Siesta Seen

County seeking more funding to pay for last South Siesta Beach Renourishment Project; vacated North Beach Road segment length revised again; Mote scientist tells SKA members about a TV interview experience; drowning determined to be cause of death in May case; and Siesta homeowner pleads for county leniency on short-term rentals

A graphic shows before and after photos of south Siesta Key beach in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Although it has been close to two-and-a-half years since Sarasota County completed the second renourishment of South Siesta Key Beach, the County Commission has authorized staff to apply for more state funds to help pay for facets of that project.

As part of their unanimous vote on their Aug. 28 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the commissioners approved the submission of the necessary documentation to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for its consideration under its Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Beach Management Funding Assistance Program.

The first renourishment of the southern portion of Siesta Beach was completed on April 30, 2007, a staff memo explained. In 2011, the commissioners directed the county administrator to begin the process for Phase II, which began on March 9, 2016, the memo added. That work was completed in May of that year.

“The project is eligible to participate” in FDEP’s Beach Management Funding Assistance Program, the memo continued, as that program provides grants each year that “fund up to 50% of eligible costs for beach erosion control projects.”

The county already won FDEP grants of $2,750,000 in 2015 and $5.9 million in 2017 for Phase II of the South Siesta Key Renourishment Project, the memo noted. “FDEP notified the County that grant award documents are being prepared for an additional $82,620 award in 2018,” the memo said. “Further, the County can still request additional eligible funding for up to three years following construction for other eligible expenses, including post-construction monitoring,” the memo pointed out. The FY 2019-20 request is for $94,600, the memo said, which would cover the state’s portion of the annual monitoring costs required by the project permit.

The memo added that project monitoring costs not covered by the state funds would be paid for by Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for county beach renourishment initiatives.

Once more, about that North Beach Road distance

A May 2016 graphic shows the segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission voted to vacate. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 29, during a public hearing on proposed Sarasota County Charter amendments related to the County Commission’s May 2016 vacation of part of North Beach Road, the issue of the exact length of that road segment arose.

The figure that Siesta resident Mike Cosentino and his supporters have used is 350 feet, but County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh and his staff put the number at 224 feet.

As it turns out, both sides were off, DeMarsh announced during the commission’s regular meeting on Sept. 11. After questions arose during the Aug. 29 hearing, he said, “We conferred with the county surveyor.”

As a result, DeMarsh explained to the commissioners on Sept. 11, the distance has been determined to be 373 feet. That number will be included in the ballot question related to the Charter amendment seeking to return the vacated road segment to county possession.

“It is more accurate,” DeMarsh added of the new figure, “and, therefore, we have provided that information to the supervisor of elections.”

A celebrity in awe of other celebrities

Tracy Fanara answers SKA members’ questions on Sept. 7. Rachel Hackney photo

Tracy Fanara, one of the primary Mote Marine Laboratory researchers dealing with the red tide bloom, has had her share of media exposure over the years. However, when she appeared before Siesta Key Association members on Sept. 7, she made it clear that live TV appearances can be a bit nerve-wracking.

That morning, she said, she was preparing for an interview on The Weather Channel. Just 30 seconds before she was to go on the air, she learned that she was going to be talking to two of that channel’s top personalities — Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams.

Fanara earned widespread recognition when she was a member of the cast of MythBusters: The Search on The Science Channel.

Apparently all went well with her Weather Channel interview, but Fanara did note later that it had been a bit of a long day. (Driving over to the Key during a bad thunderstorm that afternoon was a challenge, too, she indicated.)

Still, Fanara was energetic and engaged as she made her presentation to SKA members and answered questions. In fact, she talked for more than an hour, with Vice President Catherine Luckner finally announcing just before 6 p.m. that the directors needed to wrap up that segment of the meeting.

At one point, Fanara paused and then said, “I’m telling you guys a lot more than I typically tell groups.” She indicated that she attributed that realization to the fact that the audience members themselves seemed pretty knowledgeable about red tide and Mote’s research efforts.

