Siesta Seen

Aug. 28 primary challengers for District 4 win two precincts each; Big Pass buoy disappearance explained; Siesta roads swap still on track; Siesta Promenade opponent raises questions about plan for more retail space in the area; vacated North Beach Road segment distance definitively delineated; Calle de Costa Rica right of way vacation revisited; and LeLu’s joins Chamber and SKA in hosting red tide informational sessions

This graphic provides details about Precinct 133. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

During Aug. 29 public hearings on proposed amendments to the Sarasota County Charter (see the related story in this issue), Siesta Key resident Mike Cosentino took several opportunities to remark on his disappointment in losing the Aug. 28 Democratic Primary for the District 4 board seat.

Finally, after the third public hearing stretched on until about 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 29, Commissioner Alan Maio — who won the Republican Primary the previous day in an effort to keep the District 4 seat — offered a couple of comments.

“As far as the personal attacks on me,” Maio said, “it comes with the territory.”

Then Maio noted that he lost only two precincts in the 2014 election for the commission, “and I lost two last night.”

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo confirmed that.

Maio noted that he lost one precinct by about 100 votes and the other, by 24. The results were still unofficial at that time.

His opponent in the Aug. 28 Primary was the same opponent he faced in the 2014 Republican Primary, Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez.

When the News Leaderreviewed the official election results on Aug. 31, it found that Ramirez beat Maio 700 votes to 563 in Precinct 133, which is Grace Baptist Church, located at 8000 Bee Ridge Road. She also defeated him in Precinct 411, which is St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key. She had 350 votes to Maio’s 323.

As for Cosentino and his opponent in the Democratic Primary, Wesley Anne Beggs of Sarasota: Cosentino also prevailed in only two precincts: 411 at St. Boniface, where he garnered 225 votes to Beggs’ 211; and in Precinct 401 at Siesta Chapel on the north end of Siesta. In the latter precinct, Cosentino won 26 votes, while Beggs had 22.

This graphic provides details about Precinct 411. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

Whither the Big Pass buoys?

Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), recently questioned why buoys marking the channel in Big Sarasota Pass remained missing well into the summer.

In an Aug. 3 email she sent to Commissioners Charles Hines and Alan Maio, she pointed out that the SKA had been fielding questions about the buoys’ continued absence.

A channel marker is visible in Big Pass on June 7. Rachel Hackney photo

She explained during the July SKA meeting that Hines had offered to look into the issue, as she noted in the email. “It has been the practice for County staff to monitor depths monthly and as a result, we have at least 10 years+ of data,” she added, noting that the “Sarasota Yacht Club can also verify the controlling depths.”

“We’d greatly appreciate County effort to restore recreational boating safety assistance,” she wrote.

In response to a News Leader question about the issue, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote in an email, “The buoys on the gulf side [of Big Pass] were removed in March, but remain on the bay side. They were removed for the same reason the US Coast Guard removed their navigational aids: they no longer marked best water, due to shoaling.”

Road swap conclusion still anticipated by year’s end

Maps show the segments of road to be swapped. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Division, figuratively raised some eyebrows during the Aug. 23 Neighborhood Workshop on the proposed Siesta Promenade project when he initially told the audience that Stickney Point Road “has been swapped for River Road.”

Dary corrected himself quickly, saying that the swap is “in the works.”

Late in the summer of 2017, then-County Administrator Tom Harmer first announced that county staff was working with representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on a proposal for the county to take over from FDOT authority for roads on Siesta Key, including Stickney Point Road, Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue. In turn, FDOT would take over River Road, which the commissioners have been trying for decades to widen and improve. As a state road, River Road would be able to garner a much higher priority for those upgrades, county staff has explained.

Dary did note during the Siesta Promenade workshop that FDOT still would have to review any proposed traffic changes on Stickney Point Road, even if they were to take place after the road swap were concluded.

Among the proposals Benderson Development Co. has suggested in its traffic analyses related to Siesta Promenade are a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C, as well as the closure of the median opening at Avenue A.

Sura Kochman, a leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, pointed out during the Aug. 23 workshop that the loss of the Avenue A median cut would isolate businesses and residents on the south side of Stickney Point Road.

After the workshop, the News Leader checked with county staff for an update on the road swap.

In an Aug. 27 email, Ashley Lusby, the media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Department, wrote, “The county is still working on the final agreement with the state and [we] anticipate presenting the document for the [County Commission’s] consideration late this calendar year.”

She added, “As far as any roadway related permitting responsibilities with the Siesta Promenade project, they remain with the FDOT at this time, with advisory input from the county.”

And speaking of Siesta Promenade …

Todd Mathes of Benderson Development addresses the approximately 400 audience members at the Aug. 23 Neighborhood Workshop in Pine Shores Presbyterian Church. File photo

Another question that arose during the Aug. 23 workshop regarding Benderson Development’s Siesta Promenade mixed-use project related to whether more retail centers are needed in the area.

A woman who lives on Avenue A told Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, “I do a lot of shopping, and I see so many vacant stores, a lot of ’em being [owned by] Benderson … How can you justify another shopping center … on that corner?”

She was referring to the approximately 24 acres at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, where Benderson has proposed up to 133,000 square feet of new retail space, along with 414 residential units, up to 7,000 square feet of office space and a 130-room hotel.

Since he began working on the Siesta Promenade plans in 2014, Mathes responded, Benderson had purchased the Casey Key shopping center at Blackburn Point Road and U.S. 41; Pelican Plaza on South Tamiami Trail; and The Landings, which is next to the Sarasota County School District offices, also on South Tamiami Trail.

