Siesta Seen

County fire chief talks of research into safety measures for homes designed to sleep dozens; Benderson Development fails tree permit inspection on Siesta Promenade site; trolley ridership continues to boom; water quality back to normal in Grand Canal; county staff explains how July 9 sewage spill occurred; proposal calls for Calle Menorca home to make transition to transient accommodations; Lofino Building sold; SKOB losing its general manager; and a final note on snowy plover nesting this season

The houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road (from left) are advertised as being able to sleep up to 24 people. File photo

Over the past couple of years, Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Joe Volpe has been talking with Sarasota County staff about protecting visitors who rent the newer homes on the island built with a multitude of bedrooms.

Jean Cannon, who joined the nonprofit’s board in March, has been assisting Volpe, as she lives near two of those houses on the Key, which are advertised as being able to sleep up to 24 people.

Volpe, especially, has voiced concern that fire suppression systems need to be installed in the homes and that a county fire inspector should ensure visitors will be safe.

With county Fire Chief Michael Regnier appearing before the SKA audience on Aug. 1 to discuss plans for the reconstruction of Station 13 on Siesta, President Catherine Luckner took the opportunity to ask Regnier questions on behalf of Volpe, who was unable to attend the meeting.

The issue of how to handle those towering homes in districts zoned Residential Multi-Family (RMF) on Siesta “is something I’m actually working on right now,” Regnier told Luckner. “How does that affect fire service and safety?”

When it comes to single-family neighborhoods, Regnier explained, “The Fire Department has no jurisdiction over a residence,” he explained. That goes back to the long-held tenet that “a man’s home is his castle,” Regnier added. It is called a “castle law,” he said.

However, he continued, the question of how to handle multi-family housing is much more complicated.

Fire Chief Mike Regnier. Rachel Hackney photo

He acknowledged that “it’s not uncommon” for a house on Siesta Key to have 12 bedrooms, with the owner keeping one available for use and renting out the other 11.

“Today, that’s a residence, plain and simple,” Regnier explained, referencing the law.

Under guidelines linked to business licensing and permitting, he pointed out, the state has established laws requiring that certain measures be taken for fire safety. Thus, he said, a county fire inspector examines a commercial structure to determine whether it complies with the fire code, making sure it has sprinklers and smoke alarms.

Because of Siesta’s zoning restrictions in the Siesta Key Overlay District, he pointed out, no house can stand more than 35 feet above a garage, which essentially allows for a four-story structure. “Should that four-story residence be sprinkled?” That is just one question, he said, that county staff is researching.

With no pun apparently intended, Regnier added, “It’s a hot topic out here.”

So many laws are on the books, he noted, and it is essential for staff to make the correct determination before it proceeds with enforcing specific fire code requirements.

Still, Regnier continued, “I have a fire marshal that is very much in tune to what is happening on Siesta Key” and all other areas of the county, in regard to residential multi-family dwellings.

In response to another concern Volpe has raised, Regnier said the Fire Department’s ladder trucks can reach the top of a four-story building. However, Regnier also acknowledged that because of landscaping and other buffering requirements, it no longer is easy for a ladder truck to pull up adjacent to tall buildings, especially newer construction in the city of Sarasota. “We have to adapt to that.”

The Plymouth Harbor tower west of Bird Key, he noted, is 260 feet tall. “Our biggest ladder goes 100 feet in the air.” That is all the more reason, he explained, that the county fire marshal has to make certain that high-rise structures are in compliance with all fire code regulations.

“We can carry people,” he added. “We can do a lot of things.”

During his remarks, Regnier also took the opportunity to remind the SKA audience that the fire engine at Station 13 is designated ALS, for advanced life support. That means that the firefighters on that engine, he said, “can take care of you” just as emergency room personnel would be able to do.

On Siesta, all the fire station personnel are cross-trained, he continued. That means all emergency medical services crew members can serve as firefighters, too, he said.

A number of the county fire engines on the mainland operate with the Basic Life Support designation, he added, without such cross training.

