Siesta Seen

Extra ‘bed tax’ funding for beach maintenance approved again; county staff looking into providing shade for Breeze stop at Siesta Beach; Cosentino gets a new attorney; Fandango building still standing; attorney in Siesta Promenade case introduces himself to SKA members; and sad news for the plovers

A graphic shows how the revenue from the Tourist Development Tax is divvied up. The portion that was the focus of the May 8 County Commission discussion is highlighted in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Once again, the Sarasota County Commission has approved allocating the funds from the “third penny” of the 5-cent Tourist Development Tax (TDT) for beach maintenance and related expenses.

During a presentation to the board on May 8, Shawn Yeager, manager of the Beaches and Water Accesses Division of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, explained that the use of the extra “bed tax” revenue first won commission approval in 2009. The resulting amendment to the county’s Code of Ordinances necessitates that the allocation be reviewed every two years, he continued. Therefore, PRNR staff wanted to request renewal of the funding stream for two more years, beginning in the 2020 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1, 2019, Yeager said.

A slide Yeager showed the board on May 8 noted that the total revenue expected for beach maintenance out of the county TDT funds this fiscal year is $4,229,180. Not only does part of the third TDT penny go toward that purpose, he pointed out, but 50% of the first 2 cents of the TDT revenue also is allocated to beach maintenance.

The total expense of beach maintenance for this fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30, is projected to be $4,507,230, Yeager added. Out of that, $100,000 will have gone to emergency cleanup. Yeager explained that the removal of beach debris resulting from red tide is part of what the TDT funding covers.

This graphic shows details about revenue and expenditures for this fiscal year for beach maintenance. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A staff memo prepared for the commission discussion on May 8 explained, “Fund Balance is currently available to fund operating expenditures that exceed annual revenue, but it is also used to fund capital projects for improvements to beach structures …”

In other words, the PRNR staff does have money in reserve to help fill in the gap this fiscal year between revenue and expenses.

Yeager also pointed out to the board that the Town of Longboat Key receives a separate allocation out of TDT revenue for beach maintenance and renourishment, so the figures he presented did not include the town’s revenue and expenses.

The specific uses of the maintenance money for the county-owned beaches include removal of litter and trash; purchase and maintenance of equipment necessary for staff work; improvements designed to make the county shoreline more accessible to all visitors; upgrading structures such as restrooms, picnic shelters, lifeguard towers, decks, sidewalks, irrigation, dune walkovers and fencing; beach grooming; and informational signage.

Both North and South county beaches benefit from the funding, Yeager continued. Among those are the 13 accesses on Siesta Key and Turtle Beach and its boat ramp.

The TDT revenue also has been used for ramps to make facilities more accessible and for turtle-friendly lighting, Yeager told the board.

The Turtle Beach Park improvements completed in early 2017 — including the new playground and kayak launch — and a restroom at Manasota Beach — were paid for through the funds, he noted.

These are all the areas where the TDT revenue for beach maintenance is used. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Continuing the TDT allocation, he said, would enable the PRNR staff to keep a focus on environmental stewardship and resource management. For example, he added, “Beaches provide habitat that is crucial for turtles and beach-nesting birds.” Some of the species, he pointed out, are protected or endangered.

The funds also help pay for events such as the popular Sandy Claws Beach Run on Siesta Beach each December, the Kids’ Beach Runs each summer at Siesta and Brohard beaches, and Beach University at Siesta Beach, which “averaged 67 participants per class this year.”

The free Beach University offers educational sessions about a wide array of environmental issues.

After Yeager concluded his presentation, Chair Charles Hines — who also chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) — told his colleagues that the TDC members, meeting in mid-April, voted unanimously to recommend the County Commission continue the TDT allocation. “As important as advertising is,” Hines pointed out, the TDC members talked about the fact that “if we get people here [and] our local parks are not well cared for and maintained, they’re not going to come back.”

These are some of the amenities for which the TDT revenue has been utilized. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The TDT funding, Hines added, “is crucial [to keep the maintenance at a high level].”

Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to continue the funding, telling Nicole Rissler, the PRNR director, “Our staff and what you do at all our parks and the beaches is just — I don’t know how anyone can complain.”

The motion passed on a 5-0 vote.

How about some shade for the beach trolley stop?

During the May 8 County Commission discussion about continuing extra Tourist Development Tax funding for beach maintenance, Commissioner Christian Ziegler brought up a concern that he said he hopes can be resolved soon.

The previous weekend, he explained, he took both his older daughters to Siesta Public Beach. Since he never had ridden the open-air Siesta Key Breeze trolley, Ziegler continued, he and the girls used that as their transportation from Turtle Beach to Siesta Beach.

The Breeze heads west toward Beach Road after making its pass through part of Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

“Trolley was packed,” he added. “Shoulder to shoulder.”

The only unsatisfactory part of his experience, he continued, was that when they decided to leave Siesta Beach, they learned they had just missed the Breeze. As a result, they had to stand in the sun for about 20 minutes.

Ziegler said he tried to get his girls into the little bit of shade produced by a light pole, describing the experience as “Brutal.”

“Other people were complaining about it,” he noted.

“I think that that was a little flaw,” he continued, in the design of the new amenities at Siesta Public Beach, which were completed in early 2016.

When Ziegler asked whether staff could use some of the TDT revenue the board was discussing to create shade structures for trolley passengers, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained that she and her staff would be working with Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) and Public Works Department staff members to determine funding sources for such a project.

