Siesta Seen

Bay Tree Club residents get a happy surprise; Sgt. Cernansky addresses a bevy of traffic-related questions; help sought to eradicate invasive plant; Kompothecras buys Crescent Club property; and former, long-time SKA director passes away

Residents of Bay Tree Club on South Midnight Pass Road pleaded with county staff for a painted crosswalk because of the number of people who routinely cross the road between the Gulf of Mexico and bay segments of the complex. Bay Tree Club resident Betsy Lynch watches a vehicle speed toward her as she attempts to cross the road on April 9, 2018. File photo

Last spring, a group of residents at the Bay Tree Club on the southern end of Siesta Key achieved success after about two-and-a-half years of persistent effort on a project: Sarasota County staff installed a crosswalk between their buildings on the bay side and on the Gulf of Mexico.

Libby Sloan and Margi Ryder had explained in detail to The Sarasota News Leader that they were concerned about older and handicapped neighbors who had experienced near misses with speeding vehicles.

In fact, when the News Leader visited with the two women and other residents on April 9, 2018, Betsy Lynch, who has lived in Bay Tree Club almost two decades, demonstrated the slow crossing of the road she has to make because she uses a type of cane. With this reporter watching and taking photos, Lynch was at the midpoint of Midnight Pass Road when a white SUV, approaching from the north, flew past her without ever slowing down.

On June 11, 2018, a county crew finally began work on a crosswalk. Sloan and Ryder were ecstatic.

However, as seasonal residents began returning to the Key this year, a new problem arose, Ryder told the News Leader: Drivers were speeding through the crosswalk as if it did not exist, in spite of the signage warning of a $166 fine if a vehicle did not stop for a person in the crosswalk.

Ryder brought up the concerns during the Jan. 10 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting.

As Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, was taking questions from audience members, Ryder reminded him that she had exchanged emails with him and spoken with him on the phone the previous week about the crosswalk situation.

“We don’t have the flashing lights,” she pointed out, referring to the system that the county has installed at some crosswalks.  After a pedestrian presses a button, lights flash, alerting drivers that a person is preparing to use the crosswalk.

“Is there something else we can do?” Ryder asked Cernansky. “We’ve found that four out of five cars aren’t stopping.”

She was with her granddaughter one recent day, she pointed out, and as they were in the crosswalk, “a car just went flying right by us.”

(From left) Margi Ryder, Betsy Lynch and Libby Sloan gather in the shade of oaks on the grounds of Bay Tree Club in April 2018. File photo

Ryder added that she feels many drivers traveling on the south end of the island do not expect to see a crosswalk. The crosswalk at Bay Tree Club, she noted, is one of only two; the other is near the Turtle Beach Campground entrance, a slight distance south of Bay Tree Club.

“I’d keep calling the county,” Cernansky told her, including the Transportation Operations Division, he added, and her county commissioner. (Commissioner Alan Maio represents Siesta Key, which is part of District 4.)

Traffic Engineering and Operations would be the office to handle any enhancement of the crosswalk, Cernansky continued, whereas the Sheriff’s Office can only provide enforcement.

“We spent several hours down there since we last spoke,” he told Ryder. A deputy observed the crosswalk for about two hours “in one sitting,” Cernansky said, and then other officers — both in cars and on ATVs — stayed at the site on other occasions, for periods ranging between 15 and 30 minutes. “We’ve had all hands on deck.”

On Jan. 21, in the aftermath of their latest advocacy, the Bay Tree Club residents reported a big surprise: County staff had arrived to install a flashing light system at their crosswalk.

Libby Sloan emailed the News Leader with the report. “We have no idea where the request initiated,” she wrote, though she noted that Ryder had asked Cernansky questions at the SKA meeting on Jan. 10. “[W]e are very pleased!!”

The News Leader contacted Cernansky last week, conveying the news. “I’m glad they’re happy,” he said of the Bay Tree Club residents.

Then the News Leader asked if he could provide any insights into how the lights came to be installed.

The new light system flashes after a pedestrian pushes a button to use the crosswalk at Bay Tree Club. Photo courtesy of Libby Sloan

During a telephone interview on Jan. 24, Cernansky explained that the Sheriff’s Office has an internal forum through which officers can convey concerns and alerts about specific situations that demand extra attention. He used that forum, he continued, to write about the crosswalk problems, especially so every Sheriff’s Department officer working on Siesta would be aware of the situation.

