Siesta Seen

Siesta Key Association member proposes 15 mph speed limit in Siesta Village; suggestion made to aid drivers on Stickney Point Road heading to the beach; rope-and-post saga near Beach Access 2 continues; Cosentino finally gets his appeal court brief filed, a day late; and SKA directors continue work on new website

Most of the traffic is heading south on Ocean Boulevard on the afternoon of Aug. 8, just after entering Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

A Realtor who is member of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) has proposed the lowering of the speed limit in Siesta Village from 20 mph to 15 mph, SKA President Catherine Luckner told members during their regular meeting on Aug. 1.

The Realtor, whom Luckner declined to name, made the suggestion after considering the similarity of Siesta Village to Southside Village, which is on Osprey Avenue in the city of Sarasota, Luckner added. Both business districts have a lot of people moving around on foot, many of them using crosswalks, she added.

“Until I was just about run over [in Siesta Village],” Luckner said — along with having seen other near misses involving vehicles and pedestrians in Siesta Village — Luckner added that she had not thought of how much alike the two areas are.

Further, Luckner told the approximately 30 members present, the Realtor had proposed discussions with Sarasota County about lowering the speed limit on northbound Ocean Boulevard from 35 mph to 20 mph until traffic is north of the Treasure Boat Way intersection.

Although the 20 mph speed limit remains in effect just north of Siesta Village, Luckner pointed out, drivers routinely “are flooring it” before they pass the crosswalk on Ocean Boulevard at the Treasure Boat Way intersection.

Drivers often speed up just north of Siesta Village, after passing the 20 mph sign. Rachel Hackney photo

“The pedestrian crossings are not well marked” outside the Village, Luckner noted.

“We’re interested in your feedback on [the proposals],” Luckner told the members.

And speaking of traffic …

During the Aug. 1 SKA meeting, rain streamed down outside the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where the nonprofit’s members were gathered. As a result, President Catherine Luckner continued the general question-and-answer period a bit longer than usual, after noting that few people seemed inclined to brave the downpour.

One member took advantage of the extra time to suggest the SKA look into whether the county could erect signage for westbound traffic on Stickney Point Road — well east of the Midnight Pass Road intersection — so drivers would know they need to be in the right lane if they are heading to the public beach.

That would save a lot of last-minute lane changes, the woman indicated, especially during the height of tourist season.

“That’s a good thought,” Luckner replied.

Call it a stalemate

In June 2018, The Sarasota News Leader learned that a rope-and-post system had been installed on what appeared to be county right of way at the intersection of Avenida Messina and North Beach Road, next to Beach Access 2.

In response to a News Leader inquiry at that time, county staff reported that the rope-and-post system was indeed in the county’s right of way. “Staff will be contacting the owner to get it removed,” then-Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby wrote in an email.

On June 7, 2018, the rope-and-post system stands around the lawn of the condominium building at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Beach Road. File photo

The rope-and-post system appeared after the Sheriff’s Office substation leader at the time — Sgt. Jason Mruczek — had fielded a lot of complaints at Siesta Key Association meetings about large numbers of young people partying at Beach Access 2 at night.

More than a year later, the posts are still in place, but the ropes are pretty much gone.

And county staff still is trying to rectify the right of way encroachment issue, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant told the News Leader last week.

As for what happened to the ropes: On Jan. 5, the Sheriff’s Office took a report about the ropes having been cut. The representative of the Sunset Point Condominium Association who contacted the Sheriff’s Office indicated that the incident must have occurred sometime between 4 p.m. and midnight the previous day, the report noted.

The “thick rope fence” was estimated to have been approximately 100 yards long, the report added. The damage was put at $3,600.

“The complainant advised there were no witnesses to the event, nor are there any surveillance cameras on the property,” which could have captured the incident, the report explained.

The narrative of the report did note that the officer had learned from the condo association representative that the association had installed the rope barrier to separate the roadway from Beach Access 2.

When the officer checked the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website, the report continued, the officer found that the property appeared to be Sarasota County right of way. The condo association representative then told the officer that “a small section (grass area)” of the parcel at 49 Beach Road “belongs to the County,” the report said. The association representative added that she maintained the grass area and that the county had cited the association for installing the rope. However, the report noted that according to the association representatives, the citation for encroachment on county right of way had been dismissed.

The officer finally concluded the report by writing that, after reviewing the county Geographical Information System (GIS) map of the area, the officer had determined “there is insufficient evidence to substantiate a crime was committed.”

On Aug. 8, the ropes are pretty much gone. Rachel Hackney photo

After the News Leader learned of that incident, in April, this reporter spoke with then-Sgt. Paul Cernansky, who was still leader of the Siesta Key Substation for the Sheriff’s Office. (After his promotion to lieutenant in late April, Cernansky was given a new assignment.)

During the April 11 telephone interview, Cernansky reiterated the facets of the incident report that said no witnesses to the January incident could be found, so the Sheriff’s Office had no suspects. “All leads were exhausted.”

A detective had looked into the case, he pointed out.

With no leads, the case was classified as Inactive, Cernansky said. Then it was reclassified as a Public Service Call.

The News Leader learned about the January incident by reading an exchange in the county’s public email folder. In that exchange — which County Commission Chair Charles Hines forwarded to Sheriff Tom Knight on March 23 — the condo association representative who had contacted the Sheriff’s Office in January reported that the ropes were replaced three times after the January incident; yet, following each repair, they were cut again. “No word from anyone about the reported vandalism,” the person wrote in a March 16 email. (That person asked not to be identified in this article.)

