Siesta Seen

County staff continues work on South Midnight Pass Road public parking lot; Siesta Key Breeze wins more plaudits as staff continues work on potential for longer route; correction offered about North Shell Road parking prohibition petition; Siesta Key Association’s day in court for Big Pass moved up to July 23; and county staff answers question about a public parking space that had vanished

A July 2018 graphic provided the County Commission an update on the status of the property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road at that time. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the County Commission’s June 18 budget workshop, Commissioner Alan Maio asked whatever had become of the county property located at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road, which the board members previously had eyed as a possible turnaround spot for the Siesta Key Breeze.

As he recalled, Maio said, the board members had considered that site as a potential location for restrooms and perhaps a kiosk with Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and other community information and brochures.

Rob Lewis, interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), replied that he was not certain, but staff would look into the status of the property, which once housed a training facility for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and still has a building that encloses a Public Utilities Department water tank.

In response to a request fromThe Sarasota News Leader,

Kim Francel, the county’s public records coordinator, provided materials in a June 21 email. The documents show that staff has been working on an internal application for a Special Exception to change the portion of the site where the Sheriff’s Office structure stood, with parking spaces, to “public parking only.”

Pre-application materials submitted to the county’s Development Review Committee (DRC) in advance of that group’s May 16 meeting said the 1.83-acre site is zoned Residential Multi-Family (RMF) 1; staff proposes that section of the property retain that zoning designation.

Staff also is seeking to create a public surface parking lot comprising 11,070 square feet, the material said.

The anticipated construction timeline called for the work to begin in July, the document noted, with completion planned in October.

Before the end of 2017, the Sheriff’s Office formally vacated this training center on county property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road. File photo

Among DRC member comments about the project, a notation from a SCAT representative explained that the trolley stops at the nearby SCAT stop. “Upon completion of the parking lot, SCAT will move this stop closer/in front of said parking area,” the notation added, referring to the South Midnight Pass Road site.

The amount of impervious area on the parcel is 8,672 square feet, the staff material pointed out. That is proposed to increase to 16,114 square feet. An engineering drawing accompanying the material indicated a mix of concrete and stone would be used to create the parking area.

However, a Zoning Division representative on the DRC explained, “Siesta Key Overlay District does not require paved parking, so alternative surface is permitted.” That notation did point out, though, that the overlay district includes a restriction that puts the maximum impervious lot coverage at 50% in the RMF Zoning District.

Stormwater facilities already are on the property, the document noted, but new facilities would be added.

A county Public Utilities Department building on the property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road conceals a water tank. Rachel Hackney photo

The following is a sampling of other comments:

  • A 10-foot-wide buffer would be required along Midnight Pass Road.
  • A 20-foot-wide landscaped buffer with a minimum of 20% opacity would be required between the property and Crescent Plaza to the north.
  • “Parking lots shall contain no more than 15 parking spaces in a row without a [10-foot-wide] landscaped island. Each island shall be curbed and contain a large tree.
  • “All rows of parking spaces shall terminate in a curbed landscaped island.”

Another DRC member asked about the intended users of the lot, noting that Beach Access 12 is nearby. “Beach visitors? General public? Other?”

In her June 21 email, Francel, the public records coordinator, wrote that the proposed project had not proceeded beyond pre-application status.

And speaking of the trolley …

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

County Commission attention also focused on the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley as the board members reviewed the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) budget for the next fiscal year.

The Breeze, SCAT Interim Director Rob Lewis said on June 18, “remains one of our, if not the, most popular routes.”

As of that date, he continued, 233,822 people had ridden the trolley during the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2018. “We certainly expect that in four months, we will break last year’s record [of 250,000].”

Lewis added that the trolley’s popularity just continues to grow.

Not only has it led to a reduction in the number of vehicles on Siesta’s roads, Lewis continued, but it also has led to more economic development on both ends of the island, with people using the Breeze to easily access businesses and restaurants.

As he has in the past, Commissioner Alan Maio talked of his fear that, after pushing for the establishment of the trolley, he would see ridership at no more than 3,000 a month. “We’re now … [seeing] 40,000 riders a month. That’s just a phenomenal thing, the trolley.”

The lowest ridership count for any month thus far this fiscal year has been 12,400,” Lewis responded.

Then Chair Charles Hines referenced past comments from Siesta residents and the commissioners themselves about the potential of extending the Breeze’s route to the northern end of the island, as well as finding spots for pullouts, where the trolley could stop to allow vehicles to pass it legally.

Reprising remarks he made to members of the Siesta Key Condominium Council in March, Lewis responded that the problem has been identifying a suitable location for the trolley to turn around on the northern end of Siesta. From the Turtle Beach Park parking lot, he noted, it travels to Morton’s Siesta Market in Siesta Village.

No area on the northern end — except potentially Nora Patterson Bay Island Park — has been found thus far to have enough room to accommodate the turnaround, Lewis added. Yet, the park is not the perfect location, he continued, because of the difficulty in making left turns out of it.

People picnic in Nora Patterson Bay Island Park on a summer afternoon. Rachel Hackney photo

Moreover, Lewis said, if the trolley continued to a park-and-ride spot on the mainland, that would add “time and effort,” as well as expense.

Additionally, he noted, people might be reluctant to use park-and-ride lots because of worries about handling beach gear, such as chairs, on the Breeze.

As for the pullouts: Most of that comes down to a matter of right of way access, Lewis explained, and it would be expensive for the county to try to acquire any of that right of way on the Key. He could not imagine any property owner, he said, “being happy with eminent domain to take right of way.” He suggested such a county initiative would be “a tremendously poor use of … time and our resources.”

