North Shell Road parking petition sent back to residents to correct deficiency; Siesta Key Association members hear update on crime stats; parking issues at Access 2 continue to generate frustration; Sheriff’s Office’s substation leader offers more details about service dogs that are allowed on the beach; Sgt. Smith reintroduces himself to SKA members; county staff hosts transportation discussion for representatives of island organizations; and county staff continues efforts to ensure Village looks as good as possible
Sarasota County staff identified a significant insufficiency in a parking prohibition petition that North Shell Road residents submitted to the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) early this year.
Thus, no hearing has yet to be scheduled on the request for a reduction in the number of public parking places along the road.
TAC Administrative Assistant Melissa Waden explained to The Sarasota News Leader this week that, within a space of about 30 days, the TAC lost the two transportation engineering staff members who had been assigned to the council. As a result, she continued on Sept. 9, it took a while for someone to realize that the parking petition did not have enough signatures on it to make it onto a TAC agenda.
If staff receives a revised petition that meets TAC criteria, Waden added, it is possible the TAC could hold a hearing on the issues when the council meets in December. (The advisory board typically meets on a quarterly basis.)
As of Sept. 9, staff had not heard further from residents along North Shell Road, Waden indicated.
In January, Gregg and Michelle Olson of 3955 N. Shell Road asked that the TAC eliminate the public parking spaces between their home and the cul-de-sac, which is adjacent to Beach Access 1.
They cited a number of problems with which they and their neighbors have had to contend as a result of living so close to the beach access: alleged illegal behavior, including drug use; excessive drinking; public urination and defecation; drug paraphernalia left strewn on the ground; and the blocking of residents’ driveways, in spite of the fact that the public spaces clearly are marked to ensure residents maintain full access to their driveways at all times.
Yet, members of the public who are fans of the beach access have objected strenuously to the potential loss of parking spaces. Only 16 legal spaces exist, denoted by rope-and-post systems.
The parking prohibition petition originally was scheduled to be heard by the TAC in early June. However, as a result of a lack of quorum for that meeting, no decision could be made. As Administrative Assistant Waden pointed out to the News Leader, that ended up being fortuitous.
The Olsons did not respond to a News Leader request for comment this week on the status of resubmitting the petition.
Where do most 911 calls originate on the Key?
It probably came as no surprise to members attending the Sept. 5 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting that the highest number of 911 calls the Sheriff’s Office receives on the Key are generated at the public beach.
That was just one fact of the report that Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, presented to the members.
In August, he said, the Sheriff’s Office received 118 calls originating at 948 Beach Road, the official address for Siesta Public Beach.
“It’s where the most people are,” he pointed out; thus, it is the place where human interactions are most likely to occur on the island.
SKA President Catherine Luckner had asked him to research “the hot areas” on the Key for people making 911 calls, he explained.
In second place behind the public beach, he continued, is Beach Access 1, on North Shell Road, on the northern end of the island. However, as he pointed out, there was “quite a bit of drop” from the total number of calls originating at the public beach to those from Access 1 in August. The latter count, he added, was 19.
Ten calls came from people at Turtle Beach, Smith said, and the rest were from scattered locations, generally from Siesta Village and neighborhoods. The total number of those calls, he noted, was 57.
Altogether in August, Smith reported, the Sheriff’s Office received 287 calls for service on the island. Only 4% of those involved Part 1 crimes, he pointed out, adding that those are considered the most serious. They include all types of thefts, sexual assaults, burglaries and battery cases, he noted.
Among those calls, he continued, “We had three vehicle burglaries.”
“I know Sgt. [Paul] Cernansky used to harp on this a lot,” Smith continued, referring to the previous substation leader. “Those [incidents] are almost 100% preventable by locking your car doors.” If vehicle doors are locked, Smith said, 99% of the time, that prevents a perpetrator from proceeding with an effort to get anything out of the vehicle.
Referring to the August cases, he added, “Those were unlocked cars.”
The Sheriff’s Office did record one theft of a vehicle in August from the Municipal Lot in Siesta Village, he continued. A couple of other cases involved thefts of liquor from convenience stores, Smith added.
In concluding his report, Smith told the members, “We had a very eventful summer.” With school back in session, he said, things should be slowing down. The Sheriff’s Office already is preparing for the holidays, he noted.
More consternation about Access 2
After Sgt. Arik Smith concluded his report to the Siesta Key Association members on Sept. 5, audience members peppered him with questions about vehicles at Beach Access 2.
“I know people aren’t supposed to park [at Access 2],” one woman told Smith, but she continues to see vehicles there.
The access, which is at the western end of Avenida Messina, just outside Siesta Village, long has been known as Sunset Point.
