Siesta Seen

Oceane developer to restore pocket park space; Benderson pays $1.6 million for two Glencoe Avenue parcels to facilitate Siesta Promenade construction; Traffic Advisory Council debates warning signs versus speed limit signs during Siesta Isles hearing; Siesta Isles Association representative puts his patience on display; Crystal Classic forges partnership with Ringling College; volunteers sought for 2019 Crystal Classic; and Condo Council reminding its members about Holiday Lighting Contest

This is the pocket park/parking space for the public prior to the start of the Oceane construction. Photo courtesy of Michael Shay

Regular readers will recall that in July, after an observant Siesta resident expressed concern, The Sarasota News Leader asked Sarasota County staff about the disappearance of a solitary “pocket park” parking space across Ocean Boulevard from the Givens Street intersection.

In its place, the contractor building the adjacent luxury condominium complex called Oceane had installed a dumpster.

After some research, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant learned from Planning and Development Services Department documents that the developer of Oceane had the right to use the site during construction. Apparently, she told the News Leader, that was the result of a 2005 County Commission vote. However, those spaces must revert to the county — meaning the public — after projects have been completed.

On Sept. 12, the News Leader learned that the contractor — Gilbane Building Co. — had begun putting trees and plantings in front of the retaining wall at the pocket park/parking space site. A nearby resident alerted the News Leader to the fact that Gilbane had someone grading the area where the dumpster had stood.

Then, that same evening, the resident emailed the News Leader to report that a big palm tree and other vegetation indeed had been put into the ground where the pocket parking space was supposed to be.

It took almost exactly two weeks for the News Leader to get an answer — again through Media Relations Officer Grant — about the status of the pocket parking space.

On Sept. 26, she told the News Leader in an email, Planning and Development Services staff spoke with the developer, who “confirmed that they will be restoring the parking spot in the near future.”

The developer is Crossgate Partners LLC, based in Suwanee, Ga.

The reader who originally raised the issue during the summer about the loss of the pocket park space sent an email to Commissioner Alan Maio, too, asking about the restoration of that public site, after it appeared to have become part of Oceane’s landscaping.

The reader notified the News Leader on Sept. 30 that he had received the same answer from county staff that the News Leader received from Grant.

These are the plantings laid in the area where the pocket park existed, prior to their placement in the ground. Photo courtesy of Michael Shay

The next question, of course, is what timeline the developer has in mind for “the near future.”

The News Leader made multiple attempts this week to get that answer from Gilbane’s staff in Sarasota, but it was unsuccessful in reaching anyone who could address the situation.

Benderson Development buys Glencoe Avenue parcels

People who followed the county public hearing process last year regarding Siesta Promenade will recall that the County Commission agreed to a vacation of public right of way along Glencoe Avenue. That was to assist Benderson Development Co. and its affiliate, Siesta 41 Associates LLP, with the design of the mixed-use project in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Recently, the News Leader has learned, Benderson purchased two parcels in the Pine Shores Estates neighborhood for $1,650,000 to further facilitate the project plans in the same general area.

Since Siesta 41 Associates actually is the developer on record for Siesta Promenade, the real estate transactions are in its name, according to records available through the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.

On Aug. 14, Siesta 41 Associates paid $825,000 for the property located at 6339 Glencoe Ave. The seller was Roxane E. Goodman, the records show.

The 2019 taxable value of the property is $218,000, Property Appraiser William Furst’s staff noted.

Additionally, the records indicate that the house had been owned since 1980 by individuals and trusts involving the same family.

The house itself was built in 1957 and then updated in 1980, the records also indicate.

This image shows the houses at 6331 and 6339 Glencoe Ave., on the border of the Siesta Promenade property. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

The second house Siesta 41 Associates bought — also on Aug. 14 — is located at 6331 Glencoe Ave. It was owned by the same series of individuals and trusts as the other property.

Siesta 41 Associates also paid $825,000 for that parcel, which has a taxable value this year of $250,700, according to the Property Appraiser Office’s records.

That house also dates to 1957.

Trees have been taken down on the approximately 24 acres planned for Siesta Promenade, while removal of concrete pads, septic tanks and asphalt remaining from the days of the Pine Shores Trailer Park also has been underway, residents have reported to the News Leader. Benderson staff and an engineering firm working with the company obtained the necessary county permits this summer to begin the site clearing.