Station 13, he pointed out, was one of the first in the county to become designed Advanced Life Support.

Moreover, Regnier said, “We try to make sure you have the services that you need out here at all times.”

If both the Station 13 fire engine and EMS vehicle are out on calls, he explained, the Fire Department brings in other units, making sure they are available until the Station 13 equipment returns.

An update on the Siesta Promenade site

This is a view of part of the Siesta Promenade site, across the street from the Avenue A intersection with Stickney Point Road. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Aug. 1 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Erin Kreis asked why the perimeter of the Siesta Promenade site has been surrounded by the type of protective sheeting common on construction sites.

Her question arose after SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out that litigation over Siesta Promenade remains underway in the 12thJudicial Circuit Court in Sarasota.

Benderson Development Co. and its affiliate, Siesta 41 Associates LLC, won a county permit on July 11 that will allow demolition on the site of the proposed mixed-use project in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41. However, the companies need a tree permit before they can begin clearing the Siesta Promenade property of septic tanks and concrete pads that are remnants of the Pine Shores Trailer Park.

Responding to a Sarasota News Leader request for an update this week, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant reported in an Aug. 12 email that the July 26 county inspection for the tree permit was classified as “Failed.”

The staff report, she said, cited the following: “Cedars and oaks were to be preserved per initial site meeting. Barricades are not protecting trees discussed. Some barricades are around dead trees and exotic/invasive trees. Barricades in wrong location/around wrong trees.

This is a closeup view of one section of the tree boundary diagram for the Siesta Promenade site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The tree permit application submitted to the county says the trees to be removed are as follows: four maples, 31 oaks, 88 palms, 51 pines and 21 trees of unknown species.

The trees to be protected, the application continues, are two Grand Pines and “various others shown on plan that were identified by County Staff.”

The application, formally filed by WRA Engineering of University Park, points out that the impacted area encompasses 984,456 square feet. (A web-based calculator says that that square footage is equal to 22.6 acres.)

Benderson and Siesta 41 Associates plan 414 condominiums/apartments, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of commercial space and 7,000 square feet of office space on the approximately 24 acres. On Dec. 12, 2018, the firms won County Commission approval to undertake the development. (See the related article in this issue.)

Trolley continues to keep high tally of passengers

The Siesta Key Breeze prepares to make its turn south from Ocean Boulevard onto Beach Road. Rachel Hackney photo

With no red tide threatening tourism thus far this summer, ridership on the Siesta Key Breeze trolley has been booming, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) has reported.

The July ridership was 28,123, Lisa Potts, SCAT communications specialist, told the News Leader this week.

When the News Leader inquired about the expanded hours of service, Potts noted, “The trolley did extend its morning hours to begin at 8 a.m. We are continuously working to align the trolley service hours with customer needs. After receiving a favorable show of interest for the extended service, we are currently on a trial basis for the new start time and are consistently monitoring the hours to best fit the demands of ridership.”

An ‘All Clear’ for the Grand Canal

An aerial map shows the site of the Siesta Key Master Pump Station adjacent to the Grand Canal. Image from Google Maps

On Aug. 13, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County lifted a health advisory issued on July 10, after the Sarasota County Public Utilities Department reported a spill of 36,000 gallons of untreated sewage had entered the Grand Canal near 5200 Oakmont Place.

The advisory urged individuals not to come into contact with water in the canal, a Health Department news release pointed out.

“Water samples taken by Sarasota County Utilities indicate that bacteria levels in the Grand Canal have returned to acceptable levels,” the Aug. 13 release said. “The health advisory signage will be removed,” it added.

“At this time, there are no advisories in place on any Sarasota beach, or waterway,” the Aug. 13 release pointed out.

“When making beach day plans, be sure to check the latest reports on beach conditions,” the release said. Click here for beach water testing results.

Additionally, a person may visit, the release notes.Click on “water monitoring” and then “bacterial testing” to check beach water testing results of area Gulf beaches.

And speaking of the sewage spill …

The News Leader this week asked county staff for a more detailed explanation of what happened that led to the sewage spill in the Grand Canal on July 9.

