Siesta Seen

New details available about two transportation projects; Gruters’ ‘No Smoking’ bill dies in Legislature this year; Village property values up again; Village maintenance expenses continue to fall; Chamber members get update on garbage, benches and disappearing ‘arms’; maintenance manager to retire at end of September; and positive news again about the plovers

A county graphic shows details of the planned improvements at the intersection of Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During an extensive staff presentation about transportation on May 21, the County Commission learned a bit more about the plans for safety improvements at the intersection of Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive.

Paula Wiggins, county transportation planning manager, noted that staff has been working both with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and representatives of Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS) about those plans, as numerous crashes have occurred at that sharp curve on the northern part of Siesta.

Make Siesta Drive Safer leaders discussed their efforts at length on two occasions with Siesta Key Association members, including MSDS’ focus on the Higel/Siesta curve.

During the Siesta Key Association meeting on Jan. 5, 2018, Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Association — of which Make Siesta Drive Safer is a committee — reported that between 2012 and 2015, 180 crashes involving more than 300 vehicles were recorded on the 1.9-mile stretch from Osprey Avenue to Higel Avenue, with many of them occurring in the vicinity of the curve.

On May 21, Wiggins reminded the commissioners about the proposed swap of roads on Siesta to county authority, in exchange for FDOT’s assuming control of River Road. (On May 13, County Engineer Spencer Anderson told The Sarasota News Leader that the swap will occur this summer.)

After the road swap has been completed, Wiggins pointed out, FDOT has agreed to fund the project at the Higel/Siesta Drive intersection, but county staff will oversee its construction.

A graphic created by Make Siesta Drive Safer shows the locations of accidents on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue between 2012 and 2015. Image courtesy Make Siesta Drive Safer

A slide Wiggins showed the board includes notations about the addition of 108 linear feet of guardrail along the westbound section of Siesta Drive on the approach to the curve; the removal of the existing guardrail just south of the intersection; the addition of another 108 linear feet of guardrail further south of the curve; and a 225-foot-long traffic separator through the curve.

A second project planned on the Key is listed in FDOT’s latest Five-Year Work Program for 2022. That is the resurfacing of Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Road intersection to Shadow Lawn Way. Altogether, the length of that initiative is 1.635 miles, the Work Program document says. The project’s total expense has been put at $2,718,402.

‘Died’ in committee

As this year was getting underway, state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota County was getting a lot of attention for filing a bill to prohibit the smoking of tobacco on public beaches.

Years ago, residents and visitors — including Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, known as Dr. Beach — enjoyed a smoke-free environment on Siesta Public Beach. That was before a 12thJudicial Circuit Court judge ruled that state law prevented the City and County of Sarasota from banning smoking in public places.

‘Smoke-Free Zone’ signs used to be posted at county beaches. File photo

In early March, as the Florida Legislature’s session was getting underway, Gruters filed his bill, which was referred to three committees.

As the session went on, and water quality and other issues took high priorities, it could be said that Gruters’ bill was relegated to relative obscurity.

The final notice on the bill’s webpage for the 2019 session says that on May 3, it was “[i]ndefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.”

Additionally, the webpage notes, the bill “died” in the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Village property values rise again

The value of the property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District once again is up, based on the preliminary values released by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office on May 24.

Although final values will not be available until just before July 1, the preliminary figure for the Village Public Improvement District this year is $77,015,705. The final value for 2018 was $72,793,969. Thus, the new figure reflects an increase of close to 5.8%.

The owners of the property in the Public Improvement District pay assessments each year that finance the Village upkeep.

In response to one property owner’s questions via email in early May, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for the county who serves as the liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., noted that the 2020 fiscal year budget for the Public Improvement District will fall “as a result of more efficient and lower costs for contract services awarded last year.”

A couple with a stroller crosses Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village on the evening of Oct. 4, 2018. File photo

In 2018, county staff for the first time split the maintenance responsibilities into two contracts; one covers the general upkeep, including garbage collection, while the other is for landscaping and related services.

“This, combined with a paydown from the reserve fund has decreased revenue assessments to property owners from $141,594.00 this year (FY19) to $130,910.00 (FY20) next year,” Cece continued in a May 6 email to Michael Holderness, who owns the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites on Ocean Boulevard.