This document submitted to county staff as part of the Siesta Promenade application materials in December 2017 shows details of the street vacation that the County Commission approved. Image courtesy Sarasota County

However, litigation over the County Commission’s approval of Siesta Promenade continues in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

A hearing is set for 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh has set aside 20 minutes for each side to make its arguments regarding the complaint filed in January by Pine Shores resident Sura Kochman.

When a speed limit sign is just a warning sign

On Sept. 9, as Sarasota County’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) members heard presentations about petitions for safety improvements in the Siesta Isles neighborhood, an issue arose that this reporter had not heard discussed in depth in many years.

County Traffic Engineer Amid Hussain refers to materials on the podium during the TAC meeting on Sept. 9. Rachel Hackney photo

Amjid Hussain, the engineer with the county’s Traffic Engineering and Operations Division, showed the TAC members slides depicting two 15 mph warning signs within Siesta Isles, whose placement county staff had adjusted in an effort to get a better response from drivers.

Tony Romanus, who was representing the Siesta Isles Association Board of Directors in the petitions that day, noted that the signs are on either side of what he and other Siesta Isles residents described as a dangerous “S” curve on Shadow Lawn Drive. Staff’s assistance with the signage, he said, “was helpful.”

However, Romanus emphasized that the 15 mph warning signs are a suggestion only for drivers.

“I wish [each of those signs] would be a speed limit sign,” Sandy Palmer of Siesta Isles told the TAC members. “The curve has been a terrible thing since 1962. I would like to see [each sign] say ’15 mph.’ No suggestion.”

Those comments came after Romanus asked for the speed limit in Siesta Isles to be reduced from 25 mph to 20 mph.

TAC member Morgan Skoegard asked about the legal basis for the 15 mph signs to serve as warnings only.

“We call it an advisory speed limit on a curve,” Hussain responded. No wording on the sign says, “Suggested,” Hussain added.

Then Capt. John Donovan of the Florida Highway Patrol, another TAC member, explained, “The yellow signs like he mentioned are advisory …” Essentially, Donovan continued, the signs are designed to communicate to a driver, “‘Hey, there’s an unusual circumstance coming up …’”

Chair Becky Ayech pointed out that yellow signs on the road as a rule are caution signs.

“It’s nothing we can enforce,” Donovan said.

A sign warns northbound drivers on Midnight Pass Road about the sharp ‘S’ curve ahead. File photo

In January 2012, after a Siesta resident was struck and killed by a driver in a sharp curve on Midnight Pass Road, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office explained that lower speed limit signs drivers see before they enter that curve also are just warning signs. Even though the driver in that incident was alleged to have been speeding, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said, a deputy would not have been able to charge the driver for exceeding the speed posted on those warning signs.

As for the Siesta Isles request for the reduction in the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph throughout the neighborhood: The TAC sided with county staff’s recommendation for denial, as the News Leader reported on Sept. 20.

Hussain explained during the discussion that staff lowered the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph after staff undertook a traffic study in Siesta Isles in 1997.

Additionally, no traffic crashes had been recorded in Siesta Isles over the past three years, Hussain pointed out.

Another TAC exchange

Having to make numerous trips to the podium on behalf of the Siesta Isles Association, Tony Romanus showed a lot of patience in answering questions during the Sept. 9 Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) meeting.

At one point, Vice Chair Bruce Lorie asked whether the Siesta Isles Association had enlisted the help of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in stopping speeders who use the neighborhood as a cut-through to avoid congestion near Siesta Public Beach.

“When it’s at our worst,” Romanus explained, “there’s a million people at the beach and all kinds of chaos in [Siesta Village].”

The Sheriff’s Office’s priority is dealing with those situations, Romanus continued, a fact with which the Siesta Isles Board has no complaint.

“I see where the beach has become so popular in Sarasota, and the resources are not there to protect everyone,” Lorie responded.

An aerial map shows the Siesta Isles community on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

“We’re trying to be good stewards of tax dollars and Sheriff’s Office resources,” Romanus said. The Association asks for help from the Sheriff’s Office only “when things are nuts,” he added.

If Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University — known worldwide as “Dr. Beach” — never had named Siesta Beach No. 1 in the U.S., Romanus continued, “I probably wouldn’t be standing here,” asking for lower speed limits and more stop signs.”

