Siesta Seen

Pocket park/parking space by Oceane remains work in progress; Part 1 crimes continue a low count on the Key; Village palms being treated for infestation; County Commission hears tale of two vehicles; county staff offers a clarification regarding Sperling Park; update offered on demolition of former wastewater treatment plant facilities; Kompothecras gets permit to demolish storage building; and Condominium Council Holiday Lighting Contest judged this week

This is the new pocket park/parking space by the Oceane complex. Rachel Hackney photo

Thanks to reports of eagle-eyed neighbors, The Sarasota News Leader learned just before Thanksgiving that a pocket park/parking space had been restored next to the Oceane condominium complex on Ocean Boulevard.

After visiting the site, this reporter could assert that the space has a much more refined look than it did in its original form. Although the surface appears pervious, the contractor included a stop bar on the northern end of the spot. Needless to say, in an effort to maintain a park-like feel, county staff did not include such a feature in the original space.

Two other prominent features not present in the past are “Do Not Enter” and “No Parking” signs on either side of the driveway, along with a chain-and-post system blocking vehicles from heading down that driveway. At least when this reporter ambled down to the two park benches overlooking Big Pass, no one appeared to question the action.

About seven years ago, residents of the Windward Passage condominium complex on the north side of that driveway “pitched a fit,” as the saying goes, when Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, addressed both Siesta Key Association (SKA) members and those of the Siesta Key Village Association about the potential of what is now the Oceane property being turned into a community park.

Windward Passage condominium owners complained that visitors to the park would disrupt their quality of life by being noisy, leaving trash on the ground and trying to invade their property.

A chain and posts block vehicles from driving down Givens Street to the benches overlooking Big Pass. Rachel Hackney photo

The Conservation Foundation was unable to generate enough interest to try to purchase the land, which had stood vacant for a number of years before the Oceane developer purchased it.

As Johnson told the News Leader in September 2012, “Basically, something had to give,” to bring the idea of a small park to fruition. “There wasn’t enough community support for it,” she said, and “the owner was intractable” on the price, which was reported to have been between $3.5 million and $4 million.

Johnson added that the foundation staff was sympathetic to the owner, however, because the property was saddled with a lot of debt.

The foundation staff did search for prospective benefactors to help purchase the parcel, she said, but “[everyone contacted] thought that the price was too high.”

On Dec. 2, the News Leader emailed county Communications Department staff to ask about the situation with the restored pocket park/parking space. Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant finally received answers on Dec. 11.

Staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) told the News Leader that it appeared the new space is smaller than the original. “We are looking into this further for appropriate amount of space for [compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act],” PRNR added, through Grant.

Further, the PRNR response noted that the original public parking space was located closer to the Big Pass access area at Givens Street, next to Windward Passage.

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

Staff with the county’s Planning and Development Services Department also provided comments for Grant to pass along to the News Leader.

The county’s Public Works Department will be installing new county park rules signage shortly at the parking space, Planning and Development staff wrote, though no specific date was offered, Grant added.

Finally, in response to a question about whether the Oceane Certificate of Occupancy (CO) had been granted, Planning and Development pointed out, “The site was certified by Land Development [staff] on Dec. 5. Individual CO’s will be issued on a unit-by-unit basis as those units are completed.

Crime stats remain low for November

Sgt. Arik Smith listens to a question during the Dec. 5 Siesta Key Association meeting. Rachel Hackney photo

After stepping to the front of the room on Dec. 5, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members, “As you can imagine, this past month has been pretty busy, with the holidays coming up.”

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival, the Turkey Trot and the Light Up Siesta Key activities all went well, he reported. Next up was the Siesta Key Beach Seafood & Music Festival and then the Santa Stumble, Smith continued. (Both the Turkey Trot and the Santa Stumble are pub crawls organized by the Daiquiri Deck, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and Gilligan’s Island Bar and Grill. The Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) hosts the Santa Stumble, which will mark its 11th anniversary this year, according to information published by the Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway Hotel on its website.)

“A lot of people are coming to the Key,” Smith emphasized.

As for the November crime statistics: Smith said the Sheriff’s Office received about 300 calls for service in that month. “We’re still around our 4% [mark],” for the Part 1 crimes, he added, referring to the more serious incidents, as classified by the FBI. “We usually stick around 4% out here on the Key.”

He then noted the following Part 1 incidents: one aggravated assault; one auto theft; one residential burglary; one vehicle burglary; a couple of thefts; and one robbery.