Further, he told the board, “There are some parts of Siesta Key that really don’t want a pullout in front of their property. We’ve experienced that in my past lives with the county.”

This is not Lewis’ first time serving as interim SCAT director. He has held a number of other positions with the county, too, through his decades of service on the staff.

Lewis did point out to the commissioners that mobile apps for the trolley are available on both the Android and Apple operating systems. “You can, with a great degree of predictability,” pursue other activities, such as shopping, while being assured of the time when you should be at a SCAT stop to catch the trolley, he pointed out.

A correction

A News Leader article published on June 14 incorrectly stated which public parking spaces on North Shell Road have been proposed for elimination.

The residents who submitted a petition to the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) are seeking a prohibition of parking on both sides of the road just between the house at 3935 N. Shell Road and the cul-de-sac at Beach Access 1, the News Leaderhas learned.

Vehicles are parked on either side of North Shell Road, with Beach Access 1 at the end of the street. These are spots property owners on the road are seeking to have eliminated. File photo

As one resident wrote the News Leader in an email last week, “These areas have been most problematic with the parking problems (cars blocking residence driveways and preventing vehicles, emergency and others, from turning around in the cul-de-sac).”

The Traffic Advisory Council is scheduled to address the petition during its meeting on Sept. 3.

SKA’s Big Pass hearing moved to July 23

Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh has agreed to reschedule a hearing in the Siesta Key Association’s Big Pass case from Aug. 16 to July 23.

Leaders of the nonprofit asked for an earlier date after learning that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had issued a solicitation for bids for the Lido Key Renourishment Project, and the responses from companies were due by July 2. (The deadline has been extended two weeks. See the related article in this issue.)

The Silvertooth Judicial Center is located on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. File photo

Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner told members during their June 6 meeting that concern had arisen that the USACE and its co-applicant for the state permit for the Lido project — the City of Sarasota — might try to start dredging Big Sarasota Pass before the SKA’s litigation had been concluded. Thus, the nonprofit’s board worked to move up the hearing date.

The SKA has contended that the city has failed to comply with its own policies, as well as Sarasota County regulations, by not conducting a formal process to determine that removal of sand from the pass for placement on about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach is consistent with those policies and regulations.

Last week, Stephanie Erb, judicial assistant to McHugh, notified all parties in the case that the hearing will begin at 1 p.m. on July 23 in Courtroom 6C at the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center, which is located at 2002 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

Originally, McHugh had planned on most of a day to entertain evidence from the SKA, the city and the Lido Key Residents Association, which was allowed to intervene in the case.

Whither the public parking spot by Oceane?

A truck is parked in the public parking space on Ocean Boulevard, with another vehicle pulled off on the shoulder of the road, in August 2013. File photo

In 2013, staff of what was then the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department carved out a tiny public parking space on right of way next to an open parcel on Ocean Boulevard with a close-up view of Lido Key, across Big Pass.

The project began in the spring of that year and was completed by late summer.

The space was delineated by a rope-and-post system. A typical Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) kiosk was posted adjacent to it, as well, to explain the rules for beach access. Anyone using the parking space could amble on down the adjacent road to a spot popular for vista viewing and fishing.

The total investment for the project was about $5,000, then-county spokesman Curt Preisser told the News Leader.

On a side note, Preisser said staff research found that the public right of way was established in the early 1900s.

Then, in the late winter of 2017, a developer and a luxury real estate firm announced plans for the first new condominium development on Siesta since 2009. Called Oceane, it was designed for construction on the Ocean Boulevard property that once afforded expansive views of Big Pass and South Lido to drivers and people using the PRNR pocket parking space. Oceane’s official address is 4740 Ocean Blvd.

After work began on the complex last year, the public parking space disappeared.

This kiosk was installed at the public parking spot across from the Givens Street/Ocean Boulevard intersection. File photo

Although this reporter had noticed the situation, a reader’s inquiry reminded the News Leader finally to ask county staff for an explanation.

Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant pored over a number of county documents to arrive at that explanation.

Apparently, in 2005, she told the News Leader, the County Commission gave developers the right to use public spaces, like the one on Ocean Boulevard, as the developers work on construction projects.

Based on her understanding of the materials, Grant said, the use of that parking place on Ocean Boulevard actually was part of the construction site work plans that the Oceane project team members submitted to the county in 2016 and for which they won approval from the Building Department.

Grant determined that after Oceane has been completed, the developer — Crossgate Partners LLC, based in Suwanee, Ga. — will have to remove all equipment from the area of the public parking space. She pointed out that the county did not grant Crossgate an easement for any permanent structure on the site of the parking spot.

Based on a review of Realtor websites this week, the News Leaderfound that the expected completion of Oceane is in August.

The most recent construction update on the project website pointed out that the framing and stucco work was to begin on Jan. 21, with the elevator installation set for the first week of February. Needless to say, that post was several months old.

One other piece of news to note from the official Oceane website is the fact that Michael Saunders & Company is listed as the firm to which inquiries about purchases should be directed. Originally, Peter Laughlin, a broker associate with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, was the point person for anyone with an interest in Oceane. A July 3 check of Laughlin’s Sarasota County listings found no mention of Oceane.

Subsequent July 3 searches on real estate websites found listings for only two of the six condos that Oceane will encompass. One was priced at $4,199,000; the other, at $3,999,000.

One of those websites, SaraSellsSarasota, carries a notice that its listings are updated daily.

Progress on the Oceane condominium complex is evident in April. Rachel Hackney photo