Laughing gull necropsies so far have failed to determine source of illness; county pocket park/parking space next to Oceane yet to be restored; County Commission approves contract for demolition of Fire Station 13 structure; live music schedule for Crystal Classic announced; petitioners for a Coastal Setback Variance on Casey Key offer differing view of where MHWL stands on their property; and barbs aimed at County Commission during City Commission meeting
Save Our Seabirds has not treated any more sick laughing gulls in the past three weeks, Jonathan Hande, senior hospital technician for the nonprofit rescue organization, told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
That is the good news, Hande pointed out. However, necropsies that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) conducted on two of the deceased birds so far have not yielded a definitive cause of the illness that struck gulls on Siesta and Lido keys, as well as on an area near Anna Maria Island, in late September and early October.
In an early October interview with the News Leader, Hande suspected botulism as the source of the illness, as it is naturally occurring in the soil. He noted that laughing gulls are scavengers that will eat practically anything, and botulism spreads quickly from one sick bird to another.
During a Nov. 13 telephone interview, Hande explained that he understood that the birds on which FWC staff had performed necropsies “tested positive for aspergillosis,” which is a fungal infection of the respiratory system.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says aspergillosis is “caused by Aspergillus, a common mold … that lives indoors and outdoors. Most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick.”
“It usually doesn’t kill things,” Hande said of the infection. However, he added, it can contribute to the death of a bird that already is immune-compromised.
The CDC points out that people with weakened immune systems or lung diseases “are at higher risk of developing health problems due to Aspergillus.”
Rachel Pettit, avian hospital technician at Save Our Seabirds, told the News Leader in early October that the ill birds brought to the nonprofit’s facilities on City Island, near Mote Marine Laboratory, were severely dehydrated and lethargic, and they had difficulty eating.
His understanding, Hande continued on Nov. 13, is that FWC is going to undertake more research to try to make a determination about the primary cause of death in the laughing gulls.
Although he said he had no idea when he might be able to learn the results of those additional tests, he is eager for more information. “I would always rather have an answer.”
In fact, he continued, “I have three other birds to send them” if FWC wants to undertake more necropsies.
If FWC can pinpoint a cause, Hande pointed out, then he and the other Save Our Seabirds staff members would know how to treat birds in the future if any were brought in with the same symptoms seen earlier. Even more important, he said, the staff would be better prepared to try to prevent other gulls from getting sick.
Pocket park/parking space at Oceane still not restored
In July, county staff assured the News Leader that, after the construction of Oceane on Ocean Boulevard was completed, a county pocket park/parking space next to the luxury condominium complex would have to be made available once more to the public.
The parking spot was popular with residents who liked to fish or just enjoy the view of Big Pass at the western end of Givens Street. A standard county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department kiosk stood next to the spot, advising people of regulations for the county’s parks.
The construction crew members working for Gilbane Building Co. of Sarasota used the space for staging.
In late September, residents reported to the News Leader that, as the crew was finishing up its work on Oceane, trees and plantings were installed in the parking space. It appeared afterward to be just one more landscaping element of the project.
On Sept. 26, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant confirmed with county Planning and Development Services (PDS) Department staff that the developer would be “restoring the parking spot in the near future,” as provided for in county documents pertaining to the building of Oceane.
Apparently, however, Siesta residents and the developer — Crossgate Partners LLC, based in Suwanee, Ga. — had very different ideas about the meaning of the phrase “in the near future.”
After hearing again from residents that the restoration had yet to appear, the News Leader once more turned to county staff.
In a Nov. 12 email, Brianne Grant wrote the News Leader, “PDS confirmed that the work will have to be completed prior to final site certification which should happen in the next 8 to 10 weeks.”
That site certification is essential before residents can occupy the building, as the News Leaderunderstands county regulations.
A Construction Checklist provided by Planning and Development Services lists a number of items that must be verified by staff as complete, including the landscape architect’s certification of a project and a sign-off on the county’s Right of Way Use Permit, before the Certificate of Occupancy will be issued.
In the meantime, the News Leader found during an online spot check this week that two real estate firms — Michael Saunders & Co. and SaraSellsSarasota — were listing two of the six Oceane condos for sale. One condo was priced at $4,425,000; the other, at $3,999,000.