After all, during presentations a couple of years ago to the Siesta Key Association (SKA), when the Master Pump Station project was getting underway, Dave Cash, county Water/Wastewater Division manager, explained that numerous system redundancies and other measures were being designed to ensure no spills would occur, even in the event of a hurricane.

County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester provided the following accounting of the July 9 incident from Public Utilities staff:

David A. Cash addresses SKA members in April 2016. File photo

“The Siesta Key Master Pump Station utilizes a large transmission main [line] to transport flow to the mainland for treatment. During high flow conditions, a booster pump on this transmission main activates automatically to assist with transporting flow during high flow conditions such as those experienced on the afternoon of July 9, 2019. The booster pump failed due to a bad starter on the diesel engine that powers the pump. While the pump was being repaired, the volume in the Master Pump Station increased and spilled for a short period of time until the pump was repaired.

“The incident has been examined,” staff continued, “and Sarasota County is implementing additional safeguards to prevent future occurrences including procedural changes, adding automation and increasing inspections of the booster pump. The booster pump is also going to be replaced within the next year. The new pump station will include more redundancies in the event of a failure.”

A new proposal for transient accommodations on the Key

During the Aug. 1 Siesta Key Association meeting, President Catherine Luckner reported on a proposal by the owners of the house at 5228 Calle Menorca to turn it into transient accommodations.

Built in 1980, the structure was designed for two families, according to Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records. The parcel, which comprises 4,565 square feet, those records note, is zoned Commercial General.

The owners, Max Nuebler Jr. and Paula J. Nuebler of Hawkins Road in Sarasota, have owned the property since Aug. 1985, the Property Appraiser’s Office records show. They paid $106,000 for it.

The house is behind Siesta Beach Plaza, which is home to Flavio’s and Subway.

Luckner indicated that county staff had notified the SKA of the pre-application submitted by the owners, who wanted to make the transition to what the county calls “transient rentals.” In other words, people could rent space in the house for as short a time as a day, as they do with hotel rooms, she indicated.

“It’s a very, very small lot,” she said, adding that it was approximately one-tenth of an acre.

An aerial map shows the house at 5228 Calle Menorca, behind the Siesta Beach Plaza. Image from Google Maps

The owners would need a Special Exception from the county to make the change, Luckner explained. In her reading of the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations, County Commission approval is necessary, she added.

SKA members might recall that when Gidget’s Coastal Provisions was constructed a number of years ago on Ocean Boulevard, Luckner noted. The design encompassed three small apartments on the upper floor, and those are designated transient accommodations. Enough parking spaces were available for the owners of that property to gain county approval for that situation, she said.

When the County Commission approved Gidget’s transient accommodations in January 2014, material provided in advance of the meeting pointed out that those units would be rented for no fewer than 30 days at a time. Siesta architect Mark Smith also explained to the commissioners that one parking space would be required for each unit.

Smith worked with the owners of the property, Jim Syprett and Jay Lancer, on the design of the retail business and the apartments.

Through a public records request this week, the News Leader obtained a copy of the pre-application proposal for 5228 Calle Menorca. County staff received it on May 7, according to a stamp on the document. Kim Francel, public records coordinator for the county, noted that no formal petition for a Special Exception had been filed with county staff as of Aug. 12.

This is the draft Binding Development Concept Plan for the transient accommodations at 5228 Calle Menorca. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Submitted by G. Matthew Brockway of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota, the pre-application says that Chad Waites of Iola Drive in Sarasota has a contract to purchase the property from the Nueblers.

In a letter accompanying the pre-application, Brockway wrote, “No material improvements or alterations to the existing building or the Property are contemplated, apart from cosmetic and interior improvements to the two existing dwelling units. No site improvements or alterations are required or contemplated by the proposed Special Exception.”

A new owner for the former Lofino Building

The News Leader learned recently that the office building at 5011 Ocean Blvd., at the northern end of Siesta Village, has been sold again.

