Siesta Seen

Short-term rentals topic gets County Commission attention; three arrested in Higel Avenue incident; and report finally released on June 14 Siesta Drive crash that necessitated hours of detours

This is a copy of the letterhead on the correspondence Martha Kim discussed with the County Commission on Sept. 12. Image courtesy Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller

The Siesta Key Association is not the only organization pushing for enforcement of the county’s regulation prohibiting short-term property rentals in Residential Single Family (RSF) housing districts on the Key.

On Sept. 12, during the Open to the Public portion of the County Commission’s first public hearing on its 2019 fiscal year budget, a Siesta resident complained about a letter she had received from an organization called “Good Neighbors of Sarasota Beach. In that letter, the group identified itself as an association of more than “30 property owners and annual renters living on Avenida de Mayo, Avenida del Norte, Calle de Peru, Calle de Costa Rica, Calle de Rio, and the east side of Avenida de Cortez.”

“We have formed to fight the growing issue of illegal short-term rentals, in and around our Sarasota Beach sub-division,” the letter said. “Whether you are a year-round resident or a seasonal snowbird, you know these types of rentals have grown over the past few years. And you are also aware of how our neighborhood has been affected.”

The letter continued, “This neighborhood was once filled by families, retirees, and young, working people. Some were paying mortgages and others paid rent, but everyone took pride in this community. Our neighborhood is now pocked by houses that change renters every week or more frequently. … Strangers wandering our streets, Cars overflowing driveways, garbage set out days ahead of pick up, and noise at all hours. These short-term landlords have stolen our community, degraded our lifestyle, and lowered our property values. Up to now, they have taken advantage of our good natures and the lack of zoning enforcement. But now, it is going to stop,” the letter said.

In a single-family housing district on Siesta Key, no property may be rented more than once very 30 days, the Sarasota County Code says.

Martha Kim addresses the commission on Sept. 12. News Leader photo

“I myself don’t rent my house,” Martha Kim told the commissioners after explaining she had received the letter, which she called “very threatening.”

Her address is on Calle de Peru, according to the card she filled out to address the board.

Kim added that someone called the county’s Code Enforcement Division in the spring to report that she was renting her home illegally. “They caused me infinite amounts of trouble.”

“My house was in very bad shape when I bought it,” Kim told the board, adding that her renovation of it was expensive.  “It’s now a cute little Siesta Key Cottage,” she said. “It’s not a big house,” she continued, even though, she noted, the trend on Siesta is for bigger homes.

The owner of the only big house on her street has told her that her house is an eyesore, Kim added.

“These people who call themselves good neighbors are not really good neighbors,” she said, referring again to the letter.

When Chair Nancy Detert asked Kim whether she had brought the letter with her to the meeting, Kim said she had. Detert asked her to give it to the clerk to the board.

“We’re probably interested in trying to help you and look at where that came from,” Detert added.

“That would be really great,” Kim responded.

In regard to the short-term rental issue, she added, “I feel that [people] should be allowed to do what they want.”

The SarasotaNews Leadercontacted Joe Volpe, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) director who has been the point person for that nonprofit in regard to concerns about illegal short-tem rentals on the island. He was not familiar with the group named in the letter, he said, but he planned to contact it. The letter did include an email address and a post office box number in Sarasota.

The next speaker during the Sept. 12 Open to the Public period was Chad Waites, a Siesta property owner who said he is an Airbnb host. (He also addressed the board on Aug. 22.) Waites provided statistics about how much Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue the county has received from Airbnb, the online accommodations company.

Based on 2016 bookings, Waites pointed out, the county would have collected $355,000 in Tourist Development Tax revenue as a result of Airbnb rentals.

Chad Waites. News Leader photo

In May 2017, Waites continued, the County Commission and Airbnb finally reached an agreement on the organization’s payment of the 5% county bed tax from its hosts’ accommodations in the county.

In 2017, Waites said, the county documented more than 67,000 Airbnb guests. In June 2018, he added, Airbnb paid the county $978,000 in bed tax collections from rentals by its hosts. Through June of this fiscal year, he said, Airbnb had turned over $859,000 to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office. “That’s on pace for four times the amount of 2016.”

