Siesta Seen

Most serious types of crime remain at low level on the Key; planning proceeding for Breeze shelter at public beach; SKA applauds sewage system improvement to prevent future spills from Siesta facility; and attorney offers update about application for proposed 170-room hotel between Beach Road and Calle Miramar

This graphic shows the locations of the Part i crimes reported in May. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The most serious types of crimes — those the FBI classifies as Part 1 incidents — have continued to make up a small percentage of cases the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has handled on the Key, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

With Siesta Key Association (SKA) meetings having been on hold because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, substation leader Sgt. Arik Smith has been unable to provide monthly crime reports. Therefore, the News Leader asked the Sheriff’s Office for statistics covering May, June and July.

From May 1-31, the Sheriff’s Office reported that officers handled 579 calls for service on Siesta, 12 of which were Part 1 crimes. They accounted for 2% of the total, the May report noted.

Four of those incidents were residential burglaries, and one “involved an unsecured bicycle that was stolen from an open garage.”

One case, that report said, “should be reclassified as a public service,” because when deputies responded to the home to check out the situation, “Nothing suspicious was found.”

Another incident ended up classified as a robbery, the report continued, but it started out as a fight. “The victim placed his property on the ground, and when the fight was over, the property was discovered missing,” the report said.

One vehicle robbery “involved a smashed window at a beach access,” with a purse “left in plain sight” having been reported stolen.

A grand theft report “involved a jewelry box discovered missing after a move,” the report noted.

Four petit theft incidents entailed stolen survey stakes, “a money clip that went missing at a party” and two unsecured bicycles that were taken, the report added.

Of all 579 calls, the May report noted, those classified as “Suspicious Incident” accounted for 56, with another 49  designated “Suspicious Person.”

Three responses dealt with “Mental Cases,” the call log said.

For June, the number of calls was even lower — 471 — and only 3% of those were Part 1 crimes, that report said.

“The most commonly reported crime was theft,” the report pointed out, “making up 75% of the total.” Three of those cases involved alcohol stolen from a convenience store, the report added, while two entailed items left unattended that were stolen from Siesta Public Beach.

Sgt. Arik Smith, the substation leader, has urged SKA members — just as his predecessors did — not to leave valuables, especially, on the shoreline. Smith has stressed that even though the beach feels like a safe environment to visitors, people will commit crimes of opportunity.

Another theft involved a guest stealing items “from a communal pool,” with officers having arrested the suspect. In one incident, the report continued, a phone was stolen from a bar.

Two burglaries were reported in June. One “occurred at an unsecured resort laundry room.” However, the report noted, even though a storage door was forced open, nothing was found to have been taken.

A residential burglary, the report continued, “has been determined to be unfounded after the complainant recovered his automatic vacuum cleaner.”

One aggravated assault case “stemmed from a disturbance on the beach in which a bottle was thrown,” the report said.

Yet another bicycle was stolen, the report added, but it was locked at a bike rack.

The two incident types that had the highest totals in the June report were “Officer Public Service,” at 62; and “Suspicious Incident,” at 49. In third place was “Noise Disturbance,” with 37 of those calls.

Twenty-eight calls were about illegal parking, the report said.

This is the log of specific types of calls recorded in July. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Finally, the July report noted 435 calls for service, 4% of which were Part 1 crimes. Among those, it continued, were two “smash and grab” incidents involving vehicles at a beach access. Sgt. Smith and his predecessors also have emphasized to the public not to keep valuables in plain view inside vehicles. The suspects in those incidents “were identified as juveniles from out of the area,” the report added. “The investigation is ongoing.”

A call about a residential burglary was determined to be unfounded, the report continued, “after the complainant recovered her debit card.

A robbery during July entailed a suspect pulling a handgun on the victims and demanding money, the report said, noting that the victims did not know the suspects, but the victims had interacted with the suspects “shortly before the incident.”

An aggravated assault, the report said, “stemmed from a disturbance at a gas station during which a knife was produced. There were no injuries.”

The other Part 1 crimes that month, the report noted, were related to thefts. Four “involved unattended bags or phones stolen from a beach or bar. Suspects were known to the victim in two (2) cases and a group of juveniles visiting from out of town were identified in a theft of fishing equipment.”

Other thefts involved a tag stolen off a vehicle, “outdoor chairs [that] were taken, a watch and cufflinks [that] were discovered missing from a residence, and a hat [that] was removed form a boat.”

As in June, the report said, “Officer Public Service” was the most common type of incident, with 56 recorded. “Suspicious Incident” was in second place, with a total of 42 calls, and “Noise Disturbance” reports numbered 34.

Trolley shelter still planned at Siesta Public Beach

This is the new SCAT shelter in front of the Fire Station No. 13 property. Image courtesy of Paul Wilkinson

A Siesta resident recently contacted the News Leader about a new bus shelter installed on Beach Road in front of the Fire Station No. 13 site, where the new building is under construction.

While appreciative of the shaded seating for riders awaiting the Siesta Key Breeze and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses that operate on the island, the resident nonetheless wondered why the structure was placed about 550 yards south of the “busy entrance to the beach.”

It would make more sense, the gentleman added, to have a shelter where, he suspects, demand is far greater for it.

Regular readers will recall that Commissioner Christian Ziegler has been a staunch advocate for a bus shelter at Siesta Public Beach — especially after he and his young daughters spent about 20 minutes on a spring day last year, waiting for the trolley to arrive.

During the May 8, 2019 County Commission meeting, Ziegler said he tried to get his girls into the little bit of shade produced by a light pole, describing the experience as “Brutal.”

