Siesta Seen

Cosentino appeals dismissal of North Beach Road case against county; Ramirez denied rehearing in civil suit; SKA vice president raises questions about county-owned spoil island in Big Pass; St. Boniface offering help to people struggling financially because of red tide; crash on Ocean Boulevard damages sign and fence; and SKA to raise membership dues

Michael Cosentino addresses the Siesta Key Association on Oct. 6, 2016. File photo

Siesta resident Mike Cosentino has appealed the 12th Judicial Circuit Court’s dismissal of his North Beach Road complaint against Sarasota County to the Second District Court of Appeal.

The appeal court formally acknowledged the new case on Oct. 11. However, in a separate document dated Oct. 11, the court pointed out that Cosentino needed to pay the required $300 filing fee, “or, if applicable, an order [needs to be forwarded from] the circuit court finding [Cosentino] insolvent,” as allowed under the guidelines of the Florida Statutes.

That issue was remedied, apparently, as the case file on the appeal court’s docket notes payment on Oct. 15.

After 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Frederick Mercurio issued a final judgment on Sept. 11 in favor of the county, Cosentino told The Sarasota News Leader he would appeal the decision. He claims Mercurio incorrectly took the view of the county in this last part of the case remaining against the county. The county’s argument was that Cosentino did not have “standing” to pursue a claim against the county.

“Standing” is a legal term that typically centers on a requirement that a plaintiff has sustained or will sustain direct injury or harm because of an action.

Cosentino told the News Leader, “In layperson’s terms, the Court has ruled that the County’s actions are none of my business.”

He added that he was confident of prevailing at the appellate court level.

However, Cosentino failed in an earlier appeal to the Second District Court, after Mercurio dismissed another part of Cosentino’s complaint against the county.

The case revolves around Cosentino’s argument that the county never should have vacated a 373-foot segment of North Beach Road.

Court refuses rehearing in Ramirez civil case

Lourdes Ramirez. Image from her 2018 campaign website

A 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge has denied Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez’s motion for a rehearing in her civil complaint against Robert Waechter, also of Siesta Key, and his business, RWR Installations.

In a Sept. 24 order, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh offered little more than the statement of denial. In accord with standard judicial procedure, her order did reference the fact that Ramirez’s motion was filed on Aug. 14 and that the Court had reviewed the motion and file.

A 15-minute hearing on Oct. 30 is set on Waechter’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs in the case. It revolves around Waechter’s having used a prepaid credit card to make contributions in Ramirez’s name to Democratic candidates running for office in 2012. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in 2013 and paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Ramirez, who is a Republican, alleged in her civil complaint that his actions resulted in damage to her 2014 campaign for the District 4 seat on the County Commission.

She lost that race to Alan Maio of Nokomis, who is seeking re-election this year.

As Wacheter’s attorney in the civil case, Morgan Bentley of the Sarasota firm Bentley & Bruning has asked the court to approve attorneys’ fees of $34,370.92 and costs of $5,300.14.

County property in the path of proposed dredging?

This summer, Siesta Key Association (SKA) Vice President Catherine Luckner first raised questions about property owned by Sarasota County in Big Sarasota Pass that is known as Sand Dollar Island.

She and her husband, Robert, who is a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, spent some time researching the background of the property, they told the News Leader.

A graphic from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office shows the parcel (outlined in yellow) in Big Pass. Image courtesy of Catherine Luckner

Now Catherine Luckner is seeking information from Sarasota County staff about whether the 598,454-square-foot parcel in the pass might be in an area (Cut B or Cut C) from which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to dredge sand for the long-term renourishment of South Lido Key Beach.

As she pointed out in an Oct. 11 email to county staff members, the 1954 title, deeding the property to the county, restricts its use to public recreation. She further noted that the island is zoned Open Use Conservation (OUC), and zoning guidelines for that district do not allow the mining of sand.

According to the county’s Zoning Code, OUC districts are “intended to preserve and protect native habitats, wilderness areas, marsh lands, watersheds, water recharge areas, open spaces, park lands (unless otherwise zoned [Government Use]), scenic areas, historical and archaeological resources and beaches.”

The deed for the property, dated January 1954, shows the state gave the property to the county. In the deed, the property is called a “spoil island in Big Sarasota Pass.” The deed makes it clear that the county “shall never sell or convey or lease the above described land or any part thereof to any private person, firm or corporation for the private use or purpose, it being the intention of this restriction that the said land shall be used solely for public purposes.” If the county were to violate the restrictions, the deed says, the land would revert to the state.

The News Leaderfound the property listed in the records of all county-owned land completed by staff earlier this year in an effort to identify surplus property the county could sell. The list references the parcel as “Submerged island,” with the additional note that it should be retained. It is among many parcels on the property list within the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department’s holdings.

The island is valued at $3,100 on that list.