Leatherman first gave Siesta Beach that top ranking in 2011. To mark 25 years of his Top Ten Beaches initiative, Leatherman started fresh a couple of years ago, making past winners eligible for honors once again. Thus, Siesta won its second No. 1 designation.

A great new partnership for the Crystal Classic

This year, for the first time, a portion of the proceeds from the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival will benefit student scholarships at Ringling College of Art + Design, assisting “talented, creative students so that they may be able to pursue their dreams of higher education in art and design,” the producer of the annual event has announced.

Siesta Beach Festival Inc. is the nonprofit that puts on the festival each November on Siesta Public Beach.

Visitors to the 2018 Crystal Classic enjoy up-close looks at the sculptures. Image courtesy of Siesta Beach Festival Inc.

“The Siesta Key Crystal Classic has been a great artistic event since its beginning in 2010,” Bob Parkinson, Siesta Beach Festival board member, said in a news release. “Talented artists come from all over the world to create masterpieces of ephemeral art. We are pleased to support Ringling College of Art and Design, a notable artistic resource in our community, and their talented student body,” Parkinson added.

The Crystal Classic is a visual and cultural arts festival that has hosted more than 325,000 attendees since its first show. This year, it will mark its 10th anniversary, the release points out.

“In only 24 sculpting hours, (spanning the four-day event), the master sculptors create sand masterpieces and transform the always beautiful Siesta Beach into an outdoor art gallery,” the news release notes. “The Crystal Classic connects the arts and the beach in ways never before seen in Sarasota.

“And it’s more than just sand,” the release adds. The festival also features live music each day, “along with a large village of shopping and food and drink vendors. Among the other activities are the popular three-day ‘Quick Sand’ competition, sand sculpting lessons and an amateur sculpting competition.

During an evening in 2018, the light display brings out details of one of the sculptures. Image courtesy Siesta Beach Festival Inc.

Additionally, the release continues, “Beginning this year, the festival will be doing its part to help the environment” by reducing the amount of single-use plastic. Two “Water Monsters” will be on site, where attendees can fill up for free using their own cups or by purchasing one at the festival. Boxed water also will be for sale at select vendors.

Moreover, the weekend showcase of the sculptures with a light display will continue this year. The festival will be open until 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with live music by 22N on Saturday night and Reverend Barry & The Funk on Sunday night, the release says.

The 10th Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic is scheduled for Nov. 15-18. For more information, visit

Online ticket pricing is as follows:

  • Multi-day passes (all four days) — $30 per adult and $15 per child.
  • One-day passes — $8, ($2 off gate pricing) per adult and $5 per child.
  • Reserved parking passes — Friday through Monday, ranging from $29 to $59.

And speaking of the Crystal Classic …

Siesta Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Frescura has sent out an email blast, seeking volunteers for the Crystal Classic this year.

During the Chamber’s quarterly meeting for members on Aug. 21, she stressed how critical those volunteers are to making the festival run smoothly.

In the email blast, Frescura wrote, “With an anticipated 60,000 attendees, we need approximately 300 volunteers to staff this event. A variety of shifts and duties are available.

“The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is a collaborative effort and partnership between the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and Siesta Beach Festival, a 501c(3) non-profit Florida organization, to promote tourism and the visual arts on our #1 beach, Siesta Beach,” she added.

“If you wish to volunteer, please click on the link and indicate your area of interest and days available: 11/14/19 through 11/19/19.”

People also may contact Mia Leone, volunteer coordinator at the Chamber, at 349-3800 or at, if they would like more information, Frescura noted.

A reminder about another big annual event

Logo courtesy Siesta Key Condominium Council

The Siesta Key Condominium Council on Sept. 18 sent out an email blast to its members about its biggest event of the year.

“This is a reminder to PLAN NOW for the Siesta Key Condo Holiday Lighting Contest sponsored by the Siesta Key Condominium Council and with assistance by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce,” the email blast said.

“The traditional start of the ‘Lighting Season’ is Thanksgiving, which this year is on Thursday, November 28th, just two months away,” the email blast continued.

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Holiday Parade will be held on Saturday, Nov. 30, the email noted.

The Condo Council’s Holiday Lighting Contest judging will be conducted the week of Dec. 9 by a cross section of Council board members, Siesta Key Chamber leaders, Sarasota County representatives and Siesta Key business associates, the email added.

“Let’s make the 2019 Lighting of Siesta Key Condos the best ever in support of Siesta Key and the Siesta Key Businesses,” the email concluded.