He added that senior administrative staff at the Sheriff’s Office “get alerted to certain emails” regarding problems on Siesta Key. “Anything that happens on Siesta Key is a big deal,” Cernansky pointed out.

Although he had no specific knowledge of what transpired in this case, he said, he indicated that it was likely that senior staff had conveyed the concerns to county staff.

Later on Jan. 24, the News Leader heard from Robert Fakhri, manager of the county’s Traffic Engineering and Operations Division. He wrote in an email, “County administration asked engineering staff to review conditions at that intersection. Traffic engineering reviewed it and determined blinkers at that location might be helpful. The blinkers were installed on 1/22/19. What helped the speedy installation is that the equipment was already in storage. Otherwise it would of taken several weeks to order and install the equipment.”

This is the button for pedestrians to push. Photo courtesy of Libby Sloan

As of the afternoon of Jan. 25, several Bay Tree Club residents had emailed thank-you notes to Commissioner Maio and Fakhri, they let the News Leader know. Among the correspondents were Sloan and Ryder, who wrote on behalf of the Bay Tree Club Board of Directors.

Speaking of traffic issues …

During the Jan. 10 SKA meeting, Sgt. Paul Cernansky of the Sheriff’s Office faced a barrage of questions about a number of issues related to traffic.

First, SKA Director Erin Kreis told Cernansky that she and her husband manage a vacation rental property on the Key. The previous Sunday, she said, she saw a deputy on an ATV come onto the grounds and drive around. She was curious about the incident, she added.

He was the officer she saw, Cernansky replied.

“Do you do that on all the properties,” she asked.

Yes, he told her. Officers check on properties on a varied schedule, he added, indicating that they do not want people who might be contemplating crimes to get accustomed to seeing law enforcement officers on a regular schedule.

“I’m trying to be out and about at all different times,” Cernansky said.

SKA member Marcia Wallace then told Cernansky that she had observed an increase in the number of golf carts in use on the island. “Are they legal?” she asked.

Sgt. Paul Cernansky listens to comments at the SKA meeting on Nov. 8, 2018. Rachel Hackney photo

“Yes, they are legal,” he responded, but only in certain areas. As slow-speed vehicles, he pointed out, golf carts legally should be operated only on roads with posted slow speeds. He was not certain of the cutoff point, he said, adding that he would check on it.

Questions about golf carts on island roads have arisen for years. During a May 2013 County Commission meeting, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, explained that golf carts may be allowed on a road with a speed limit of 35 mph or less if they are “street legal,” meaning they are equipped with headlights and other safety features.

Moreover, Cernansky told the SKA members on Jan. 10, if a golf cart is registered, so it can be driven legally on roads, the drivers of those golf carts have to have drivers’ licenses.

Wallace pointed out that she sees “a lot of kids” at the wheel of golf carts on Siesta.

The Sheriff’s Office addresses those situations, Cernansky said, just as it would if an underage person were driving a regular vehicle.

Wallace then noted that she even has seen people in golf carts on the Key using bike lanes to pass vehicles on the roads.

Another person asked Cernansky about how to deal with gridlock on the island. “Is there anyone to call when you’re at a standstill?” the woman asked.

Then she explained that, one recent day, she was trying to turn north onto Midnight Pass Road at the Beach Road intersection when she encountered a traffic backup. Vehicles apparently had stopped s several drivers tried to turn into the entrance to St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where they could make a donation to park and then go to Siesta Public Beach.

She characterized the situation as having “a green light to go nowhere.”

“If it’s a traffic control situation,” Cernansky responded, “we’ll address it on a case-by-case basis.” He suggested that in such a situation, she call the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office, which is 316-1201.

“Sometimes we can do something,” he added. “Sometimes we can’t.”

(From left) SKA President Gene Kusekoski, Vice President Catherine Luckner, Secretary Joyce Kouba and Director Erin Kreis listen to a speaker on Oct. 4, 2018. File photo

SKA Director Kreis also asked whether bicyclists are supposed to travel in the same direction as motor vehicles. “We see an awful lot going the opposite way.”

“Bicyclists have to go in the direction of traffic,” Cernansky told her. “It’s a never-ending battle [for law enforcement officers].”

Kreis then asked whether the island bicycle rental shops should have an obligation to provide each customer a copy of the law.

That would be a regulatory issue, Cernansky said, not a law enforcement issue.

Help wanted, please, with an invasive pest

Residents of a condominium complex on south Siesta Key are asking the public for help with a serious environmental concern.