“Due to new construction/utility/undergrounding work occurring more frequently due to new storefronts that are converting to a more modern type venue with new utilities such as gas, the expense portion of the budget has been increased,” Cece added. “The other contingency variable is unknown public damage by car accidents, vandalism, graffiti, and other issues,” she wrote.

The Village Maintenance Corp expenses for FY19 were budgeted at $162,944, Cece pointed out. That figure has been increased in FY20 to a total of $173,547, she added.

And speaking of Village maintenance …

As usual, Michael Shay, manager of Village maintenance, had interesting tidbits to share with Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members when about 20 of them gathered at the Daiquiri Deck for their quarterly meeting on May 22.

Shay first noted that since the last quarterly meeting in February, a new, large bike rack has been installed at Bonjour French Café on Ocean Boulevard.

“We had a bench there that was very damaged,” he said. Over time, he had observed that a lot of the restaurant’s patrons were using bicycles, he continued, but “they were tying bikes to trees, benches, everything.”

Since the new bike rack was installed, Shay added, “I will say that I have not seen bicycles tied to the benches, which is a good thing.”

Armrests were added to some of the benches in the Village gazebo in 2016. File photo

Next, Shay reported that a vehicle struck the bench in front of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar at some point, but no report was filed with the Sheriff’s Office about the incident. “We just fixed [that bench] this week.”

Then Shay reported that the arms were removed from one of the benches in the gazebo. They just disappeared, he added. “We found one of ’em.”

He was not certain why the arms were removed, he continued, questioning what other purpose the arms could serve. At any rate, he added, “We replaced [them].”

About six weeks ago, Shay said, an automobile accident in front of the Lofino Building, at the northern end of the Village, damaged plumbing lines and a “No Parking” sign.

The Siesta Key Oyster Bar is busy on a September 2018 evening. Rachel Hackney photo

Additionally, the bollard near the Coldwell Banker office “became like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” tilting at a 45-degree angle. County staff repaired that, Shay said.

As for garbage: During the traditional, prime spring break month of March, the Village usually sees big crowds, Shay indicated. This year, too, he noted, right before Easter in late April, “The Village was extremely busy.”

On a normal basis, he said, the company that handles the garbage collections — under contract with the county — does not pick up materials on Tuesdays and Saturdays. However, “For about a two-week period, we had to do seven days a week.” Waste Management, which collects the garbage that the contractor puts in the dumpster in the public parking lot between Avenida Madera and Avenida de Mayo, had to come in for extra pickups, as well, Shay added.

Announcing a retirement

Michael Shay. Rachel Hackney photo

During the May 22 quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Michael Shay announced that he will be retiring as the Village Maintenance Corp. manager at the end of the current fiscal year, which will be Sept. 30.

He will have served in the position for five years, he pointed out to the News Leaderbefore the meeting began.

He is hopeful, he told the Chamber members, that his replacement will be hired in August or September, before he steps down, so he can train that person. That, he said, would lead to “an easy transition beginning Oct. 1.”

“Thank you for everything that you do,” Chamber Chair Eric Fleming told Shay. “And good luck with your retirement.”

Nesting update for the plovers

After a batch of bad news in early May, subsequent reports on the Key’s snowy plovers have proven positive.

On May 17, Kylie Wilson, program coordinator of Audubon Florida’sBird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in Sarasota County, wrote in her weekly update, “[W]ehave another nest on Siesta! … [I]t is likely a re-nest (second attempt after a failed nest) of the banded female,” whom Wilson and her volunteers call Green/White, or Ms. Sanibel.

“Using my camera I was able to see two eggs just barely poking up out of the nest bowl,” Wilson continued. “The third egg will hopefully be laid by the weekend and the female will begin incubating.”

Miss Sanibel has been incubating her eggs on the Siesta Beach. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

In her May 23 update, Wilson wrote, “First off I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has volunteered so far this season.” Thanks to all of their help, she continued, more than 1,200 people have been “educated about the beach-nesting birds since April!! The work you all do has a huge impact and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Truly I am so grateful to know all of you amazing people!”

Then Wilson reported, “Ms. Sanibel is still dutifully incubating her eggs … The nest is kind of out in the open, which makes it really easy to show people while stewarding.”

If a steward has a spotting scope or binoculars, she added, the steward should try to use that equipment to show people the nest.

“I took out the scope last weekend and it was amazing to see people light up when they realized there really is a bird nesting in there!!” Wilson continued. “This also lets people get a closer look without having to get too close.”