Siesta Seen

Siesta Key Breeze gets new operator; expanded trolley operations just one facet of latest County Commission paid beach parking discussion; Siesta property owner urging County Commission action to preserve Big Pass; snowy plover update a positive one; second Audubon Beach Walk planned on Siesta; and Village Improvement District property value down a bit for formal July 1 report

People wait to board the trolley in front of Morton’s Siesta Market. File photo

The Siesta Key Breeze will have a new operator as of Aug. 29.

On July 10, as part of their Consent Agenda of routine business items, the county commissioners approved a contract with C.P.R. Medical Transportation LLC of Washington, D.C., for the continued operation of the trolley.

The bid amount totaled $3,934,178 for three years, according to a memo from Rob Lewis, interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT). The contract may be renewed for up to two additional one-year periods.

On Feb. 28, 2017, the board approved a contract with Ride Right Transit for six months, with options to renew for another six-month period and then month-to-month extensions for no more than six additional months, Lewis pointed out. As staff waited on a new solicitation for the service to be put out for bid, he added, the term contract with Ride Right was extended through Aug. 28.

On March 30, the county advertised for bids. Ride Right — which is based in Lake St. Louis, Mo. — and C.P.R. Medical Transportation were the only two companies that responded, based on a document included in the July 10 commission meeting packet.

Ride Right bid $1,352,131.67 per year, while C.P.R. Medical Transportation bid $1,185,913.29 a year.

After reviewing the responses, Lewis wrote in his memo, the county Procurement Official signed a Notice of Recommended Award on May 3, identifying C.P.R. Medical Transportation as the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder,” as the county’s terminology goes in procurement matters.

In his memo, Lewis also pointed to the success of the Siesta Key Breeze. In March of this year, he wrote, the trolley recorded its highest ridership level since it was launched on March 20, 2017: The Breeze had a total of 36,195 passengers.

“Passenger ridership per hour and cost per passenger data has supported [the Florida Department of Transportation’s] continued funding of the Siesta Key open-air circulator service with block grant funding,” Lewis noted.

Commissioner Alan Maio (third from left) prepares to cut the ribbon to officially launch the trolley service on March 20, 2017. With him are (from left) Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chair Mark Smith, County Commissioner Mike Moran, then-SCAT Director Rocky Burke and Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham. Rachel Hackney photo

Charlene Ross, the transit projects coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), wrote SCAT staff a letter on May 3, concurring with the proposal to award the bid to C.P.R. Medical Transportation.

On May 8, the County Commission voted unanimously to approve a new agreement with FDOT to fund a portion of the trolley’s operating expenses through Dec. 31, 2019, Lewis noted.

When The Sarasota News Leader contacted SCAT to ask about the June ridership figure for the Breeze, Kendra Keiderling reported that it was 20,044. Keiderling is SCAT’s marketing, outreach and customer service supervisor.

She was among SCAT personnel who greeted Siesta business owners and residents who gathered on April 9 to mark the celebration of the Breeze’s 250,000th passenger.

During the County Commission’s regular meeting on July 11, Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta as part of his territory — pointed out that the ridership for the first full year of the Breeze’s service actually was higher than original reports indicated. Because of what he called “an unexpected computer glitch,” the number was off by 9,000, he said.

And speaking of the trolley …

This slide provides background on county staff efforts to find off-island parking spaces for people who would use mass transit options to reach Siesta Public Beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Breeze’s operations were just one of many topics on July 11 when the commissioners reviewed the latest updates from the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) regarding ways to reduce traffic congestion on the Key.

During a half-day workshop later this year, the commissioners plan to tackle the paid-parking issue in-depth.

In the meantime, on July 11, Commissioner Alan Maio expressed some consternation when Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, reviewed efforts of her staff to try to work out proposals with owners of shopping centers near Siesta, so people one day could park their cars and then take a SCAT bus or the trolley to the beach. (Funding — perhaps from paid parking at the beach — would enable the Siesta Key Breeze to extend its route off the island, commissioners have pointed out on numerous occasions.)

“It’s been whispered to me,” Maio said, that perhaps owners of the shopping centers fear they will be penalized by the county in certain ways if they agree to set aside from 20 to 50 spaces for people taking mass transit service to the Key.

Maio explained that the county Zoning Code requires shopping centers to have one parking space for every 250 square feet of retail space. He added that he has heard that if the owners reserve some of their spaces for SCAT or Breeze customers, they feel county staff will keep them from expanding their facilities, if they desire, because they will not have the required number of parking spaces.