This is the building at 5011 Ocean Blvd. Rachel Hackney photo

In December 2017, Chris Brown — who owns the Beach Club, The Cottage, the Hub Baja Grill and the new My Village Pub (MVP) restaurant in the Key Corners plaza in Siesta Village, among other properties — bought what was then called the Lofino Building from the Lofino Family for $1,350,000, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show.

On July 17, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say, a limited liability company Brown had established — Ocean Blvd LLC — sold the property to another limited liability company — American XIV LLC of Seffner — for $1,850,000.

According to Florida Division of Corporations records, the registered agent for American XIV is Mark Kara of Seffner. That limited liability company was established on June 20, the Florida Secretary of State’s office records note.

Buzzfile, which touts itself as “The Most Advanced Company Information Database,” indicates that Kara is the principal at American Towing & Transport LLC. Buzzfile says that company “primarily operates in the Towing Service, Automotive business/industry within the Automotive Repair, Services and Parking sector.”

The Better Business Bureau says Kara is the owner of American & Import Auto Parts, which was established in May 1993. Seffner is in Hillsborough County.

The total market value of the 5011 Ocean Blvd. property this year is $1,244,700, up from $1,115,200 in 2018, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say. The building dates to 1986, but the records indicate that it was updated in 1994. The total habitable area of the structure is 8,934 square feet, the records note.

For many years, before its purchase by The Observer Group, the Pelican Presscalled the Lofino Building home. One of the building’s current tenants is Eric Fleming, the attorney who is chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

SKOB losing its general manager

Stephanie Brown. Photo courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

The August edition of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce newsletter announced that Stephanie Brown, general manager of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) — and secretary of the Chamber’s board since 2017 — is leaving for a new position with Pop’s Sunset Grill on the waterway in Nokomis.

Board member Gabe Hartmann of The Inn on Siesta Keyhas accepted the role as Chamber secretary, the newsletter added.

Brown became general manager of SKOB in 2015.

Pauper plovers encore

Indeed, this did not prove to be a good summer for the snowy plovers on Siesta Key.

Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in the county, wrote in an email, “On the first day of August I am surprised to say that the breeding season is pretty much over in Sarasota. Our last few Least Tern chicks on Lido began to fly last week and I have seen fewer around overall, a sign that they are making their way to South America for the winter. The Black Skimmers are slowly but surely spreading out and leaving Lido. More Snowy Plovers are arriving at Siesta for the non-breeding season — the recent count was 12. Additionally we are seeing more of our migratory, wintering species pop up. Among them are the Red Knot, Piping Plover, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover and Willet.”

While Wilson has reported over the past months about the successes of the Least Terns and Black Skimmers in nesting on Lido, she has bemoaned the problems the snowy plovers have endured on Siesta.

She reported that 322 black skimmer chicks fledged this season — “A really productive year for these guys!” — and 80 least tern chicks fledged. “Fledge” refers to the ability of a young bird to handle sustained flight.

“Very sadly,” she wrote of the snowy plovers in that Aug. 1 email, “there was no productivity and overall lower numbers this year. We had at most 3 breeding pairs and 7 nests (6 on Siesta and 1 on Lido). It just goes to show that some things are harder to control than people. The primary causes of nest lost were:

“1) ghost crabs (3 nests)

“2) overwash (2 nests)

“3) crows (confirmed, 1 nest)

“Hopefully with some more predator management we will be able to restore nesting success for these birds on Siesta. Other issues, like the weather and habitat changes, are less solvable. Still, I am keeping my ‘wings crossed’ for a better season next year.”

Ms. Sanibel sits on one of her nests this season. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

She did provide one final update on a banded snowy plover she and her volunteers called Ms. Sanibel, as a result of that banding: “In 4 months she had 4 nest attempts on Siesta. And she went on to lay another nest in Englewood. Although she was not successful this season it certainly was not for lack of trying.”

Wilson concluded her email with the following: “I am so so thankful for all of you who put in time to volunteer this season! The birds and I would not make it without all of you!!”