Drowning was indeed the cause of death

Regular readers may recall that Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded on May 18 to the report of an apparent drowning of a visitor off Beach Access 2.

In early January, a group of visitors gathers at Beach Access 2. File photo

The resulting Sheriff’s Office report noted that the daughter of the victim — Robert C. Kannady, 59, of Missouri — said that after about 10 minutes in the Gulf, he began growing fatigued and said he did not feel he could make it back to shore. The News Leaderrequested a copy of the autopsy report from the District Twelve Medical Examiner’s Office, to learn whether drowning was indeed the cause of death.

The report, which was signed by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell S. Vega on June 25, classified the death as an accidental drowning.

The only injuries Vega detected were “[s]ome subtle, roughly longitudinally oriented scratches” on the man’s left forearm.

The accompanying toxicology report showed no medications in Kannady’s system at the time of death.

Vega found that the general appearance of the body was “consistent with the age of record of 59 years.”

A protest over short-term rental regulations

This is one photo of the Waites house at 604 Avenida de Mayo that is featured on Airbnb. Image from Airbnb

With the Sarasota County Code Enforcement officer on Siesta Key working to stop illegal rentals of homes in areas zoned for single families, one of those renters appeared before the County Commission recently to plead for a change in the regulations.

Chad Waites, who owns the house at 604 Avenida de Mayo — near Siesta Village — complained to the board on Aug. 22 that he had received a letter from Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, pointing out that county regulations allow a person in a district zoned Residential Single Family (RSF) to rent a house only once every 30 days. She added that rule was implemented because homes in neighborhoods with that zoning designation have full-time residents, Waites told the board, but he disputed her assertion. Siesta Key is not populated largely by full-time residents, he said.

He “always dreamed of buying a house on Siesta Key,” Waites explained, and he finally was able to do so in 2017. However, he continued, as a single father of a 7-month-old, “Financially, I was unable to stay on Siesta,” so he has been renting the property through Airbnb.

The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office says Waites bought the property for $550,000 in May 2017. The land and house are valued at a total of $538,400 this year.

The house, which was built in 1951, has 2,173 square feet of living area, the Property Appraiser’s Office record notes.

The county’s regulations go “against my First Amendment rights,” Waites told the board, noting that he paid $10,000 to the county last year in Tourist Development — or “bed tax” — revenue. He had lost $8,000 in two months, he said, because of the rental restriction Thompson pointed out to him.

He is just one of 300 Airbnb hosts on Siesta Key, Waites added. The enforcement of the county’s restriction will lead to a “complete downward spiral,” he said, in terms of Tourist Development Tax revenue.

He implored the commissioners to change the regulations so property owners on Siesta Key can rent accommodations for 7 days at a time. “You can make the right changes now,” he added, and then he thanked the board members for listening to him.

The News Leaderwas able to find his property on the Airbnb website. The page says the one-bedroom/one-bath house rents for $95 per night; it adds that the house has one sofa bed and one air mattress.

The listing points out that the entire house is available to rent. “Walk to EVERYTHING — #1 Spot on Siesta Key Beach,” the listing says.

Among the home highlights are its “Great location,” with “95% of recent guests” having given the accommodation a 5-star rating.

Joe Volpe addresses SKA members. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Sept. 7 meeting of the Siesta Key Association, Director Joe Volpe reported that the Key’s Code Enforcement officer, Susan Stahley, was working on two illegal rental cases that were going to be heard in the 12thJudicial Circuit Court.

Since the county staff began sending letters to violators, Volpe added, “Quite a few have come into compliance.”

In response to a question about the frequent rentals of properties on Beach Road, Secretary Joyce Kouba explained that those properties are in an area zoned Residential Multi-Family, which is not covered by the regulation regarding one rental only for every 30 days.

Kouba added that the City of Sarasota does allow one-week rentals, which is leading to problems for homeowners within the city limits on the northern part of Siesta Key.