To park legally on a street in that area, which is the Mira Mar District, Smith explained, a person has to have a county permit. At Access 2, only one parking spot is provided, and that is for handicapped access to the beach.
He stressed that multiple county signs stand at the access, clearly warning the public that parking is not permitted except in that handicapped space. “We try to enforce that [no parking provision] as much as we can.”
“Most people aren’t there trying to commit crimes,” Smith continued. A lot of people drive down to the access to unload items they want with them on the beach and, in similar fashion, to load up those items after they have spent time on the beach, he pointed out.
“The main thing [for the Sheriff’s Office is to educate people [about the parking prohibition] and keep ’em out of there,” Smith said.
The woman then emphasized that every time she goes down to the access, “There’s multiple cars [parked].”
Smith acknowledged that he and his officers routinely see the same situation. “We write tickets and … move them on.”
As he understood it, Smith continued, the parking issue has been going on for decades at Access 2 — primarily, he stressed, because that is one of the few spots in the county where the road actually dead-ends at the beach. “It’s a very easy access for people.”
Again, Smith told the SKA members, “We do our best to educate people and enforce the parking laws there. … We direct people to the public beach.”
The continuing issue of dogs on the beach
Sgt. Arik Smith also handled numerous questions about dogs on the beach when he appeared before SKA members at their regular meeting on Sept. 5.
Dr. Stephen Lexow said he sees a man walking a dog most mornings on Turtle Beach. Lexow finally told the man one recent day that dogs are not allowed on the beach, Lexow added. The man’s response, Lexow said, was that the dog is a service dog for emotional problems.
“Is that legit?” Lexow asked Smith.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website has a list of all the service animals considered legitimate, Smith explained. “We’re not allowed to kick … people [with those animals] off the beach.” Deputies can ask what type of service animal the dog is, Smith added.
“Emotional support animals are not considered by ADA to be a service animal,” Smith pointed out, so deputies can tell people with such animals that they are not allowed on the beach, according to county regulations.
In response to another question, Smith said that people with legitimate service dogs can let those dogs defecate or urinate on the beach. However, he emphasized, the person with the dog must pick up any waste.
A second woman in the audience complained about a person who routinely takes a dog onto a different part of the beach, even though the dog is not a legitimate service animal, according to the ADA website.
“I know,” Smith replied, telling her, “We’ve had this conversation.”
“If it’s not a service animal,” Smith said again, “they’re not allowed on the beach.”
Over the years, SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out, members of the nonprofit have educated a lot of visitors about the county ordinance prohibiting dogs on the beach. Additionally, she said, the SKA has asked condominium associations that rent units to tourists to hand out flyers with details about the applicable county ordinance, which includes a number of other restrictions involving the beach.
Usually, Luckner continued, when a visitor learns that dogs are not allowed on the beach, they will leave.
Smith responded that that has been the experience of Sheriff’s Office deputies, as well. “The majority of the people,” he added, are surprised. “[Visitors will] pack up all their stuff,” he continued, and then leave with the dog. They will return to the beach later by themselves, he added.
An earlier speaker in the audience complained that the county’s signs listing restrictions regarding the beach are about the size of “Post-It” notes.
Smith replied that Sheriff’s Office representatives have talked with county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff about that very issue.
About seven years ago, PRNR staff pursued an initiative that entailed removing an abundance of signs at the beach accesses and then erecting smaller, solitary signs that point out the county restrictions. The goal, as staff characterized it to The Sarasota News Leaderat the time, was to cut down on “sign pollution.”
As Smith wrapped up the question-and-answer part of his remarks, Luckner told him, “We don’t realize what all you have to do out there every day … at all hours.”
Smith then said that the SKA directors know how to reach him if any issue comes up. “Please let me know any questions you have.”
About the sergeant himself
When Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Siesta Key Sheriff’s Office substation, began his presentation to SKA members on Sept. 5, he said he considered the meeting his first real one since he was appointed to the position in May.
Previous substation leader Paul Cernansky — who was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in April — introduced Smith as his replacement during that meeting.
However, because of conflicts in Smith’s schedule — and the fact that the SKA has no July meeting — the September session was what Smith called his “first real meeting” with the nonprofit’s members.
As a result, he said he wanted to formally introduce himself to the members.
After he joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2006, he noted, he spent two years with the Patrol Division and then two years with the Tactical Unit. In his next assignment, he continued, he spent six years working undercover with the Narcotics Division.
Following a promotion, he added, he again was assigned to the Patrol Division.
“And now I’m here, living life happy ever since [May],” he told the audience.
“How did you work undercover?!” SKA member Bob Waechter asked Smith.
“I can show you some pictures,” Smith replied with a laugh. “They’re not pretty.”
Transportation discussion for island leaders
Leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) have provided their members with minutes of a discussion about transportation issues on the Key that took place on Aug. 26.