Additionally, as of this week — with the Certificate of Occupancy not having been issued by the county — the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office still lists the Oceane property owner as CG Oceane LLC. The company purchased the land for $4,785,000 in January 2017.
CG Oceane has the same address as Crossgate Partners.
A formal contract for fire station demolition
On Nov. 5, as part of its approval of its Consent Agenda of routine business items, the County Commission awarded a Sarasota construction firm a big bump in a contract to cover the next phases of work related to the plans for the new Fire Station 13 on the Key.
Officially, the board gave unanimous approval to Amendment No. 1 to its contract with Willis A. Smith Construction. That amendment covers the demolition of the fire station, which is located at 1170 Beach Road, as well as improvements to the temporary headquarters out of which the firefighters/emergency medical technicians will operate while the new facility is under construction.
The total amount of the new Willis A Smith contract is $498,753, according to a memo provided to the County Commission in advance of the Nov. 5 regular meeting.
The memo pointed out that Fire Station No. 13 operates out of a 5,000-square-foot structure that dates to 1974. The facility is not hardened for hurricanes, the memo continued, and it stands in a floodplain. Furthermore, the memo noted, the facility “does not offer gender privacy and is not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.”
The new fire station with two bays will be elevated to conform to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, the memo added. It also will be similar in design to Fire Station No. 12, located at the intersection of Bee Ridge Road and Murdock Avenue, as well as Fire Station No. 14, which serves the Vamo Road community, the memo said.
“Finding affordable, available property within the response area of Fire Station No. 13 on which to place either a modular home or an existing building for lease on Siesta Key” proved to be a challenge for the county’s Property Management Division staff, the memo continued. Ultimately, staff was able to lease space within the building located at 5700 Midnight Pass Road, which is just south of the Fire Station No. 13 site. “However,” the memo noted, “the space currently functions as a commercial storefront and significant remodeling is necessary to allow the space to function as a temporary fire station. Crew quarters will be created through relocation of existing walls. A full kitchen will be installed and a second ADA compliant restroom will be created,” the memo said.
Further, a temporary fabric roof will be installed to protect the ambulance and fire truck, which also will be housed on the site, the memo pointed out. After the remodeling has been completed, the memo added, “equipment salvaged from the existing Fire Station No. 13 will be set in place and the crew will be relocated to the temporary fire station … and Willis A. Smith will commence with demolition of the current fire station.”
As the News Leader reported earlier, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis approved a lease in late August for the use of the building at 5700 Midnight Pass Road for a maximum of 36 months. Staff estimates that the work to modify the building will take about 135 days, the Nov. 5 memo said.
Then the demolition of Fire Station No. 13 is expected to be completed within 180 days.
The memo also noted that the next step for the County Commission — formally approving the construction phase — is expected to take place by early spring of 2020.
It will take about 12 months to build the new station after the work gets underway, Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier told Siesta Key Association members on Aug. 1.
Bring on the bands!
Live music is coming to Siesta Beach Nov. 15-18, organizers of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival have announced.
“Ten bands will perform under a massive tent on the beach” during the family-friendly festival, a news release points out. The lineup will feature “an eclectic roster of popular area acts,” the release adds.
The festival will be open Saturday and Sunday until 9 p.m. “with live music, drinks at the party tent, and a fabulous light display of the 16 amazing sand sculptures,” the release continues.
Additionally, “Billy Jack, co-host of the popular Jones and Company morning show on 107.9 WSRZ,” will be on location on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 1 to 3 p.m., the release says.
The musical line-up follows:
- John Patti & Sunny Jim— Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Ari & the Alibis— Friday, 2 to 4:45 p.m.
- Lauren Mitchell Band— Saturday — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Kettle of Fish— Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m.
- 22N— Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m.
- Tropical Ave. — Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Twinkle, Saturday — Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.
- Reverend Barry & The Funk— Sunday, 6 to 9 p.m.
- Island Chill Band— Monday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- CabanaDogs — Monday, 2 to 4:30 p.m.
Among other festival attractions will be free sand-sculpting lessons and demonstrations; an amateur competition on Saturday; Quick Sand speed sculpting; and an array of food, drink and retail vendors.