Because of the intensity of the current red tide bloom this summer, Waites continued, if someone does a Google search for Siesta Key, all the person sees is news about red tide. “You don’t see ‘No. 1 Beach.’”

He added of Siesta, “It’s a ghost town now.”

Yet, the county’s rental rules will continue to force families, especially, to seek out other areas to stay when they do start returning to the county, he said.

The three primary complaints he has heard about short-term rentals, Waites continued, pertain to garbage cans put out too far in advance of the weekly collections and then remaining for days at the curbside after Waste Management makes its rounds; too much noise from guests; and too many vehicles parked at rental properties. Yet, he added, he has neighbors who are full-time residents and are guilty of such violations.

Waites suggested what he called an “action plan” to address the short-term rental issue:

  • Licensing of short-term rental businesses, with a mandatory registration requirement.
  • Establishment of occupancy limits.
  • Means of resolving complaints and an enforcement procedure for violations of code of conduct regulations.
  • Mandatory inspections and the naming of a local contact for emergency purposes.

“All I’m asking is to sit down and talk about this,” Waites added.

Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents District 4, which includes Siesta — told Waites he had received the email Waites had sent him and had spoken the previous day on the phone with a person calling on Waites’ behalf. “I think I referred you to Matt Osterhoudt,” Maio added.

Osterhoudt is director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, which includes the Code Enforcement Division.

“I never heard back,” Waites told Maio.

“Matt’ll get a hold of you,” Maio replied. Different rules apply to the county’s barrier islands than to the mainland, Maio continued, and different rules apply to single-family housing districts, compared to those for multi-family home districts.

“We’ll get you a copy of [those regulations].”

The Good Neighbors letter includes a copy of the short-term rentals regulations, which Code Enforcement Officer John Lally had provided to residents prior to his retirement. Image courtesy Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller

Waites also told the board that he had asked staff why the county has such strict rules regarding short-term rentals on Siesta Key. The answer he received, he said, was because the island has so many full-time residents. However, that no longer is the situation on the Key, Waites maintained. He asked staff for data to support its assertion, he added, and he was told the data dated to 1996 and no longer was available for review.

“We’ll take care of it,” Chair Detert responded.

Maio reiterated that staff would provide Waites with a copy of the county regulations regarding rental properties.

Then Detert announced that the next speaker must be Waites’ wife: Patricia Waites.

“I hope not,” Chad Waites told Detert. “That’s my mom.”

Patricia Waites read a poem she had written about the short-term rental issue, supporting her son.

One other person who addressed the board that evening on the issue was Lisa McBride, a Realtor with Keller Williams on the Water in Sarasota. She said the property rights of all homeowners should be protected.

Everyone in the area depends on tourism “to keep our economy thriving,” she added. “We support our community on tax dollars,” she continued, noting that she believes investor homeownership often is ignored.

Many people who come to Sarasota County fall in love with the beaches, McBride said, and they want to be able to spend a few weeks a year in the community in property they own. “We’re constantly getting calls from people that would love to invest in our community.”

They also want to “generate a little bit of income to offset the cost of home ownership,” she noted.

Lisa McBride. Image from Keller Williams

Yet, when they learn about the county regulation regarding rentals in single-family zoning districts, McBride said, “A lot of them choose not to purchase here.”

She had talked to a number of local real estate agents, she added, who have experienced such situations with prospective buyers. McBride told the commissioners she believes a compromise is needed.

“We all certainly heard you,” Chair Detert replied. “You gave us some good information. We’ll look into it and hopefully, you’ll notice an improvement.”

During the Reports section of the County Commission’s regular meeting the previous day, Maio told his colleagues, “I am seeing an increased [amount of] email traffic on illegal … short-term rentals” in districts zoned for single-family homes. “It’s the whole Airbnb and the other vacation rental businesses arena that we’re in now,” he added. “[These] inappropriate, illegal rentals are causing heartburn for the people that are contiguous neighbors.”

Three arrested in attempted burglary incident

During the Sept. 6 SKA meeting, Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office piqued audience members’ interest with his report of an early-morning incident in August on Higel Avenue, which resulted in several arrests.