(Siesta Chamber Chair Eric Fleming and Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner mentioned the discussion during their most recent meetings for members.)
Sarasota County staff had invited representatives of numerous organizations on the island to the Aug. 26 gathering, the Condo Council minutes said. Condo Council Vice President Diane Erne and Director Hilla Blatt attended the session on behalf of the SKCC, the minutes noted.
The speaker was Jason Collins, “a consultant retained by the county,” the SKCC minutes pointed out.
The meeting was a follow-up to a late February County Commission workshop on transportation issues on the Key, during which speakers were invited to address any problems they wished to discuss that were related to the subject.
The purpose of the Aug. 26 gathering, the Condo Council minutes said, was for attendees to share observations and work on ideas to improve “the charm and comfort of Siesta Key.” The minutes added that the County Commission was “in the beginning stages of starting a master plan and [was] collecting ideas to determine the top priorities” to which funding should be allocated.
“The main discussion of the meeting centered around the bike lanes on Siesta Key,” the minutes pointed out. “Everyone realizes that the bike lanes are inadequate and dangerous. There were several suggestions on improving the bike lanes,” the minutes said, adding that one big issue is the lack of easy access for bicyclists between Siesta and the mainland.
Additionally, the minutes noted, “Florida law allows bikes on sidewalks but that interferes with people walking to and from The Villages or the beaches.”
Another concern, the minutes continued, are crosswalks on the island, as a number of accidents have been reported. Among the suggestions were to light the crosswalks, “raise them and make them into speed bumps or put chains across the sidewalks leading to the crosswalks so people do not walk across the road except through the crosswalks.”
Additionally, discussion focused on the Siesta Key Breeze. “The trolley has been wildly successful,” the minutes said, but the question of parking on the Key was addressed. Attendees learned that county staff is working on converting the old Sheriff’s Office training facility at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road into a 40-space public parking lot, the minutes added.
Suggestions for ferry service and off-Key parkingalso were presented, the minutes said.
Furthermore, the minutes added, discussion focused on the fact that both the north and south drawbridges “have been declared functionally obsolete but there are no plans in the near future to replace them.”
Congestion and traffic lights on Higel Avenue were addressed, as well. “No solution yet,” the minutes noted.
Roundabouts also were discussed as a potential solution to traffic issues in some areas, the report added.
“Discussion followed on Avenida Messina as a dangerous area for pedestrians and bicycles,” because of valet parking arrangements for restaurants in that vicinity and because of delivery trucks, which occupy the car lanes during loading and unloading, the report said.
A follow-up meeting was recommended in the next month or two, the report added.
Keeping the Village in the best possible shape
Ever since Sarasota County completed the beautification project in Siesta Village in early 2009, county staff members have worked diligently with representatives of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. to ensure the area maintains a resort-like look and feel.
(The Maintenance Corp. represents the property owners whom the county assesses annually for the upkeep.)
Many activities go on behind the scenes, to which the News Leader can attest, having covered those efforts from their beginning.
During the most recent quarterly members meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator who serves as the county liaison to the Maintenance Corp., reported on just a couple of those initiatives that the average person probably never would notice.
Cece said she and Michael Shay, maintenance manager for the Maintenance Corp., noticed on their most recent monthly inspection of the Village that in one section of the medallion on the western end of Ocean Boulevard — at the Beach Road intersection — “the brick pavers were really devoid of sand” and starting to loosen up.
The medallion is a decorative inlay on the road.
The problematic section, she continued, is closest to the northeastern stormwater drain.
Staff of the county’s Road and Bridge Division came out to take a look at the bricks, Cece said. Their feeling, she noted, was that the drainage — or baffle — box is failing or has failed, resulting in erosion. (A baffle box is designed to remove sediment and pollutants from stormwater before it flows into water bodies.)
As soon as they figure out exactly what the problem is, Cece added, they would make the necessary repairs and replace sand around the bricks, “so we won’t have bricks moving or breaking or being unstable for cars, bikes or pedestrians.”
On Sept. 9, Cece reported that when she checked with the county’s Stormwater Division staff members in early September, she learned that they still were evaluating the situation.
At least on a positive note, she added, all the stormwater drains in that area had been cleaned.
A second report she made during the Chamber’s Aug. 21 meeting focused on a bench in front of Siesta Center; the bench had loose slats.
In fact, Cece pointed out, the slats on one end had disconnected from the bench. “[The bench] was not safe,” she said, so staff planned to remove it.
She noted that that action could be accomplished without damage to the landscaping plants.
Cece anticipated that a new bench would be in place by early this month, and it would be mounted right into the brick pavers.
“It will be more in keeping with the other benches [in the Village],” she added, as it would be 4 feet wide instead of 6.