Spring break underway on the Key; public urged to lock vehicles; three 20-year-olds garner Sheriff’s Office attention after ‘parkour’ incident; Sip-N-Cycle a legal vehicle, Sheriff’s Office sergeant explains; Siesta Chamber planning a big anniversary celebration; St. Patrick’s Day concert planned; FDOT makes repairs to ‘The Pit’; outgoing SKA president follows up with commissioners after Siesta traffic and parking workshop; and Chamber staff prepares for Easter Egg Hunt
Spring break is been well underway on the Key, Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation at Siesta Public Beach, has reported.
“If you guys haven’t noticed the traffic, we definitely did this past weekend at the beach,” he said during the Feb. 20 quarterly meeting of Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members.
Apparently, Cernansky has taken some time to delve into Siesta history, because he pointed out that Sheriff’s Office personnel has been handling certain spring break issues for decades, including complaints about trying to find parking spaces. “Same as in the ’70s, and before that,” he said.
Further, as he has explained to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members, Cernansky told the Chamber members that he has been using data in an effort to adjust the scheduling of shifts and the number of officers on the Key. “We more or less have doubled our presence out here on the island,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office philosophy since Sheriff Tom Knight took over in 2009 has been intelligence-led policing, Cernansky pointed out. Cernansky has been following that approach on the Key. “The lackof crime is what we want to have.”
Although the number of people on the beach already had increased by mid-February, Cernansky reported during the SKA’s March 2 Annual Breakfast Meeting, that the official Spring Break Operations Plan for the Sheriff’s Office began on March 1. The department will have double staffing coverage on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, he added.
The Mounted Patrol officers also will be working full-time on the Key, Cernansky told the Chamber members on Feb. 20. “All of our resources will all be out here to make sure that everything goes smoothly.”
Michael Shay, maintenance manager for Siesta Village, took the opportunity on Feb. 20 to ask Cernansky about a thought Shay had been pondering: “Speaking of spring break, with the damage done by Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle, are we anticipating more spring breakers?”
“I would,” Cernansky replied. Given the fact that red tide deterred visitors last year, he continued, “I think people really want to double-down on their spring break experience. I would expect to see more people, and it’s great for all the merchants.”
Nonetheless, Cernansky said, the more people, the more traffic.
(See the related article in this issue.)
And speaking of crime …
“We most recently had a rash of vehicle burglaries,” Sgt. Paul Cernansky told Siesta Chamber members during their Feb. 20 quarterly meeting. The Sheriff’s Office can do only so much about that type of crime, he pointed out. “We can only tell people so many times to lock their car doors.”
“Vehicle burglary” refers to a situation in which a person enters a vehicle that does not belong to the person and then steals or tries to steal items.
Officers are working to try to determine whether they can catch the perpetrators, Cernansky pointed out.
Still, he stressed that he welcomes the support of business owners in reminding customers about locking vehicles.
And speaking of one specific incident …
Report of a possible trespassing incident in Siesta Village recently led the News Leader to a tale of “parkour” at Key Corners Plaza.
Work is underway not only to transform the look of that shopping center but also to create a new sports bar there.
Although they technically may have been trespassing in the wee hours of Feb. 7, three 20-year-old Sarasota men told the deputy who investigated the incident that they were engaged in parkour. They did not end up being charged, the Sheriff’s Office report said.
Fans of the Mission Impossible movies know that star Tom Cruise always seems to find himself running from would-be assailants, making the best use of available rooftops. That is a form of parkour.
The World Freerunning Parkour Federation describes it as follows: “According to the strictest definition, Parkour is the act of moving from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ using the obstacles in your path to increase your efficiency.”
It had its origins, the Federation says, “in a training program for French Special Forces known as ‘Parcours du combatant,’ or ‘The Path of the Warrior.’”
Chris Brown — who also owns The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage, the Summer House Restaurant and the Beach Club — bought Key Corners in November 2017. He and his business partner, Mike Granthon, are remodeling the property so it has a Nantucket appearance, as they have explained to Siesta Sand.
They started the permitting process with Sarasota County staff in late May 2018, county records show. Siesta architect Mark Smith has been working with them. In fact, it was Smith who requested written conformation from county staff in January 2018 that a new restaurant with a patron area of 1,200 square feet would be permitted on the site, based on the parking plan he had prepared. That letter of approval appears to have been released on March 6, 2018, the county document adds.
As for the details of the parkour incident: At 3:50 a.m. on Feb. 7, the Sheriff’s Office report said, someone flagged down a deputy at the intersection of Canal Road and Ocean Boulevard, across from the construction site, and pointed to three people the person had seen climbing on the roof at Key Corners.
The deputy saw the suspects walking away from the construction site, the report noted. When they spotted him, it said, “[T]hey changed direction …” However, the deputy was able to catch up with them in front of Key Corners, the report added. The person who had flagged down the deputy confirmed for the deputy that the three young men were the same people he had observed on the site, the report pointed out.
Each of the suspects agreed to speak separately with the deputy, the report continued. “They stated they entered the construction site by pushing down and climbing over the orange mesh fencing. They each told me they knew they should not be in the construction [area],” the deputy wrote. “They stated they were climbing on the scaffold, but did not damage or steal anything.”
