Proposal for Siesta Key Village public restrooms expected to be on County Commission’s May 23 budget workshop agenda

Staff report estimates base cost of project at $15,000, with no funding source identified

 A final decision on whether Sarasota County will construct a public restroom facility for visitors to Siesta Key Village will rest with the County Commission during discussions about the county’s 2024 fiscal year budget, based on a recent discussion among the board members and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.

County staff has estimated that constructing a facility with the standard design used for the new restrooms at Legacy Trail trailheads would cost at least $15,000. Staff pointed out that additional funding likely would be required for site-specific improvements, including grading, paving, utility connections “and any other necessary upgrades.”
Staff also noted in a report for the County Commission that Legacy Trail restroom designs were created for both two-stall and four-stall structures.

During the commission’s regular meeting on Feb. 22, Commissioner Mark Smith, who has served multiple past terms as chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, formally requested that county staff analyze the prospect of including public restrooms in the Village.

Smith had broached the idea before his November 2022 election to the commission.

Having won his colleagues’ support for that request, Smith pointed out during the board’s regular meeting on April 11 that he had read the resulting report produced by the county’s Public Works Department, whose director is Spencer Anderson.
“It’s a little more elaborate than I was thinking,” Smith added of the analysis.

Not only did the Public Works staff consider the site Smith had suggested — adjacent to the gazebo at the four-way stop in Siesta Village, where Canal Road and Avenida Messina intersect with Ocean Boulevard — but the staff also looked into the possibility of constructing a facility in the county-owned public parking lot, which has entrances from Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Madera.

Smith asked that a discussion of the proposal be considered during the commission’s next budget workshop, which is set for May 23.

“It would have a full vetting by the board at that point,” County Administrator Lewis replied. “That’d be a good opportunity for you to decide what to do,” he told the commissioners.

“That sounds like the right course on that,” Chair Ron Cutsinger responded.

Site-specific pros and cons

The March 24 Public Works report points out that the closest public restroom to Siesta Key Village “is 1.1 miles away at the Siesta Beach Park Pavilion,” as measured from the Village gazebo.

Then the report delves into pros and cons for the two sites staff had analyzed.

For the county-owned parking lot, the report notes, the solitary “Pro” is the fact that the county would not need to acquire any property for the restroom building.

However, the staff noted five “Cons”:

  • The site is adjacent to private residences.
  • Two to four parking spaces would have to be eliminated.
  • Visibility from adjacent roads is limited, which could result in security concerns.
  • Water and sewer lines are located 160 feet and 250 feet away, respectively, from the center of the site.
  • The location might be too far from Village businesses for the restrooms “to be fully utilized.”

Then staff addressed the site adjacent to the gazebo, near the four-way stop.

For the “Pros,” staff pointed to the following:

  • The gazebo is “an existing public facility.” (Although the report does not mention this, it is common to see visitors seated in the gazebo, eating ice cream, for example, or just watching other people wandering around.)
  • The site is within the commercial/business district, which would facilitate ease of use.
  • The location “[h]as excellent visibility to minimize security concerns.”
  • Water and sewer lines are within 30 feet and 20 feet, respectively.

The first con explains that although the owners of the Beach Bazaar, which close to the gazebo, have expressed the likelihood that they would donate the site for the facility, the report says that “the exact location of a proposed restroom [structure] has not been determined,” and the acquisition of property likely would be required.

During a telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader in late February — after Commissioner Smith requested the staff report — Wendall Jacobsen, general manager of Beach Bazaar, said he was about 90% certain at that time that the owners of the business still would be willing to donate the land to the county. He has been advocating for that action, he added. “I feel it’s a small sacrifice for us to give up for the better convenience of the community.”

Jacobsen pointed out that, in the 1990s, the commercial district on the northern part of the Key was “a small, little sleepy village.”

However, he continued, “Our traffic has more than tripled” in recent years. … I just feel the need is there [for public restrooms].”

In 2021, after vaccines became available for COVID-19, Jacobsen pointed out, Siesta Village was very busy, with tourists once again feeling they could venture out safely. He thought that that abundance of visitors “was a fluke,” he said.

However, he added, the Village “was just as busy last year.”

The damage that Hurricane Ian inflicted on Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island in late September 2022 has only heightened business on Siesta Key this year, Jacobsen noted. People looking for condominiums to rent are finding none available on Siesta.

That is all the more reason, he indicated, that the public restrooms have become a necessity.

The News Leader was unable to reach Jacobsen this week for an update on the owners’ stance on the property donation.

The only other “con” regarding the building site next to the gazebo is the fact that two to four parking spaces would have to be eliminated.

Further, the report says, staff would have to develop an operational plan for the facility, including the hours it would be open, maintenance schedules, “and staffing and material resource needs.”

The report adds that if the commissioners directed staff to proceed with the project, the first goal would be to settle on the site; then, a funding source would be needed. A preliminary design or concept plan would enable staff to refine design constraints and options, the report points out.

The report does reference the fact that the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District comprises the property that was included in the Village Beautification Project that the county authorized about 15 years ago. The owners of that property pay an annual assessment to the county, with the funds dedicated to maintaining the Village at a higher level than the county’s standard, the report continues. Potentially, the report says, the agreement that created that district could be amended to include a provision for the funding of the design and construction of the restroom facility. “Otherwise,” the report notes, “an alternative funding source would need to be identified.”

Money that would be dedicated to the maintenance of the restroom “would likely be included in the annual District assessment,” the report adds.