Explaining the residential burglary, Smith said, “Guy came home and found someone living in his house.” The Sheriff’s Office arrested the allegedly unlawful occupant, who remained in jail as of Dec. 6, Smith added.

In another incident, a purse was stolen during the Turkey Trot, which was held the night before Thanksgiving, he continued. Sheriff’s Office personnel found the purse, he said, and all the contents were returned to the owner; the person chose not to press charges.

Another “smash-and-grab” was reported in November, this one at Beach Access 4, Smith told the audience members. He reminded them that the Sheriff’s Office investigated a number of such incidents in October involving vehicles at Beach Access 8. The perpetrators smash vehicle windows and grab items they believe to be valuable enough to take, he explained last month.

“This looks like it’s a little different” from those in October, Smith pointed out on Dec. 5. (He told the SKA audience last month that the incidents at Access 8 likely were perpetrated by a group out of the Tampa area that targets locations easily reachable from Interstate 75. After they steal items from vehicles, they clear out quickly, making it difficult for the Sheriff’s Office to find them, he pointed out.)

This poster advertised the 2019 Turkey Trot. Image courtesy Siesta Keyi Oyster Bar Facebook page

In the Access 4 case, Smith said, the person used a rock to break the window of a vehicle, from which a purse was stolen. A man was arrested “for a very similar burglary off the Key,” Smith continued, “and we think it’s the same guy” who was responsible for the Access 4 case.

After Smith concluded his report, a woman in the audience asked whether golf carts are legal on Siesta roads. She and her husband recently had encountered such a vehicle — without lights — near twilight on Midnight Pass Road, she added.

Golf carts are legal on roads with low speed limits, Smith explained. However, if they are traveling regular roads, they must have lights, license plates and other equipment, just like regular vehicles, he pointed out.

Some roads on the Key have signs posted to warn that low-speed vehicles are not allowed, because those stretches of road have higher speed limits, he added. The popular three-wheel rental vehicles also are prohibited on those roads, he noted.

Ailing palms in the Village

In response to concerns expressed by a reader, the News Leader contacted county staff this week to ask about an indication that Siesta Village has a number of “sick” palms.

Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county — who serves as the county liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — responded with the following information via email on Dec. 9: “Approximately forty-one palms are currently being treated in the Siesta Key Village for what is commonly known as ‘white fly’ infestation.”

Palms are a prominent feature along Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

During the last monthly inspection of the Village, she continued, it was noted that the fronds had developed spots and unusual coloring. Wilhelm Brothers, the landscape and irrigation maintenance contractor for the Village, scheduled treatment, which commenced last week, Cece noted.

“The palms that have orange ribbons are flagged for a second treatment. Once that is completed, the ribbons will be removed,” she wrote.

“This pest will not destroy the palms,” Cece pointed out, “but for the health and appearance of the palms treatments were necessary to eradicate [the infestation]. At the same time, a follow-up pruning is being conducted in the Village as per contract requirements.”

The Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., which directly oversees the manner in which district maintenance is performed, approved the treatment, along with the county district representative, Cece added.

The Maintenance Corp. represents the property owners who are assessed annually by the county to pay for the upkeep of the Village.

The Corvette versus the Prius

During a Nov. 19 County Commission public hearing regarding a petition for a Coastal Setback Variance for the property at 680 Beach Road, a bit of a different debate arose.

John Patterson’s Corvette is visible in this photo he showed the County Commission on Nov. 19. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Attorney John Patterson, a long-time Siesta Key resident, was representing a homeowner several doors down from petitioners’ property. In explaining his client’s position on the planned siting of a new home at 680 Beach Road, Patterson showed the commissioners a number of photos.

With one image up on the “Wolf” — the overhead projector that enables the board members and the public to see slides and other documents during a presentation — Patterson paused. “That’s my Corvette, by the way,” he said, referring to the blue vehicle in his client’s driveway.

Later, when the attorney for the petitioners — Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm — stepped up to the podium for his rebuttal, Bailey said, “I have a white Prius. When I am of Mr. Patterson’s stature, I will drive a Corvette,” Bailey added with a laugh.

After Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the petition, he offered comments on that exchange before addressing the petition.

“Mr. Bailey, Mr. Patterson’s previous ride was much sexier, more aggressive than a Prius,” Maio said, generating more laughter. “I’m going to stop there,” Maio added, “because right now I’ve gotten myself 12 emails from Prius owners.”