One part of that email exchange involved Cernansky, who explained, “We can only issue a citation after the fact if we personally witness a violation.”

When the News Leader asked county staff this week for the update on the right of way situation regarding the posts, Media Relations Specialist Grant responded on Aug. 14. It took a while, she said in a telephone interview, to sort out which county department has authority over the situation. Finally, she continued, she learned that the Land Development Division was the appropriate one.

County staff members, she said, are looking into how best to eliminate the posts from the right of way. She was unable to provide any timeline for when a decision might be reached, emphasizing the ongoing research.

Grant added that the most suitable characterization she could provide for the situation, based on interaction county staff had had with the affected property owners, was “a stalemate.”

Updates on the Cosentino legal cases

In early July, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino missed his deadline for filing his reply brief with the Second District Court of Appeal in the original North Beach Road case he initiated against the County Commission in June 2016.

The Office of the County attorney and M. Lewis Hall III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, the attorney for intervenors in the case, argued strenuously against Cosentino’s request that the court give Cosentino a fourth extension for filing that brief. Nonetheless, the court granted Cosentino even more time than he had sought — until Aug. 12, instead of July 31.

Mike Cosentino addresses the County Commission on Aug. 29, 2018. File photo

Cosentino blamed his former attorney, Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key, for failing to provide him materials he needed for the reply brief.

Cosentino also had let his third attorney in the case — Fred E. Moore of Blalock Walters in Bradenton — step away from it. That decision left Cosentino acting on his own.

In late June, in a hearing before 12thJudicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh on a related case, Cosentino said Moore was “not up to speed” on all the issues in the two cases.

Cosentino subsequently filed a motion in the Circuit Court, requesting that McHugh allow him to represent himself in the original North Beach Road lawsuit. He contended that that made the most sense, as he had been acting pro sein the related case, which involves the two Sarasota County Charter amendments he wrote and for which he won voter approval in the November 2018 General Election.

As for the Court of Appeal situation: Morgan Bentley of the Bentley & Bruning firm in Sarasota had predicted in an interview with the News Leader that the Second District Court of Appeal would prove lenient with Cosentino on the latest reply brief extension; the judges generally are “pretty forgiving,” as Bentley put it.

However, in its July 24 decision allowing the latest delay, the Court of Appeal wrote, “Any further requests for an extension will be denied.”

The court also refused a request in Cosentino’s motion for a judge to review, in private, materials attorney Rohe had filed with the Court of Appeal in the original brief.

Yet, in spite of the Court of Appeal’s caution that it would allow no further delays, Cosentino missed the Aug. 12 deadline for filing the reply brief. The document is dated Aug. 13, as shown at the top of the copy the News Leaderobtained from the Office of the County Attorney through a public records request.

By the way, this brief — unlike the vast majority of briefs the News Leader has reviewed over the decades — has a table of contents. Although the appeal is focused on specific portions of the complaint Cosentino filed against the County Commission over the May 2016 vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, in his reply brief, Cosentino appears to revisit all aspects of the May 2016 public hearings that prompted his complaint.

This is the first page of the Table of Contents in Mike Cosentino’s Aug. 13 reply brief in his Second District Court of Appeal case. Image courtesy Office of the Sarasota County Attorney

In his summary of the resolutions the board approved more than three years ago, Cosentino wrote that the County Commission “made a cornucopia of compounding errors that form the basis of this Appeal.”

As for the remaining issues in the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction: Judge McHugh has scheduled two hearings in the next two months.

On Sept. 9, McHugh has set aside 30 minutes, starting at 10:30 a.m., to consider the county’s motion to consolidate the remaining counts in the North Beach Road vacation case with the Charter Amendments case. The latter originally was filed by the Caflisch family of Siesta Key in October 2018, before the amendments passed. The family’s attorney filed an amended complaint in late December 2018, asking the court to throw out the amendments.

The Caflisches — and the county — contend that the amendments strip the County Commission of authority that has been vested in it by the Florida Statutes. The Caflisches and the county also argue that the amendments are vague.

The Caflisches and the intervenors in the original North Beach Road case, Dennis and Wendy Madden, were among the property owners who petitioned the County Commission for the vacation of the road segment.

Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court website

The June 25 hearing before McHugh was to have focused on the consolidation issue. However, Hall, the attorney for the Maddens, was unable to be present.

That day, McHugh did tell Assistant County Attorney David Pearce, Cosentino and Cosentino’s then-attorney, Fred Moore — plus the Caflisches’ attorney, William Moore of Moore Bowman & Reese in Sarasota — that she would sign an order for the consolidation if Pearce were able to get the consent of all the parties for that action. Evidently, Pearce was not able to do that.

On Oct. 7, at 9 a.m., McHugh has scheduled a second hearing — this one for an hour — on a county motion for final summary judgment in the Charter Amendments case.

Assistant County Attorney Pearce filed the motion for summary judgment on June 19. In his conclusion, he asked the court “to decree that the Charter amendments are inconsistent with state law and vague.”

SKA’s new website remains work in progress

During the Aug. 1 Siesta Key Association meeting, President Catherine Luckner provided an update on the nonprofit’s efforts to create a new and improved website.

“Some of us are on a learning curve,” she acknowledged with a laugh.

Director Joyce Kouba has been handling a large part of the work, Luckner noted.

People may preview the new website by clicking on a button on the current website, which is www.siestakeyassociation.com.

Luckner and Kouba did not offer a timeline for when the project would be completed. Still, they made it clear that they are eager to hear comments on the work in progress.

“I would certainly appreciate any feedback … you might have,” Kouba told the members present for the meeting.

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