One suspect, Zachary L. Farley, was the first to describe what they were doing on the site as parkour, the report noted. A second suspect, Jack H. Sloan, told the deputy that he was unaware of the “No Trespassing” signs on the site until after he exited the property.
(The third person involved in the incident was identified as Isiah J. Garza.)
“I observed several … signs that read, ‘No Trespassing,’” the deputy wrote. “This area is a designated construction site,” the deputy continued. “Anyone who trespasses on this property commits a felony!” the deputy added, referencing Florida Statute 810.09(2)(d).
The “No Trespassing” signs also displayed the contractor’s logo, the deputy pointed out.
However, after speaking with a sergeant, the deputy learned that the size of the letters on the signs did not conform to the specifications of the statute, the report noted.
The deputy had obtained the necessary identification information from the suspects, the report continued, so the deputy allowed them to leave the site, pending charges.
Later that day, the deputy wrote, he learned that no damage or sign of theft had been discovered at the site; therefore, the president of the construction company said he would consult with the owners of the business, who had hired him, before making a decision about prosecution.
A week later, on Feb. 14, the report said that the construction company president did not want to pursue prosecution “at this time.” The deputy advised the person about how charges could be filed later, the report added.
Is the Sip-N-Cycle legal??
During the January Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, fielded questions about a new means of tourist transport — the Sip-N-Cycle.
Members of the audience questioned the legality of the vehicle, as people riding it typically are drinking beverages other than water and lemonade, shall we say.
It took some digging into the Florida Statutes, but Cernansky has reported to both SKA and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members that the vehicle is considered a “commercial mega-cycle” under state law. “It’s exempt from the open container laws,” he told the Chamber members during their Feb. 20 quarterly meeting.
Additionally, Cernansky said, the vehicle does not have to have to be registered with the state “because it is mostly human-powered and it has a route that it goes on.”
He wanted to make sure island business owners are aware of the Sip-N-Cycle’s status, he said, in the event customers ask them questions.
Based on the Sip-N-Cycle website, and a YouTube video the News Leaderfound, the vehicle loads and unloads passengers at Blasé Café in Siesta Village.
A big anniversary coming up
The Siesta Chamber will mark its 60th anniversary this summer, Ann Frescura, the executive director of the organization, told members attending the Feb. 20 quarterly meeting.
Chamber leaders and staff already are making plans for a big celebration, she said.
And while she has found quite a bit of materials about the first 50 years of the Chamber, she continued, she has no documents about activities from 2009 forward. If anyone has materials they can provide her, Frescura said, she would welcome that assistance.
Chamber members also are invited to propose suggestions about the celebration, she pointed out.
Siesta Chapel to host St. Patrick’s Day concert
The Siesta Key Chapel Arts Series will present the Belle Canto women’s chorus — directed by Nicole Smith — on Sunday, March 17, at 4 p.m., series representatives have announced.
Founded in 2009, Belle Canto has a varied repertoire that includes classical and traditional selections, and secular and sacred choral works, as well as Broadway, blues and jazz pieces, a news release says. “This concert will celebrate the joy and music of St. Paddy’s Day,” the release adds.
The Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on the north end of Siesta Key. A $10 donation at the door is suggested on the day of the concert.
Progress on ‘The Pit’
Past SKA President Gene Kusekoski told not just the News Leader but also attendees of the SKA’s March 2 Annual Breakfast Meeting about a recent bicycling incident involving one of his friends.
“My biking buddy fell into ‘The Pit’ across from Aloha Kai this week,” Kusekoski first reported to the News Leaderin a March 1 email. He included a photo of The Pit that was taken in 2017. (Aloha Kai is located at 6020 Midnight Pass Road.)
“Fortunately he’s not seriously hurt but he has a lot of cuts and bruises,” Kusekoski noted of his friend. “We’ve complained to both the county and [the Florida Department of Transportation] FDOT for two years on this, but it never gets fixed.”
Kusekoski then pointed out that the manager of Aloha Kai “actually reported [The Pit] to FDOT a year or two again, but the crew put asphalt in front of her place instead of in the hole across the street! She ran out when she saw the workers and said, ‘No! It’s across the street!’ They told her the work order said Aloha Kai, so that’s where the asphalt was going!” Kusekoski wrote.
During the SKA meeting, Kusekoski explained that, after his friend was injured, Kusekoski used the SeeClickFix app Sarasota County launched a couple of years ago to report The Pit problem to the county. (SeeClickFix allows a person to take a photo of a situation and email it to county staff, so staff can address it.)
“Next day,” he continued during the March 2 meeting, “there was an FDOT guy down there saying he was going to fix the problem” across from Aloha Kai.”
After the March 2 SKA meeting, Kusekoski again emailed the News Leader. “I went out to Key Solutions to see the results of the repair that FDOT had done on the uneven sidewalk transition. They did get rid of the big hole, but I can’t say that I’m impressed with the repair. I don’t know what would happen if a bike rode over that glop, but I’m not willing to risk trying. I give it a few weeks before it crumbles and disappears. I don’t feel like they’re taking this seriously …”
The News Leader asked county staff whether Kusekoski’s SeeClickFix report simply was referred to FDOT. Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester confirmed that the information was passed along to FDOT’s customer service staff, as FDOT still is responsible for that part of Midnight Pass Road on the Key.
