Siesta Seen

Improved handicapped access planned for Beach Access 2; tweaks possible to county’s dead fish cleaning policy; paid beach parking workshop expected in January; 2018 General Election statistics show Maio winning all Siesta precincts; motorcyclist injured on Ocean Boulevard; and new Sheriff’s Office substation leader has easy time of it during first SKA solo appearance

Signs at Beach Access 2 prohibit parking, although one handicapped parking space is available. File photo

Better beach access on Siesta Key for handicapped individuals is in the works, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

During the Nov. 27 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Charles Hines talked about the fact that only one handicapped parking space is designated at Beach Access 2, which is at the western end of Avenida Messina. Yet, handicapped people need easier access to the beach, Hines said.

As a result, he continued, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff has been taking a look at ways to improve the situation. “Hopefully, they come back with some ideas.”

In response to a News Leader question following up on those comments, county Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby wrote in a Dec. 4 email that staff members in the Capital Projects Division of the Public Works Department met on Dec. 3 to discuss options for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking at Beach Access 2. “Capital Projects will be providing concept plans later this week and hope to complete the new plan prior to the Christmas holiday,” Lusby added.

Complaints about inadequate beach access for handicapped individuals arose during public comments to the board on Aug. 29. Angela Briguglio, who uses a wheelchair, talked about the limitations on Siesta Key for people like her. She also noted the solitary handicapped parking space at Avenida Messina, adding that many community residents have mobility issues. “Does that mean one handicapped person can go to the beach [there]?”

She told the board that persons with disabilities in Sarasota County “seem to be an invisible demographic.”

Avenida Messina ends right at the beach, making it a more logical choice for improved access options, she indicated.

“There’s no place left in Sarasota County to meet the ADA requirements for beach access,” she told the commissioners. “It’s your job to protect those rights for me.”

Dead fish policy tweaks possible

Workers clear dead fish from a county beach on Aug. 14. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the Dec. 6 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, an audience member complained to David Pousso, senior environmental specialist with Sarasota County, that county staff had not been cleaning up dead fish — a result of the red tide bloom — on the northern end of Siesta Beach. (See the related article in this issue.)

Pousso noted that a county policy in effect for a number of years specifies how staff is to respond to fish kills. However, Pousso continued, after the current red tide bloom subsides, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department will look into whether the ordinance needs to be modified. He specifically mentioned the “hand cleaning” provisions of that ordinance, which focuses largely on the raking of the public portions of the beach.

The county’s webpages devoted to the red tide response this year said this week that more than 255 tons of debris has been collected since Aug. 1 from around the county. The main page also provides a link to the Beach Cleaning Policy.

These are among facets of that policy:

  • 1. Accumulation reaches an estimated volume to fill one 5-yard truck per 2-mile continuous section of beach that is accessible to motorized equipment or vehicles if two tidal cycles have not removed it naturally; and
  • 2. Beach to be cleaned is:
    • a. Owned by the County and open to the general public; or
    • b. Below the approximate mean high water line and in close proximity to a County-owned public beach or beach access; or
    • c. Part of a Federal or State beach re-nourishment project and seaward of the Erosion Control Line (ECL); and
  • 3. Cleaning can be accomplished in compliance with all applicable Local, State and Federal regulations; and
  • 4. Funding is available.

What happened to the paid beach parking discussion?

In early July, shortly before the County Commission began its traditional summer vacation, Carolyn Brown, who still was director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, provided an update on staff research into paid parking options for Siesta Public Beach.

At the suggestion of Chair Nancy Detert, the commissioners agreed that they really needed to hold a half-day workshop to delve into all the relevant issues and come up with decisions.

Perhaps September or October would be a good time for such a workshop, Detert added.

Even on a cloudy evening in early August 2017, more than a few vehicles were in the Siesta Public Beach parking lot. File photo

As it turns out, that discussion will not happen until early 2019.

First, Brown ended up retiring in early October. The deputy director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR), Nicole Rissler, was named the new director a few weeks ago. However, around the time of Brown’s departure, the commission directed staff to finalize a “term sheet,” laying out the guidelines for the lease and/or sale of county property at Benderson Park to Mote Marine Laboratory for the site of its planned $130-million Science Education Aquarium. As County Administrator Jonathan Lewis characterized it, the board was directing staff essentially to drop everything else to make sure the Mote deal was concluded before the end of October.

Rissler was among county staff most involved in that process, as Lewis noted on Oct. 24.