Information regarding the 2019 festival schedule, ticket options and parking passes may be found on the website: www.siestakeycrystalclassic.com.
The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is owned by Siesta Beach Festival Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. “The festival is produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism, local businesses and the visual arts through a collaborative partnership with the community,” the release explains.
A tale of two diagrams
It recently came to the News Leader’s attention that the petitioners for a county Coastal Setback Variance for the property located at 3761 Casey Key Road have a different interpretation of where the Mean High Water Line (MHWL) stands in relation to their property line than county staff did several weeks ago.
The County Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 24 to deny the request for the Coastal Setback Variance, citing, in part, concerns about how close proposed new buildings would be to the MHWL.
The News Leader received a copy of the petitioners’ dimensioned site plan for a new house and accessory structures on the land, with the understanding that a registered surveyor had participated in the notation about the location of the MHWL. That site plan showed the MHWL at the westernmost property line.
Below, readers will see that diagram, followed by the diagram presented during the county staff presentation on Sept. 24.
Proposal to punish the county over Sperling Park issue
During the public remarks period at the start of the Nov. 4 Sarasota City Commission meeting, two Lido Key residents brought up the issue of the city board’s request of the County Commission for use of the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as a staging area for the Lido Renourishment Project.
On Oct. 7, the City Commission approved a formal letter, making that request, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has estimated would save $1 million on the overall expense of the Lido initiative.
The first speaker on Nov. 4, Scott Ashby, referred to remarks that Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown had made during the Nov. 2 meeting of the City Council of Neighborhood Associations (CCNA). During the Nov. 18 City Commission meeting, Ashby said, the county is going to make a formal request to use city right of way as the county constructs a new cooling plant for the Judicial Center, the Sarasota County jails and other county offices.
Brown had described the request as a standard matter of cooperation between the two local governments.
However, Ashby continued, the situation between the city and the county in regard to the proposed staging in Sperling Park “hasn’t been easy at all.”
Ashby indicated that if the county wants city permission to use that right of way in downtown Sarasota for the “chiller,” then “perhaps the county could reciprocate and give the city a little slack on the Lido project.”
The next speaker was blunter.
Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), said he had not known that Ashby planned to address the city commissioners that day. Shoffstall then noted that he, too, had heard Deputy City Manager Brown’s remarks at the CCNA meeting.
“Not wanting to be very adversarial or confrontational with the county,” Shoffstall continued, he found it “absolutely ridiculous or absurd that [the county commissioners] will not let the Corps use [a portion of Sperling Park] to save a million dollars.”
Shoffstall told the city board members, “I would think about that long and hard, that I would let ’em use that right of way [for the chiller].”
He concluded his remarks by saying, “I don’t like to be like that, except I’m flustered.”
In his long-time capacity as leader of the LKRA, Shoffstall has been one of the most vocal advocates for the long-term Lido Renourishment Project.
Later during the Nov. 4 City Commission meeting, City Manager Tom Barwin pointed out that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis planned to seek direction from the County Commission about how to proceed on the staging issue. Barwin added that he knew USACE representatives had spoken with Lewis and had been “quite candid” about the prospective cost savings.
Then Barwin said, “Nobody has volunteered to pay that [1-million-dollar] difference just yet. No surprise.”
The following day, the County Commission voted 4-1 to ask county staff to work with city staff on an agreement that would give the county recourse if two groins planned for construction on South Lido, as part of the renourishment initiative, end up causing damage to the park or Siesta Key. Commissioner Alan Maio cast the “No” vote, citing the refusal of the USACE to undertake an in-depth environmental analysis of the proposed project.
In February, the city commissioners split 3-2 in agreeing to allow its staff to take $2.1 million out of what Barwin had called an “insurance policy” to use in mitigating any unforeseen ramifications of what the USACE officially calls the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project. The $2.1 million was needed partly for an emergency renourishment initiative on Lido and partly for the long-range USACE project, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw explained at the time.
That action left $400,000 in the fund, which the city created in February 2017 to try to assuage Siesta Key residents and organizations that long have been worried about the potential for harm to Big Pass and Siesta’s shoreline as a result of the design of the USACE project.
On Nov. 5, County Administrator Lewis did not offer a timeline for completion of the draft agreement for County Commission review.