“We’re very confident in the future of these shopping centers, the ability to redevelop them,” Mathes continued. “We’ve invested significantly in them. … We see the future of these centers. There’s demand there. We fill them up. They’re very successful.”

He mentioned that the firm acquired The Landings “a short while ago.” That transaction occurred in January 2017. Since then, the company has been working to fill a number of vacant storefronts in that center.

Mathes said Benderson plans a grocery store anchor for Siesta Promenade that would comprise about 35,000 square feet.

“It would be very much a neighborhood center,” he added of the retail space in that new project, with shops designed for residents in the adjacent Pine Shores Estates and those on Siesta Key. That was how the firm arrived at the amount of square footage for office and retail space in its application, he added. “It’s not without understanding the market in terms of existing shopping centers on the Trail.”

How long is that segment of North Beach Road?

An engineering drawing shows the area of the North Beach Road vacation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the Aug. 29 County Commission public hearing on whether two proposed amendments relating to a vacated segment of North Beach Road would be placed on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot, a question arose about the length of the segment, as noted in language drafted by the Office of the County Attorney.

Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo, an advocate for the amendments who worked with Siesta resident Mike Cosentino on the petition drive, asked why the figure was listed as 224 feet. When the board vacated the road segment in May 2016, she said, the figure used was about 350 feet. (The News Leader has verified that in at least one county document, the distance was listed as 357 feet.)

When Commissioner Charles Hines asked County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh for an explanation, DeMarsh said that 224 feet is the distance determined by a survey of the portion of the road that was vacated.

A September 2016 staff memo, provided to the County Commission, mentions 357 feet as the length of the North Beach Road vacation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

And speaking of the Cosentino amendments …

As Siesta resident Mike Cosentino argued points with the county commissioners during the Aug. 29 public hearing on his proposed Sarasota County Charter amendments, he referenced the vacation of part of Calle de Costa Rica in 2013.

On May 21, 2013, the commissioners voted 3-2 to turn over to private property owners a 1.88-acre, 60-foot-wide piece of county right of way on Calle de Costa Rica that has canal access. According to those adjacent property owners, the county had not been maintaining the right of way. Brian Lichterman, the agent for the petitioners in that case — William and Katherine Baumann of 601 Avenida de Mayo — complained that people had turned the property essentially into “a garbage dump in the neighborhood.”

The first page of the May 2013 staff PowerPoint presentation denotes the holding of a public hearing. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Based on the testimony that day, Commissioners Charles Hines, Joe Barbetta and Carolyn Mason voted in favor of the road vacation. Commissioners Nora Patterson and Christine Robinson voted against it.

In that case — just as she would do three years later in the North Beach Road hearing — Robinson pointed to Parks Policy 1.1.13 in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which said, “The County shall not vacate road segments on waterfronts along any creek, river, lake, bay, or gulf access point and shall encourage right-of-way use of these areas for coastal beach and bay access.”

That is the same policy that Cosentino has claimed the County Commission violated in vacating part of North Beach Road. Later in 2016, during a revision of the Comprehensive Plan, the policy was amended to give the board more leeway in road vacation decisions affecting property on waterfronts.

In 2013, the Calle de Costa Rica right of way was turned over to the Baumanns and the owner of the property on the other side of the right of way, DCA Fidu Inc. Trust Estate.

During the Aug. 29 public hearing on his proposed county Charter amendments, Cosentino told the commissioners that the Calle de Costa Rica right of way is three doors down from his home. “Had there been a public hearing [on that petition for a road vacation],” he continued, “we had the entire neighborhood planning to show up there, because we’ve used that [right of way] as a kayak launch for 30 years. Now it’s got someone’s fence and palm trees on it, and it’s part of their private yard.”

The News Leader checked the records of the May 21, 2013 County Commission meeting, which clearly show that the issue was the focus of a public hearing.

A staff photo shown to the County Commission in May 2013 provides a view of the former kayak launch area. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Cosentino also did not appear at the North Beach Road vacation public hearing in May 2016. He said afterward that he never expected the commission would approve that petition.

LeLu Coffee Lounge hosts red tide information session

Along with the Siesta Key Association (SKA) on Sept. 6 and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 7, LeLu Coffee Lounge in Siesta Village hosted an informational meeting about red tide, as business owners and residents have continued to deal with its negative effects.

Siesta Beach is mostly deserted just after 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 16. Image courtesy courtesy Sarasota County Government via Twitter

On Aug. 29, LeLu’s and the Surfrider Foundation Suncoast Chapter provided a presentation by Ray Judah, a former environmental land planner with the Lee County Department of Community Development and a Lee County commissioner from 1988 to 2012. Video of the event is available on LeLu’s Facebook page.

LeLu’s sent out an invitation noting that the session would include an “interactive discussion on the challenges and solutions to addressing the red tide and blue green algae that’s decimating our estuaries, rivers and fisheries [emphasis in the announcement].”

The notice added that Judah “is a strong advocate for providing a balance between growth management and responsible stewardship of our precious natural resources.”

Both the Siesta Chamber and the SKA invited Tracy Fanara, a staff scientist and program manager at Mote Marine, to educate their members about red tide.

The SKA presentation was scheduled to be part of that nonprofit’s regular meeting this week, while Fanara was set to talk with Chamber members during their September networking breakfast.