Then, also in October, as the board members were trying to agree on a date for a continued public hearing on the county’s new Unified Development Code (UDC), Lewis suggested that time would be available on Nov. 27. Staff tentatively had reserved the afternoon session that day for the paid beach parking workshop, he said, but he indicated that he would like for more research to be conducted prior to that discussion. As a result, he added, the parking workshop could be held possibly in January.

The commissioners agreed to move the continued UDC hearing to Nov. 27.

The UDC is a comprehensive document that updates and combines the county’s Land Development Regulations and the Zoning Regulations in an effort to make them easier to access and understand. The board approved the changes on Nov. 27, but the UDC will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2019.

Another vehicle crash reported

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

At 8:18 p.m. on Dec. 1, the News Leader learned, a motorcyclist traveling north on Ocean Boulevard — who was not wearing a helmet — allegedly hit a rock or some other type of hard object protecting a resident’s mailbox, bounced off of it and landed in the drainage ditch.

A resident who lives near the scene — at the Gleason Avenue intersection — told the News Leaderthat the motorcyclist was injured. The resident had no information about the extent of those injuries.

Unfortunately, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office did not investigate the incident, so no report was available from that office. When the Florida Highway Patrol handles an incident, as it did in this case, it does not readily make its reports available. A reporter has to trek up to Bradenton or down to Venice several days after the fact to pay a not inconsiderate sum and collect a copy of the report.

The resident who shared information about the incident with the News Leader did opine that it was lucky for the motorcyclist that the crash did not occur in the sharp curve just a bit further north on Ocean Boulevard. That curve has seen its share of collisions over the years, as vehicles have failed to follow the road and, instead, have plowed into a homeowner’s wall.

After the last crash a few months ago, that homeowner installed boulders next to the wall in an effort to prevent future wall-building projects.

Siesta goes fully for Maio

This graphic shows the precincts (in red) that Commissioner Alan Maio won; the districts Wesley Beggs won are in blue. Image from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website

When Republican County Commissioner Alan Maio of Nokomis defeated Democrat Wesley Beggs of Sarasota in the Nov. 6 General Election, he took 53.89% of the 203,686 votes cast in the race.

Maio represents District 4, which encompasses Siesta Key.

Not all of the 213,220 voters who participated in the General Election marked a choice in that race, according to the official returns published by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

When the News Leader took the opportunity to examine the precinct results in the District 4 contest, it learned that Maio defeated Beggs by a bigger margin in Precinct 411, located at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, than he did in the overall statistics. Maio won 54.69% of the 2,684 votes cast at Precinct 411.

Siesta Key Chapel was the site of two precincts during the election. In Precinct 401, Maio was the victor with 59.21% of the 294 ballots cast; in Precinct 403, he took 52.68% of the 877 votes.

In Precinct 421, located at the Turtle Beach Recreational Building, Maio garnered 52.24% of the 961 votes.

However, just east of the Key, in Precinct 413, located at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church, Beggs won 51.46% of the 4,034 votes cast there.

That church is located in Pine Shores Estates, and many of the residents have been vocal opponents of the proposed Siesta Promenade project next to their neighborhood.

Maio accepted many donations from developers during his re-election campaign this year.

Letting the new sergeant off easy

Sgt. Paul Cernansky addresses the Siesta Key Association in November. Rachel Hackney photo

When Sgt. Paul Cernansky, the new Sheriff’s Office substation leader, appeared for the first time on his own in front of a Siesta Key Association (SKA) audience — on Dec. 6 — he seemed poised for a bombardment of questions.

The News Leader suspects that after seeing Deputy Chris McGregor field a number of questions during the November SKA meeting, Cernansky showed up this month with the expectation that he, too, would be spending more than a couple of minutes at the front of the room.

Cernansky opened his Dec. 6 remarks with, “No news is good news,” in terms of the November crime report.

Again — as has been the case over the past several months — burglaries of unlocked vehicles were the primary focus, he said. “We arrested several of the [alleged perpetrators] and charged them.”

Cernansky encouraged all the meeting attendees to keep their vehicles locked.

Next, he said that both the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival in November and the Siesta Key Seafood and Music Festival, held the first weekend of December, “were very successful events.”

Then he added, “That’s really all I have. Things are nice and quiet.”

When he asked whether anyone had questions, no one raised a hand.

Secretary Joyce Kouba told the audience, “You’re not going to let him off that easy, are you?”
Perhaps people had issues they would prefer to convey to Cernansky privately, Vice President Catherine Luckner suggested.

Even then, no one raised a hand or offered a comment.