Some also fear they would end up having to deal with Code Enforcement staff over violations, he noted.

Addressing Brown, Maio said, “If, in fact, that is true, go to them and say, ‘this is an accommodation to your community. This is you helping the very community that patronizes [your businesses].’”

A graphic shows details about staff discussions regarding use of parking spaces at Sarasota Pavilion. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He added that she also could tell them, “‘You have a loudmouthed commissioner who is horrified that you turned us down.’” Assure them that Code Enforcement officers would not show up, Maio told Brown, if the shopping center owners “are trying to help us on this.”

Chair Nancy Detert chided Maio afterward, reminding him that she had called for an abbreviated discussion that day, given all the items on the board’s agenda. The need for plenty of time for discussions was why she suggested the workshop, she pointed out.

Additionally, during the time they did spend on the beach parking issues, Commissioner Michael Moran made it clear — as he has with other matters — that he believes the private sector ultimately will be provide the best means of alleviating the traffic congestion on the Key. For example, he said, Uber recently bought an electric bicycle company and is expanding its services to cities such as Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Chicago. The average user of the service is traveling 2.6 miles on one of the bikes, he pointed out.

“The private sector moves at the speed of light sometimes,” Moran said, “when we’re running in mud.”

Pleas for County Commission action

This sign has stood on property owned by Michael Holderness, near Beach Access 3 on Siesta Key. Contributed photo

A Siesta property owner has been imploring the Sarasota County Commission to take a definitive stand against the plans of the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach.

Michael Holderness, who owns property on both the landward and seaward sides of North Beach Road, has erected a sign in the latter area that has drawn attention to his request.

The sign says, “Siesta Key Beach is CLOSED!!!” It urges the public to demand that the County Commission schedule an agenda item on the Lido Beach Renourishment Project and vote “NO” on it.

Formal county photos of the five commissioners are on the sign, along with a photo of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio toured South Lido Key with City Manager Tom Barwin and members of the City Commission on June 16, five days after the USACE announced that it would allocate about $13.5 million to the Lido project as part of its 2018 Work Plan. Rubio talked on that tour of his expectation that the severely eroded beach on Lido would look like a beach again by the summer of 2019.

When the News Leader asked county staff whether anyone had complained or questioned the sign, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant replied in an email. The County Contact Center, she wrote, had not received any calls as of July 9 regarding the sign’s having caused any confusion.

“We encourage residents or visitors to call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000 for questions on beach information or visit,” she added.

So far, so good

A snowy plover chick blends in well with the background on Longboat Key. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Regular readers will recall that last week, Kylie Wilson, the Sarasota coordinator for Audubon Florida’s Shorebird Monitoring & Stewardship Program, had good news about snowy plovers nesting on the Key.

In her July 13 update, she wrote, “The two nests are still going strong!!! They are so well hidden! It’s my birthday this month and I can’t tell you what I’m wishing for (because then it won’t come true) but it has to do with our plovers!! I’m sure you all can guess  so far I have high hopes for these guys!”

She had more good news about parking for volunteers assisting with protecting those nests:

“I know we have had issues on Siesta with parking. Well, I HAVE GREAT NEWS! The Inn on Siesta Key (515 Beach Road) will allow us to park in their lot!”

The owner, Wilson added, “is very sweet and a big supporter of protecting our local wildlife.”

Wilson provided additional details for volunteers, so they could ensure their vehicles would not be towed from the parking area at the inn.

And speaking of the plovers …

Anyone interested in learning more about beach-nesting birds is welcome to join Kylie Wilson of Aubudon Florida for the second Siesta Beach Walk of the season.

Given the two active nests, Wilson noted in an email to the News Leader this week, “if we are lucky we may have chicks by the time of the beach walk!”

The event will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, at the pavilion at Siesta Public Beach. Those who plan to participate should bring water and sunscreen, a flyer says. “Binoculars are also useful!” the flyer points out.

The program is planned for all ages, the flyer notes. “There will be an emphasis on our beach nesting birds and your role in their success!” it adds.

Image courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Anyone who would like more information is invited to email Wilson at

Details also are posted on Facebook:

A bit of better property value news

With the release of the July 1 county ad valorem tax values — as required by the state each year — owners of property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District ended up with a bit of a break.

The preliminary figure the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office reported in late May was $72,814,878. The July 1 number was $72,793,969.

Still, those property owners will pay about 7.25% more in taxes than they did last year.

That revenue covers the upkeep of Siesta Village.