Siesta Chamber asks, ‘Does Siesta Village need public restrooms?’

The public is being surveyed about prospect of putting facilities near the gazebo

A couple with a stroller crosses Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village during a fall evening in 2018. File photo

The question most frequently asked of the staff of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is, “Where is your public restroom?”

The answer, as regular visitors know, is “We have no public restroom.”

The closest one, Chamber staff members add, is at Siesta Public Beach, which is about a mile from the Chamber’s office in Davidson Plaza in Siesta Village.

However, Chamber leaders are hoping to convince the Sarasota County Commission that a public restroom is a long overdue necessity in the shopping/dining area.

To that end, the Chamber launched a survey about three weeks ago. It has one question only, as Chair-Elect Mark Smith pointed out during a June 20 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader: “Do you support the chamber’s efforts to encourage Sarasota County to fund, implement and maintain public restrooms in Siesta Key Village?”

The deadline is June 30. This is the link to the survey.

This is the Siesta Chamber survey. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

The top of the survey page explains that the Chamber — which serves as the Key’s Visitor Center — keeps records of the number of people who come through its doors. “In 2021,” the survey continues, “we welcomed 5,223 walk-in visitors with an average of 40% or 2,089 inquiring about restrooms per year, which is approximately 8 per day.”

Smith told the News Leader this week that, thanks to the assistance of Commission Chair Alan Maio — who represents part of the island as holder of the District 4 board seat — Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson called Smith approximately six weeks ago to discuss the issue of a public restroom in Siesta Village. They talked about the prospect of installing portable toilets, Smith said, until permanent facilities could be built.

The owners of the Beach Bazaar, just south of the gazebo in the Village, are willing to donate land they own between the store and the gazebo for the temporary facility, Smith added. Therefore, he sent Johnson information that he had gathered from one portable toilet provider, Royal Throne, which has a location in Sarasota.

Royal Throne provides trailers with restrooms; they often are rented for special events, Smith noted. “They’re really nice.”

This is a banner from the Royal Throne website. Image courtesy Royal Throne

One of the trailers could fit in the parking lot between the gazebo and Beach Bazaar, he added.

“I told [Johnson] that our request is that the county foot the bill for renting [the portable unit],” Smith said.

Yet, the ultimate goal, Smith pointed out, is for the county to “eventually build restrooms.” He added, “I don’t believe the commission’s against [the idea].”

The gazebo is a focal point in Siesta Village. A parking area exists to the left, adjacent to Beach Bazaar. File photo

However, Johnson said that the county does not have the funding for such a project, Smith told the News Leader. His response to Johnson, Smith added, was that perhaps funding could be allocated out of the county’s 1-cent sales tax revenue, if the extension of the Surtax Program wins voter approval on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Automatically, 25% of the funds generated by the penny surtax are allocated to the Sarasota County School Board. The rest of the money is divvied up among the county and the municipalities, based on population. The Surtax IV program would begin on Jan. 1, 2025 and continue for 15 years, county staff has pointed out. Details of the plans are available on the county website.

As those webpages note, the proceeds may be used only for public projects, “such as roads, sidewalks, libraries and schools …” The leaders of the local governments in the county have worked on their lists of projects that could be covered by the Surtax IV revenue.

A simple approach

Smith explained to the News Leader that the Chamber board members do not envision a restroom project comparable to the “palace,” as he put it, that the County Commission approved for the county’s portion of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park on Siesta Drive, just southwest of the drawbridge.

 

On May 25, Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, emailed the county commissioners these photos of the construction of the restroom facility in Nora Patterson Bay Island Park. At that time, Eastwood wrote, the project was at the 30% completion mark. She added that staff anticipates the structure will be completed in late September. Images courtesy Sarasota County

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 25, the County Commission awarded a $927,740.50 contract to Stellar Development Inc. of Sarasota for that undertaking. The building will be elevated, with a ramp to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Because of Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) flood zone stipulations, county staff also noted that the park structure had to be elevated about 8 feet above grade.

Smith told the News Leader that his idea of a public restroom facility in Siesta Village is more comparable to the buildings constructed for the North Extension segments of The Legacy Trail. It would not need air conditioning, for example, he noted. “We don’t want anybody camping out in there.”

This is the restroom building at the Sarasota Springs Trailhead for The Legacy Trail, located off Webber Street. Rachel Hackney photo

As an architect, he continued, he also believes that the structure would not necessarily need to be elevated to comply with FEMA regulations. The building could have a metal roof and two unisex restrooms, he continued. Those features would keep the cost down, Smith pointed out.

Because a water fountain is located at the gazebo, Smith said, a water connection already is present, and a sewer line runs along Ocean Boulevard.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Smith said in regard to the county’s agreeing to construct the building.

Smith noted that the original deadline for the Siesta Chamber survey was June 21. However, during a June 17 meeting of the island’s Presidents Council — which encompasses the leaders of the Key organizations that represent residents as well as business owners — the presidents of the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) said they never received notices of the survey. Therefore, Smith added, Chamber leaders agreed to extend the deadline to June 30.

The Condominium Council sent out an email blast on June 20, encouraging its members to participate. The subject line read, “Siesta Key Potty Break Survey.” The email asked managers and presidents of the condominium complexes that are members of the Council to post the announcement, with the survey link, on bulletin boards and to ensure that their boards and residents receive copies of it.

SKA President Catherine Luckner also indicated during the Presidents Council meeting that she would make certain that SKA members are alerted to the survey, Smith said.

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