This is a map provided for the parcel (outlined in red) that appears with the property listing in records compiled for the county’s Real Estate Services Division. Image from the Property Appraiser’s Office

Luckner also has asked county staff in her Oct. 11 email whether Environmental Policy 4.6.1 of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and/or the county’s Water Navigation Control Authority would apply in the event Sand Dollar Island is part of the proposed dredging area.

That Comprehensive Plan policy has been at the heart of a verified complaint the SKA filed against the City of Sarasota in 2017 to try to prevent the removal of sand from Big Pass, as the city is the joint recipient of a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Joint Coastal Permit for the Lido Key Renourishment Project.

The SKA has maintained that the city violated the county’s Comprehensive Plan because the city never obtained permission of the county for the planned dredging of the pass. The 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge who heard arguments in late July on the city’s motion to dismiss the court case ruled against the SKA on Oct. 12, but the SKA plans to file an amended complaint in the case, Luckner said. (See the related article in this issue.)

When the News Leader checked in with county staff this week to find out whether answers had been provided to Luckner about the island, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded in an Oct. 15 email: “Planning and Development has received the questions from Ms. Luckner and is reviewing the information. No update has been provided yet.”

Grant was referring to the county department that oversees the Environmental Permitting Division and related issues.

St. Boniface offering a personal response to red tide

This is the sanctuary at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key. File photo

In an Oct. 10 email blast, Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, announced an initiative by St. Boniface Episcopal Church to help workers who have lost so much in wages and tips because of business downturns related to red tide.

“In an effort to assist Siesta Key business employees who are experiencing hardship due to the negative impact of red tide,” she wrote, “St. Boniface Church is offering assistance via gift cards to Publix, Walmart, etc. to help meet basic needs. This program is designed for families with children. To inquire, please contact Rector Wayne Farrell, St. Boniface Church, 941-349-5616, x.317,” she added, emphasizing the contact information.

“Thank you, St. Boniface Church for your generosity and support!” Frescura wrote

Another crash; this time, on Ocean Boulevard

An aerial map shows where Ocean Boulevard takes a sharp turn just north of Gleason Avenue. Image from Google Maps

A vehicle crashed in the curve on the north end of Ocean Boulevard right around 11 p.m. on Oct. 7, the News Leaderlearned from Michael Shay, the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. manager.

Shay said he did not see any skid marks. It just looked as though the vehicle kept on going straight instead of staying on the road in the bend just north of the Gleason Avenue turnoff for Siesta Key Chapel.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office report on the incident says a Lexus ES 350 sedan had to be towed from the scene, with damage estimated at $15,000. The owner of the vehicle was identified as Karina Violeta Daza, 24, of 7319 52ndDrive E. in Bradenton. She was not injured, according to the report, and she refused medical attention.

The estimated speed of the vehicle in the curve was 45 mph, though the speed limit is 35 mph, the report added.

Daza was not suspected of having consumed an alcoholic beverage before the crash, the Sheriff’s Office report said, and the box referring to whether the driver was distracted said she was not.

The narrative noted that Daza “was driving too fast and missed the turn.”

On one positive note, Shay wrote in his email, “the retaining wall at the house was NOT damaged this time, but most of [the owners’] plantings were destroyed!”

A sign and fence are on the ground in the aftermath of the incident. Photo courtesy of Michael Shay

It was just a matter of time, Shay pointed out, before another crash would occur in that location.

The News Leader has heard tales through the years about homeowners who live near that curve being awakened at night by loud noises from drivers slamming into the wall or swerving into the ditch.

In response to a question from the News Leader, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for the county, who oversees maintenance issues on the Key, wrote in an Oct. 12 email, “We get hit and run damage all over the County, and must repost any roadway items.

The Sheriff’s Office report estimated the total amount of damage was $1,000, split evenly between the guardrail and the sign.

SKA membership renewals encouraged now

(From left) SKA President Gene Kusekoski, Vice President Catherine Luckner, Secretary Joyce Kouba and Director Erin Kreis listen to a speaker on Oct. 4. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Oct. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Gene Kusekoski strongly encouraged those in the audience to renew their memberships before the end of the year and to encourage others they know to renew or join the nonprofit.

The SKA has not raised its membership dues since 2012, he pointed out. At that time, the amount rose to $30. However, because “bills keep going up,” the organization will have to impose another $5 increase as of Jan. 1, he added. “We definitely need the funds to keep our lights on.”

Last year, he continued, the directors paid for postage to send letters to many members who did not renew online. “That cost us probably a thousand bucks,” Kusekoski said.

SKA directors have pointed out to the News Leaderthat the nonprofit has had to pay more in recent years to rent the rooms where it holds its meetings at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. It also has had extensive legal bills, of course, as it has fought to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass.

Referring to the latter situation, Vice President Catherine Luckner noted during the Oct. 4 SKA meeting that people have been sending in $40 contributions, as suggested on the SKA’s website, with the goal of raising $40,000 from 1,000 members.

Contributions to the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund are tax-deductible, a companion SKA webpage reminds visitors.