On Aug. 9, two 16-year-old males were charged with Attempted Burglary of an Occupied Structure, while a 19-year-old woman was charged with Accessory after the Fact, according to reports that Kaitlyn Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, provided the News Leader.

Just after 6 a.m. on Aug. 9, the owner of a home in the 5000 block of Higel Avenue called the Sheriff’s Office to after she saw two males in her carport, allegedly trying to break into her vehicle, one of the responding officers wrote. The woman yelled at them, “and they fled on foot toward the road,” the report said. They climbed into a white sedan, “which drove away at a high rate of speed,” the report noted.

An aerial map shows the intersection of Siesta Drive and White Lane. Image from Google Maps

Patrol units in the area were able to locate the vehicle, the report continued. When they attempted to stop it, however, it sped away, but it eventually crashed into the wall at the intersection of Siesta Drive and White Lane. By the time the officers reached the scene, the report said, the suspects had fled.

With the help of a K9 unit, deputies located all three suspects walking in the vicinity of Siesta Drive and Gulfmead Drive, the reports noted.

Sylvester Lee Sanders Jr., 16, of 1837 22ndSt., Sarasota, and Tydarius G. Washington, 16, of 1150 Polk St., Fort Myers, both were charged with Attempted Burglary of an Occupied Structure.

Takia C. Turner. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Takia C. Turner, 19, of 3259 Natures Circle, Unit 106, in Sarasota, was charted with Accessory After the Fact for driving the getaway vehicle, one report said. That is a second-degree felony. She was released under $1,500 bond, according to Sarasota County jail records.

Because Sylvester and Tydarius are juveniles, no arrest records were available for them.

Deputies later learned that a warrant had been issued for Tydarius because he had failed to appear in court on a matter in Fort Myers, his report pointed out.

Officers were unable to reach Tydarius’ legal guardian prior to interviewing him, the report noted, even though they made several attempts to do so. They were able to reach one of Sylvester’s parents, his arrest report said. After he was read his rights, that report noted, he “refused to make a statement.”

Later, when officers contacted the owner of the vehicle used in the Higel incident, one report added, the owner told them it had been stolen from her driveway overnight on Aug. 8.

And about that Siesta Drive crash in June …

It took several months for investigators with the Sarasota Police Department to conclude their work on the June 14 Siesta Drive incident that resulted in part of the road being shut down for several hours during the morning commute, Genevieve Judge, the public information officer for the department, told the News Leader.

Officers were dispatched to the scene at 5:38 a.m. on June 14 and did not clear the area until 8 a.m., the report noted.

When the first Sarasota Police Department officer arrived, the report said, he found that “duty patrol officers had secured the scene from Norsota Way to Seagrape Drive.” The crash occurred in the 800 block of Siesta Drive.

An aerial view shows Norsota Way and Siesta Drive. Image from Google Maps

The driver of the vehicle, Tyler Leonard, 27, of Windsong Lane, was traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed when he ran off the road and struck a concrete Florida Power & Light Co. pole, the report added. The pole “was broken near the top, the report noted.

The vehicle’s speedometer “was stuck between 110-114 mph,” the report said.

The collusion caused the vehicle to spin counterclockwise, the report added. The passenger side crashed through a fence and slid across a small tree before coming to rest in the front yard of the house at 830 Siesta Drive. Leonard “had severe injuries,” the report pointed out. When an officer spoke with him at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the report added, Leonard indicated that he had no memory of the crash. He had had to be extricated from the vehicle, the report said.

The vehicle he was driving was a 2008 Nissan Altima, the report noted. He was not wearing a seatbelt, according to the report, but the front air bag deployed during the crash.

At the location of the crash, the report noted, the east-west road curves to the north. The speed limit in that area is 40 mph, the report added.

When an officer spoke with Jessica D. Leonard, Tyler’s mother, at the hospital, Jessica Leonard explained that she had awoken Tyler that morning. The report added that Tyler was late for work when he left his home.

She told the officer that he had worked long days for the past several days “and had appeared fatigued,” the report continued.

With the mother’s assistance, an officer was able to check Tyler Leonard’s cellphone, which was found in the vehicle, and determine that he had not sent any text messages or made or taken any calls just before the incident, the report noted.