Siesta Seen

New bills in Legislature would prohibit local regulations on vacation rentals; County Commission to hear presentation on Siesta transportation study; Oceane pocket park signage still under consideration; and Sheriff’s Office report details incident involving juveniles breaking into home

State Sen. Manny Diaz. Image courtesy of the Florida Senate

A new effort is underway in the Florida Legislature to make the state the sole regulating authority of vacation rentals.

However, Sarasota County’s ordinance governing short-term rentals would remain in effect, as the bill would “grandfather-in” measures in place prior to June 1, 2011.

Introduced by Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., of Hialeah Gardens — in Miami-Dade County — the bill also would prohibit local regulations requiring inspections or licensing of vacation rentals; make the state responsible for regulation of advertising platforms for such rentals; and require “each advertising platform to quarterly provide the [state’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation] with certain information regarding vacation rentals in this state listed on the platform.”

Among that information from an “advertising platform,” the bill notes, would be “a list of all vacation rental listings in this state on its platform,” including the “applicable Florida sales tax registration and tourist development tax numbers under which taxes will be remitted for rentals commenced through the advertisement.”

The tourist development tax in Sarasota County is 5%; it is imposed on rentals of all accommodations for six months or less time.

During the Jan. 16 meeting of Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Council, members of that board discussed the increasing number of rentals of vacation properties through online platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

The proposed Florida Senate bill makes the case for what is called “state preemption” of local laws with the following statement: “Property owners who choose to use their property as a vacation rental have constitutionally protected property rights and other rights that must be protected, including the right to use their residential property as a vacation rental.”

The bill adds, “Vacation rentals play a significant, unique, and critical role in this state’s tourism industry, and that role is different from other types of public lodging establishments.” It further notes, “Vacation rentals are residential in nature, a residential use, and thus permitted in residential neighborhoods.”

A companion bill has been filed in the Florida House — HB 1011. On Jan. 21, it won a favorable report after a hearing in the Workforce Development and Tourism Subcommittee (the vote was 10-5). A notion on the bill’s webpage said it is to be heard next by the Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

As evidenced by discussion during the Jan. 9 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, short-term vacation rentals of homes in single-family neighborhoods remain a focus of frustration for many residents on the island. Discussions at SKA meetings over the past couple of years have centered on disruptions such as loud partying at night and the attraction of vermin to garbage piled up at curbsides for days before Waste Management makes its weekly collection on the Key.

The proposed bill does say that local governments may “regulate activities that arise when a property is used as a vacation rental if the law, ordinance, or regulation applies uniformly to all residential properties without regard to whether the property is used as a vacation rental as defined [in the Florida Statutes], the property is used as a long-term rental as defined in chapter 83 [of the state statutes], or the property owner chooses not to rent the property.”

On Jan. 13, Senate Bill 1128 won a favorable report from the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee on an 8-2 vote, according to a Florida Senate webpage.

This is the history of Senate Bill 1128 as of midday on Jan. 23. Image courtesy Florida Senate

The bill formally was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 14, when the 2020 legislative session opened.

Siesta transportation study to be presented to commission

At some point in the early part of this year, the Sarasota County Commission is expected to hear a presentation on a study begun in 2019 that is assessing ways to improve transportation to Siesta Key and on the island itself.

That news was part of a wrap-up County Administration provided to the commissioners during their regular meeting on Jan. 14.

This is the cover of the draft Siesta Key Transportation study provided to the county by the St. Petersburg consulting firm ADEAS-Q. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With the new year underway, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis asked his deputy county administrator and his two assistant administrators to update the board members on the status of the commission’s top priorities for 2019.

As The Siesta News Leader reported in November, a note on the formal document provided to the board members prior to the Jan. 14 meeting says that the Public Works Department hired a consultant to undertake that study. The consultant met with leaders of organizations on the Key and others in an effort to pinpoint the most important transportation issues.

The draft report was completed in December 2019. The work on the study was halfway complete by the end of 2019, according to the document provided to the commissioners for their Jan. 14 meeting.

The document added that the report’s findings could be included in a comprehensive study of all of the county’s barrier island transportation issues. Then, county representatives could work through the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to try to win funding from the state to pursue specific initiatives.

Members of the Sarasota and Manatee county commissions, as well as leaders of the municipalities in the two counties, serve on the MPO board. Representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) also attend the MPO meetings, Sarasota County commissioners have pointed out. The regular gatherings provide opportunities for the elected officials and the FDOT staff to discuss potential projects.

The MPO board members each year also set priorities that they hope will gain support from FDOT.

After the Legislature each year approves funding for FDOT, that department revises its five-year work program to reflect changes in project priorities.

For example, the current work program includes FDOT’s $360,138 grant to Sarasota County so staff can implement safety improvements at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue. Those are expected to get underway in 2021, after the county assumes control of Siesta roads as part of the deal swapping River Road to the state.

The resurfacing of Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Road intersection to Shadow Lawn Way — a distance of 1.635 miles — is also listed in the current work plan, with a total expense of $3,667,439. That is set for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Each FDOT fiscal year begins on July 1.