They told the News Leader they have many oak trees on their property. For the past six or seven years, an invasive plant called Japanese dodder vine (cuscuta) “has overtaken some of our oak trees,” they explained in an email. “It is a string-like parasitic vine without leaves which lacks ability to make its own chlorophyll and attaches itself to the trees, winding around all the branches.”

“Every year we pull it out by hand,” they continued, “as we are told that herbicides could kill the trees as well.” Arborists they have consulted do not seem to know anything about this exotic pest, they added.

“We have seen this vine growing on several oak trees along Midnight Pass Road on the south end of the Key and would like to reach out to others either on the Key or otherwise who have or have had dodder vine to see if they have found ways of eradicating it,” they wrote. “Up until now, we have just pulled it out, but with its prolific seed production, it always returns very quickly.

The dodder vine is taking over this oak on south Siesta Key. Contributed photo

“If anyone has had experience with dodder, please contact us through The Sarasota News Leader or directly at 941-349-7373.”

Anyone who would prefer going through the News Leadermay email Editor Rachel Brown Hackney, who happily will pass along the information to the people who contacted the News Leader. Her email is

Crescent Club sale

Over the holidays, word spread that Dr. Gary Kompothecras — of 1-800-ASK-GARY fame — had bought the Crescent Club on South Midnight Pass Road.

Regular readers realize this is not his first purchase in that vicinity, as he owns a storage business and the former Fandango Café site, where he has said he plans a boutique hotel. (Nothing new on that front of late.)

An aerial view shows the Crescent Club property outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

The actual new owner of the Crescent Club, which is located at 6519 Midnight Pass Road, is CCSK Land Holdings LLC, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. The sale price was $3.4 million, and the closing date was Jan. 4.

Information available from the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller’s Office shows that CCSK Land Holdings took out a $2.4 million mortgage on the property, with the date of final payment set as July 4, 2021.

Research the News Leader undertook indicated that Kompothecras long has had an association with the registered agent of CCSK Land Holdings, Vincent Payne, whose office is located on Sawyer Road in Sarasota.

On May 1, 1997, Crescent Club Inc. bought the property for $300,000, the Property Appraiser’s Office records note. Crescent Club Inc. transferred the parcel to Crescent Club LLC in June 2013, the records say. The registered agent of Crescent Club LLC is Julia A. Brown, who long was known as the owner of the Crescent Club.

In late December 2018, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Kompothecras plans to maintain the Crescent Club as a bar. He has a home on nearby Crescent Beach that has been featured often on MTV’s Siesta Key series, starring his son, Alex. In fact, Kompothecras himself has made more than a few appearances on the show, whose latest season is underway.

In 2018, the total taxable value of the Crescent Club property — including the building — was $825,800. Most of that is because of the land; its value was put at $625,100.

The total area of the property is 25,000 square feet, the Property Appraiser’s Office records show.

The building was constructed in 1949, the records note, but the “effective year” of construction is 1995. The Property Appraiser’s Office explains “effective year” as “an appraisal judgment which reflects the condition and utility of a structure.”

Remembering Deet Jonker

The News Leader recently learned of the death of Deet Jonker, who served for many years as a director of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).

His obituary, from the Palms-Robarts Funeral Home in Sarasota, says he died on Jan. 15 at the age of 82. He is survived by his wife, Nina “Lynn” Jonker.

Vice President Catherine Luckner presents an award to Deet Jonker during the 2017 SKA Annual Meeting. File photo

During the SKA’s 2017 annual meeting, held on March 4 of that year, the board members honored Jonker for being what Vice President Catherine Luckner called “a super volunteer extraordinaire” for the SKA and other organizations.

She presented him an award inscribed with the following: “Our gratitude, forever, Deet Jonker, for your 15 years of service as Membership Chairman. You made it happen.”

Joachim “Deet” D. Jonker was born on Sept. 20, 1936, the obituary said. “[He] was a retired entertainment executive who held various management production positions with the ABC television network for 33 years. During his tenure there, he was actively involved with the production of five Olympic Games as well as many other significant events and shows,” the obituary added.

He received an Emmy for individual achievement for producing the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, which was held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, the SKA directors noted in 2017.
From 1991 to 1996, Jonker was the senior vice president of production and executive producer at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the obituary continued. “He produced the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York City; Branson, Missouri; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He was also the Executive Producer of the Great Radio City Spectacular at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada.”

“Additionally,” the obituary said, Jonker “co-produced four Republican National Conventions for David J. Nash Associates, as well as the 2000 Political Fest presentation in Philadelphia.”