A clarification

In the Nov. 22 Siesta Seen column, the News Leader reported that a Lido Key resident had told the County Commission that when the South Siesta Renourishment Project was underway in 2016, equipment was staged in Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key. In response to a News Leader request for confirmation of that, county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff said no such staging occurred.

However, after further research, PRNR staff contacted the News Leader last week through county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant to provide a clarification.

Grant reported, “Although there was no staging of equipment or materials on the grounds within Ted Sperling at South Lido Beach Park, there was staging in the waters just off the bayside beach with some piping along that eastern boundary of that park.”

Staying pretty much on schedule

Regular readers will recall that in September, Siesta Key Association members heard a presentation about plans for county demolition of structures that made up the Siesta Key Water Reclamation Facility near Glebe Park and Siesta Isles.

A graphic shows the site of the Siesta Key Master Pump Station and equipment that functioned as a water reclamation facility until April 2018. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his Sept. 5 remark, John Saputo IV, construction project manager for the Capital Projects Division of Sarasota County’s Public Works Department, told SKA members that the tentative timeline called for the advertisement of the contract for the work to be published this month.

SKA Director Robert Luckner recently contacted Saputo, Luckner told the News Leader after the Dec. 5 SKA meeting, to ask for an update.

In a Dec. 5 email that Luckner shared with the News Leader, Saputo reported that the design of the project was at the 100% mark. “[W]e should have the specifications completed next week,” Saputo added.

The package would go to the county’s Procurement Department for review, Saputo continued, “and we should … see an advertisement for the bids go out in the January/February time frame.”

In September, Saputo told SKA members that the tentative schedule called for the demolition to begin in May 2020, with completion in October 2020, barring any unexpected developments.

Through a county project, the water reclamation facility was transformed into a master pump station. Since April 2018, all the wastewater has been sent off the island for treatment at one of two county water reclamation plants on the mainland.

The master pump station is located at 5200 Oakmont Place.

Another demolition

As plans remain underway for his proposed hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, Dr. Gary Kompothecras — of 1-800-ASK-GARY fame — told Siesta Sand last month that he would be tearing down the building he owns that formerly housed a storage business. It stands at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.

That structure is adjacent to the site of the former Fandango Café, which Kompothecras demolished in the spring.

Dr. Gary Kompothecras owns the property at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road, outlined in red. The former Fandango Cafe was still standing, at right, when this aerial photo was taken. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

A News Leader check of county permitting records found that Kompothecras received the demolition permit on Aug. 13, and it is good through May 19, 2020.

The notation on the online permitting form says, “Demo Mini Storage Warehouse.”

The fee for the permit was $397.14.

Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show that a company Kompothecras established called 1260 Inc. bought the storage building property for $400,000 in early December 2011. The parcel, which is already zoned Commercial General, comprises 14,950 square feet — slightly more than one-third of an acre.

This year, the property has a taxable value of $518,700, but most of that rests with the land itself: $442,400. The building dates to 1980, the tax records show.

The former Fandango site, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say, has a taxable value this year of $1,053,500. It comprises slightly more than eight-tenths of an acre.

As of Dec. 11, county staff told the News Leader, Kompothecras had yet to file an application with county staff for the hotel project.

Condo Council announces Holiday Lighting Contest details

Logo courtesy Siesta Key Condominium Council

Hilla Blatt, chair of the Siesta Key Condominium Council’s Holiday Lighting Committee, announced in a Dec. 5 email blast that judging for this year’s event would take place the evening of Dec. 11.

All condominium associations interested in participating in the competition had to register by 5 p.m. Dec. 6, she pointed out in her email.

First-, second- and third-place winners will be selected from each of three different categories, she noted:

  • Category I — 101 or more units.
  • Category II — 51-100 units.
  • Category III — 50 or fewer units.
    The contest is sponsored by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Siesta Sandand Siesta Trolley Inc.

On Dec. 11, this reporter had the opportunity to speak with Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Chamber, before the start of a public hearing on the planned swap of Siesta roads from the state to the county. (See the related article in this issue.)

Frescura noted that she originally was scheduled to be a judge for the Holiday Lighting Contest. However, after the hearing was announced, she offered her place to Chamber board Chair Eric Fleming, a Siesta attorney. He has young children, she indicated, so she felt he and they would really enjoy the trolley ride around the island to see all the decorated complexes entered into the Condo Council competition.

The News Leader will publish the list of winners after they have been named.