This aerial map shows Midnight Pass Road between the Beach Road and Shadow Lawn Way intersections. Image from Google Maps

Additionally, the work plan lists the preliminary engineering phase of the resurfacing of Midnight Pass Road from Higel Avenue to Flamingo Avenue — a distance of 1.022 miles — in the 2020-21 fiscal year at a cost of $1,000 and then in the 2022-23 fiscal year at a cost of $10,000.

The work plan link on the MPO website notes that the document is tentative, as priorities can change throughout the year. The information on the Siesta projects, above, was in the Nov. 1, 2019 version of the work plan — the most recent on the MPO website at this writing.

An update on the Ocean pocket park/parking space

For those who have been as curious about the situation as this reporter, the News Leaderasked county staff in mid-January for an update on the lack of signage at the pocket park/parking space next to the Oceane condominium complex on Ocean Boulevard.

That parking spot is on the west side of the Givens Street intersection.

To the average passerby, the space appears to be just a convenient pull-in for someone who needs to make a visit to Oceane.

In a Jan. 16 email, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported that he had checked with the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) about the lack of identification that the parking place is county property. “[P]arks staff is still determining type and placement of signage at this time,” he wrote.

A failed attempt at revenge

During his Jan. 9 report to the Siesta Key Association, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s substation on the Key, drew laughter from the audience members in providing a summary of one December 2019 incident the office investigated. It involved juveniles breaking into a home to exact revenge on another juvenile, he said. However, it turned out that the juvenile being targeted no longer lived at that residence.

The formal report from the Sheriff’s Office says that at 4:18 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2019, a deputy responded to a call about a burglary of an occupied dwelling. (At the victim’s request, the address was not made public.)

Sgt. Arik Smith. File photo

The suspects were Emma G. Loveall, 15, of Sarasota; Ariana M. Semprevivo, 17, of Sarasota; and Waylon E. Loveall, 16, of Sarasota. (Waylon Loveall and Emma Loveall had the same address listed in the report.) The investigating deputy wrote in the narrative that probable cause affidavits were to be filed with the State Attorney’s Office. The deputy indicated that the Sheriff’s Office would charge each defendant with a count of burglary of an occupied dwelling.

The News Leaderfound open records listed for Emma Loveall and Semprevivo on the Sarasota County Clerk of Circuit Court’s website, but documents were not available for public review. Representatives of the State Attorney’s Office in the 12th Judicial District have explained that if the Sheriff’s Office conducts what is called a “direct file” of charges with the State Attorney’s Office, and the latter pursues a case, the record of that case will not be made available until the case has been closed.

Waylon Loveall and his mother, Michelle Loveall, were listed as “Cooperative” in the Sheriff’s Office report.

In the narrative, the responding deputy wrote that when he met with the victim of the incident, she “stated [that] unknown suspects forced entry into her home. The victim was in her bedroom at the time of entry. The victim was concerned for her safety,” the deputy added, so she hid in her bedroom.

“The victim heard the suspects opening draws/closets in the adjacent bedroom,” the deputy continued. Then the victim coughed, the report said, which made her believe she had alerted the suspects to her presence in the home.

The victim told the deputy she could hear “two males yelling” that someone was in the home and “Let’s go.”

Then the victim said she heard “multiple people flee the residence.” The report added, “The victim looked outside the front window and saw [four] people running from the home.”

“During my investigation,” the deputy wrote, “it was clear the suspects entered the unoccupied bedroom. The sheets on the bed were pulled up and closet doors opened.”

The victim was able to provide the Sheriff’s Office with video surveillance from the driveway of the home, the report noted. That video showed four suspects walking to the front door; three of them were “wearing hoods over their heads,” the deputy added in the report.

Then, after several minutes, the report continued, the video showed four people running from the home.

After the responding deputy provided other Sheriff’s Office personnel with the descriptions of the suspects, the report said, another deputy located suspects matching the descriptions. Those suspects were at 5023 Ocean Blvd., the report added. That is the Old Salty Dog restaurant on the northern end of Siesta Village.

The Old Salty Dog is a popular restaurant on the northern end of Siesta Village. File photo

The deputy contacted a parent of each suspect before speaking with the juveniles, the report pointed out. “All parents provided permission to interview the suspects,” it said.

Based on information provided during those interviews, the report continued, the responding deputy determined that Emma Loveall “had a disagreement with a resident who [formerly] lived at the incident address.” The suspects went to the residence, the report added, “to start a fight with the aforementioned resident. The resident was not home,” the report said, so three of the suspects “pushed the unlocked front door open and entered the residence.”

While inside, the report continued, the suspects’ objective “was to steal ‘small’ items described as liquor, drugs or shoes.”

Another suspect said he went to the refrigerator and removed an item, the report added. He then put the item back, the report noted, “and walked to the bedroom where the co-defendants were rummaging through bed/closet.”
At that point, the report continued, “A fourth person who did not enter the home yelled to the suspects that someone was inside the residence. All suspects fled the home,” the report added