Whatever can be done to improve the situation, Ziegler responded, “would significantly improve the trolley experience …”

Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) signs on Siesta roads note where the trolley makes regular stops. Rachel Hackney photo

Commissioner Alan Maio then explained that when the improvements were planned at Siesta Public Beach, the trolley was not in existence. (The Breeze was launched in March 2017. Ziegler was just elected to the commission in November 2018.)

When the commissioners hold their final budget workshops for the 2020 fiscal year, Maio added that he was willing to bet that the majority of them would work to ensure money is set aside for the type of shade project Ziegler wanted to see completed.

During that May 8 discussion, Maio also noted the fact that ridership numbers keep climbing for the Breeze.

In light of that comment, The SarasotaNews Leader asked Lisa Potts, communications specialist for SCAT, if she had the April figure.

The number was 48,067, she responded in a May 13 email.

Yet another new attorney for Cosentino

On May 8, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino lost another attorney in his efforts to overturn the County Commission’s May 2016 vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road and ensure implementation of related county Charter amendments that voters passed in November 2018, the News Leader has learned.

Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key began serving as Cosentino’s attorney in the original case after Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral withdrew. The presiding judge at the time — Circuit Judge Frederick P. Mercurio — signed an order on March 29, 2018, making that substitution official.

In his Motion to Withdraw as Counsel of Record filed this month, Rohe wrote, “Due to irreconcilable differences” between himself and Cosentino, they had “terminated their agreement.”

Fred E. Moore. Photo from the Blalock Walters website

Neither Cosentino nor the nonprofit organization Cosentino founded in June 2016 — Reopen Beach Road — “will be prejudiced by the undersigned’s withdrawal,” Rohe continued, “as they are also represented by a second attorney, co-counsel Fred Moore of Blalock Walters [of Bradenton and Sarasota].”

The Blalock Walters website says Moore’s practice “focuses on commercial disputes, with particular emphasis on representing businesses and individuals in contract disputes, land use and real estate litigation, construction disputes, and trust litigation.”

An attorney who served for a period of time as co-counsel for Cosentino with Brookes — Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo — also withdrew from the case. She filed her motion with the Circuit Court on Nov. 14, 2018, saying Cosentino had discharged her.

Gomez-Mayo recently has become more familiar to island residents, as she was named a new member of the Siesta Key Association’s Board of Directors during that nonprofit’s annual meeting in early March.

Fandango still standing, but perhaps not for long

Regular readers will recall that a couple of weeks ago, the News Leader reported on an extension of a Sarasota County permit that would allow Dr. Gary Kompothecras to demolish the former Fandango Café building standing at 1266 Old Stickney Point Road.

On May 13, this reporter found the structure still in place, although the permit appeared to be valid just through May 12, based on county online records.

On May 14, the News Leader contacted county staff for an update on the situation. Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded in an email that day that she had checked with the permitting staff, “and there is an active demolition permit that is valid until November 3. County staff is examining the structure in response to a complaint and has not made a determination on this structure at this time,” she added.

The building that housed the Fandango Cafe stands at 1266 Old Stickney Point Road. Rachel Hackney photo

“The property owner’s representative reached out to staff yesterday,” she continued, “indicating they will be moving forward with a demolition within the next week.”

Kompothecras perhaps is best recognized because of the Siesta KeyMTV series he created and for which he serves as executive producer. It stars his son, Alex, and some of Alex’s friends; Kompothecras also appears in episodes. Previously, Kompothecras was best known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service.

He told the County Commission last year that he would like to use the Fandango Café property as part of the site of a new boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.

Attorney in Siesta Promenade case meets SKA members

Ralf Brookes addresses SKA members on May 2. Rachel Hackney photo

Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, who is handling the lawsuit in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that seeks to halt the construction of Siesta Promenade, met Siesta Key Association members at their meeting on May 2. (See the related article in this issue.)

President Catherine Luckner introduced him and asked him to offer some remarks.

With decades of experience serving as the attorney for local governments, Brookes explained that his practice focuses on citizens groups. “I do not represent developers.”

He added that he also tries “to tailor the services to make it affordable and give you a way to get into the courthouse.”

Brookes noted some of the concerns of Siesta residents if Siesta Promenade is constructed, especially pointing to exacerbated traffic congestion. He pointed out that Benderson Development Co., the developer of Siesta Promenade, plans a new traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.

The portion of Stickney Point Road between U.S. 41 and the island is a relatively short one, Brookes said, to have another traffic light with which drivers would have to contend — along with the openings of the drawbridge. Left-turn lanes would be necessary in conjunction with the redesign of the Stickney Point Road/Avenue B and C intersection, he continued, which would create even longer delays for vehicles waiting at the light.

Sad news for the plovers

A pair of snowy plovers rests on the beach after battling over territory and food. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

After a couple of weeks of good news about the snowy plovers on Siesta this season, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Florida Audubon’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in the county, provided the following report on May 8:

“Unfortunately I have a some bad news to start — Miss Sanibel lost her nest this week. The culprit was most likely a ghost crab.”

“Miss Sanibel” is the name Wilson and volunteers have given one of the female plovers because its banding indicates its earlier residency on Sanibel Island.

“It is still early in the season,” Wilson continued, “and this pair could attempt to re-nest.”

She and volunteers have seen a couple of snowy plovers around two beach accesses, she added, so she was hopeful she would have better news in her next weekly update.