Kusekoski also provided a strong endorsement for SeeClickFix during the SKA’s March 2 meeting. “I’m a big fan of that. … It really works.”
A follow-up for the county commissioners
Following the Feb. 27 County Commission workshop on Siesta traffic and parking issues, Gene Kusekoski — still the SKA president at that point — wrote an email to the board members, offering some thoughts about the discussion in which they engaged after listening to public comments.
“I believe Commissioner [Michael] Moran summarized it best when he recommended that you first figure out what solutions you want to implement and what they cost,” Kusekoski wrote. “Only then would it be appropriate to review whether some form of paid parking at the beach might be a means of funding those solutions.
“I know people are divided on the idea of taxpayer decals, but I ask that you remain open to the idea until a comprehensive access management plan has been fully developed,” Kusekoski continued. “Yes, property owners already pay taxes, but, coming from New Hampshire, another state without broad-based taxes, I know that usage fees are often implemented to fund certain services and amenities. Amortizing the costs into the general property tax rate increases costs for people who never use the beach, including those for whom every dollar is precious. You are the experts on such matters, so it would be presumptuous of me to recommend one approach over the other …
“The $25 per year decal price I cited was merely an example,” Kusekoski wrote, noting the remarks he made during the Feb. 27 workshop. “If you follow Commissioner Moran’s ‘What do we need to pay for?’ model, then the actual decal fee would be determined by how much additional revenue you need to cover expenses. It may turn out that visitor parking fees cover all expenses, so taxpayer parking could continue to be free. If a decal is implemented, there must be an exemptions process for low-income residents. Clearly, we do not want to do anything that prevents low-income families from enjoying our great beaches.”
On another point, Kusekoski wrote, “I know Commissioner [Nancy] Detert has mentioned bike sharing several times, but I respectfully suggest that the viewpoints of people who bike regularly should be heeded regarding the safety hazards in certain key areas. I would also discourage doing anything to negatively impact the existing bike rental businesses on Siesta Key.
“With regard to off-island biking, I would request that Commissioner Detert personally experience the ride from the Gulf Gate shopping area to Siesta Key via Stickney Point Road before promoting bike sharing for that journey,” he added. “There is no bike lane, and the sidewalk is very irregular, with many vestigial curb cuts to nowhere making for a rough ride. If you fall, you land in 45MPH traffic speeding right beside you. I must continue to strongly advocate changes to ensure riders can navigate this road safely before any more bike use is promoted there.”
During the Feb. 19 meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, President Frank Jurenka made the same point to Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, who was one of the speakers on the program.
Pointing out that he routinely bikes on the Key, Jurenka said that he does ride over from the island to McIntosh Road or Palmer Ranch to pick up The Legacy Trail route. “That’s a treacherous path.” It is 4.5 miles from Siesta to the Trail, he added.
When he asked whether staff has any plans to improve that access, in connection with work on the North Extension of The Legacy Trail, Rissler told him that no plan has been proposed thus far. Nonetheless, she added, “That’s definitely on the list of things that we’re working on.”
“Good,” Jurenka responded.
Continuing his Feb. 27 email, Kusekoski wrote, “Further, people picking up a bike sharing ride would still need a place to park their car off-island, bringing us back to off-island parking as the primary need.”
“Several speakers suggested redesigning Siesta Beach parking to accommodate more cars,” he added. “I think we all know that there are too many cars coming to Siesta Key already, so making yet more parking spaces available is counterproductive. Please focus on ideas like using Phillippi Estate Park for off-island park and ride. I would also still like to see a deal negotiated with Benderson for some amount of park and ride space.”
With the latter comment, Kusekoski was referencing the plans for the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. On Dec. 12, 2018, Benderson Development won County Commission approval — on split votes — to construct 414 condominiums, a 130-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of commercial and office space on about 24 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection. The board decision has been challenged in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
During the Feb. 27 workshop, Commissioner Charles Hines noted that he had asked that staff explore the idea with Benderson representatives of a public parking garage on the Siesta Promenade property, to facilitate a park-and-ride program. Staff did broach the idea with company representatives, Hines added, but “it didn’t get very far.”
Getting’ ready for the bunny hop
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is in full planning mode for the annual Easter Egg Hunt, which will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 20.
As in the past couple of years, the event will be at Turtle Beach Park, which is located at 8918 Midnight Pass Road.
Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber, told members attending the Feb. 20 quarterly meeting that she already had secured the necessary county permit for the party.
Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, added that members of the Mounted Patrol will be present, so children can meet horses and riders.
Additionally, Frescura said, members of the Siesta Key Kiwanis Club will “shadow” the Chamber staff this year during the Easter Egg Hunt. “We hope to grow a partnership with them” for the spring event, she added.
The Chamber also is looking for sponsors; the deadline is March 22. Anyone interested in signing up should go to this webpage.