“Other people were complaining about it,” he noted of the time in the sun.

“I think that that was a little flaw,” he continued, in the design of the new amenities at Siesta Public Beach, which were completed in early 2016.

When Ziegler asked staff about creating shade structures for trolley passengers, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained that she and her staff would be working with SCAT and Public Works Department staff members to determine funding sources for such a project.

Whatever can be done to improve the situation, Ziegler responded, “would significantly improve the trolley experience …”

In checking county Capital Improvement Program (CIP) records for the current fiscal year — which ends Sept. 30 — the News Leader was reminded that SCAT had designated several stops on the Key for new bus shelters. One of those structures was to be installed at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road, which is close to the Fire Station 13 site.

These are the locations where Siesta Key bus shelters were planned for the current fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The News Leader also asked county staff for an update about a shelter at the public beach.

In an Aug. 13 response, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester explained that planning indeed is underway for a bus shelter near the main entrance to the beach park. That structure likely will be will be “a bit larger” than the one near the Fire Station 13 property, he noted in his email. Before the shelter can be installed, Winchester added, staff will pursue the traditional design and construction process.

He had no further details at that point, he continued, “but SCAT personnel indicated [the shelter] was forthcoming.”

SKA kudos to Public Utilities staff

In late July, on behalf of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Director Robert Luckner sent a note of congratulations to Dave Cash, manager of the county’s Waster/Wastewater Division, in recognition of the Public Utilities Department’s having completed an upgrade of a sewage system facility in response to an incident that occurred last year on Siesta Key.

In August 2019, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester offered the following explanation from the Public Utilities Department staff about that incident:

“The Siesta Key Master Pump Station utilizes a large transmission main [line] to transport flow to the mainland for treatment. During high flow conditions, a booster pump on this transmission main activates automatically to assist with transporting flow during high flow conditions such as those experienced on the afternoon of July 9, 2019. [Staff had explained that heavy rainfall precipitated the event.] The booster pump failed due to a bad starter on the diesel engine that powers the pump. While the pump was being repaired, the volume in the Master Pump Station increased and spilled for a short period of time until the pump was repaired.

An aerial view shows the master pump station, just north of Siesta Isles. Image from Google Maps

“The incident has been examined,” staff continued at that time, “and Sarasota County is implementing additional safeguards to prevent future occurrences including procedural changes, adding automation and increasing inspections of the booster pump. The booster pump is also going to be replaced within the next year. The new pump station will include more redundancies in the event of a failure.”

In that July 2019 incident, 36,000 gallons of raw sewage was discharged into the Grand Canal and then ended up in Roberts Bay, according to June 2020 report completed by Carollo Engineers Inc. of Sarasota. Approximately 14,700 gallons was recovered, the report added.

On June 26, according to a copy of a letter provided to the News Leader, Laura Baumberger, vice president of Carollo Engineers, sent the report to Jennifer L. Carpenter, assistant district director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), on behalf of Sarasota County Public Utilities. The document offers details on enhancements to the county’s infrastructure in an effort to prevent sanitary sewer system overflows (SSOs), as required by a Consent Order the County Commission approved in August 2019 with FDEP.

The Consent Order documented unauthorized discharges, “failures to provide timely construction of wastewater facilities to provide proper disposal, and treated effluent discharges” that violated a specific type of environmental permit. It also specified county actions to remedy the past problems.

The introduction to the report said Carollo staff members “evaluated the operational enhancements implemented to minimize the recurrence of raw or partially treated wastewater sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) [incidents].”

Carollo site visits were conducted between March 9 and March 11 of this year at all locations where more than 1,000 gallons of sewage was spilled between May 19, 2018 and Dec. 13, 2019, the report explained, including the locations of nine lift stations.

County staff has engaged a contractor to perform quarterly maintenance on all the county’s lift station pumps, the report also noted.

In regard to the July 2019 Siesta Key incident, the report pointed out that the county replaced a diesel pump at the Lockwood Ridge Road facility, where the booster pump was supposed to activate automatically in situations such as the one in July 2019. An electric pump should provide increased reliability, the report added.

On Aug. 31, 2018, almost a year before that July 2019 incident at the Siesta Key Master Pump Station, the report noted that heavy rainfall also led to over-pressurization of the sewer force main and reduced the pumping capacity of the Siesta facility. In all, 4,500 gallons of sewage was spilled, with 1,500 gallons recovered.

An update on hotel just off Ocean Boulevard in the Village

This aerial map shows Siesta Key Resort and Suites at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Calle Miramar, with one of the proposed new hotel parcels, 220 Calle Miramar, outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Given the buzz about the proposal for a 170-room hotel on property between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, the News Leader recently asked the attorney for the applicants about the timeline for submission of the formal application to Sarasota County staff.

Matthew Brockway of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota told the News Leader in an Aug. 11 email, “[W]e have not made a decision on when to file our formal application, but we anticipate that it may be sometime later this year.”

Members of the county’s Development Review Committee (DRC) — who represent the various divisions involved in land development — had offered a variety of comments on the preliminary proposal Brockway provided them in the latter half of May.

The parcels at the heart of the plan include the former location of the UPS Store, which stood at 221 Beach Road.

The 80-foot-tall hotel would include a restaurant, a bar and shops, according to the preliminary application. The site, which encompasses 0.96 acres, is owned by Louise Khaghan of New York City. The long-time lessee of the property is Robert T. Anderson Jr., a RE/MAX real estate agent, those preliminary documents show.