key Village Association and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce had provided letters protesting the elimination of the parking spaces but supporting a prohibition of usage between midnight and 6 a.m.
The Siesta Key Association did not send a formal response to staff’s request for comments, he added.
In response to a question from Maio, Fakhri explained that the restrooms in the beach park close at 10 p.m. That was why he believed the condominium owners had called for the parking restriction after 10 p.m., Maio said.
During his public comments, D’Orsi — who filed the original petition with the TAC on behalf of Sunset Royale homeowners — pointed out that people who have parked in the Beach Road spaces late at night often wander across the street to the condominium complex in search of restrooms after 10 p.m. D’Orsi and Parr reported to the commission in November 2015 that members of the public have been observed urinating and defecating on the grounds.
In an exchange with Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, Robinson asked whether volunteers with the county’s Turtle Patrol use the Beach Road spaces early in the morning. “It is my understanding that Turtle Patrol does use those parking spots,” Brown replied. However, Brown continued, she was not certain how early some of those people arrive.
“We have a lot of folks who are extremely helpful to us on Siesta — and our other beaches — who go for a beach walk and take along a bag,” Robinson pointed out. “They do it religiously,” picking up trash by hand before county staff can access the beach, she added. (During turtle-nesting season, Robinson noted, county staff cannot clean the beaches until it has received an “all clear” from the Turtle Patrol.)
Brown concurred with Robinson about the members of the public who faithfully help clean up the beaches.
When Robinson then asked whether Brown knew how early some of those residents arrive, Brown replied that she did not.
Robinson said she has heard that some get to the beach as early as 5 a.m.
“I would not say that that’s unheard-of,” Brown responded.
“I do see people parking in our beach parking lot before 6 a.m.,” Maio noted. “There’s really no prohibition.”
In response to a question about whether such people are ticketed, Brown told Maio that her staff does not issue citations, and she did not know how the Sheriff’s Office handles those early parking lot users.
Maio indicated that, to his knowledge, those people are not harassed. His son is a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, he pointed out.
As for traffic crashes: During his public remarks, D’Orsi told Robinson that he probably sees 15 or 16 incidents a year involving vehicles in those spaces and pedestrians or bicyclists hit as they dart between spaces to cross the street.
Later, after checking with staff, Fakhri told the board that no vehicle collisions or pedestrian incidents related to the 12 spaces were reported in 2015.
Maio was concerned, he continued, that the TAC members did not consider an alternative that would have closed the spaces between midnight and 4 or 5 a.m. When he sought verification from Fakhri that the TAC did not discuss such an option, Fakhri confirmed that it did not.
The TAC “was pretty much focused on access to the beach,” Fakhri pointed out.
In response to Maio’s further questioning about noise linked to people parked in the spaces late at night, Fakhri explained, “From my staff perspective, we mostly focus on traffic …” Noise is not part of his staff’s purview, he added.
When he addressed the board during the public hearing, Parr pointed out, “We’re really not trying to take the parking spots away from the people.” The primary concern, he said, is the partying that goes on in that area near the picnic shelters after the Siesta Village restaurants and bars close. That does not continue after 4 or 5 a.m., he added.
“There are people parking in the parking lot at the beach [at night],” he said, “and I don’t think they’re being given any problem from [Sheriff’s Office deputies], nor should they be.”
His preference, Parr told the board, would be for mass transit to transport people between designated areas on the mainland and Siesta Public Beach. Even though the construction added about 143 spaces to the breach lots, Parr said, “We still don’t have enough parking, and I don’t think you ever will.”
The total number of parking slots rose from 837 to 980, county staff has told the News Leader.