Siesta Seen

Farmers Market wins County Commission approval for another year of operation; Holderness Coastal Setback Variance hearing delayed; Siesta Beach No. 1 again on TripAdvisor’s Top U.S. Beaches list; and Audubon Florida bird monitoring and stewardship coordinator details snowy plover struggles over past years

An aerial view submitted with the TUP application shows where the Farmers Market is held in Davidson Plaza on Ocean Boulevard. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Each year, the Sarasota County Commission formally is asked to renew the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) for the Siesta Key Farmers Market, which is conducted each Sunday on the northernmost portion of the parking lot in Davidson Plaza in Siesta Village.

On Aug. 26, the issue was placed on the board’s agenda as “Presentation Upon Request,” meaning the commissioners could vote on it without hearing any remarks from county staff or the applicant. Typically, the Presentation Upon Request designation is used for agenda items that staff does not anticipate being controversial.

First Chair Michael Moran read the agenda item into the record and announced he had no cards from individuals wishing to speak on the matter. However, when he asked whether any of the board members had questions for staff, Commissioner Nancy Detert responded that she did.

Addressing county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, Detert asked, “What are they going to do about masks at the Farmers Market?” referring to face coverings whose use the county has encouraged as a means of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

“The manager of the market is making sure that the vendors are socially distancing and the vendors will be wearing masks,” Thompson replied.

“They are encouraging the visitors to the market to wear masks,” Thompson continued, “but it’s not mandatory, since we don’t have a mandatory mask [ordinance].” Thompson added, “The manager has assured me that they will be taking all measures to social distance and protect the citizens that are visiting the market, to the best of their ability.”

“I think it’s almost impossible to have 6 feet apart when you’re at a farmers market,” Detert responded, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for keeping people from becoming infected with the virus.

“The vendor could be wearing a mask,” Detert added, “but the rest of the people probably will not, because it’s outdoors.”
Detert then referenced medical research that has shown social distancing is “not 100% protection” from COVID-19.

Nonetheless, Detert told Thompson, “OK.”

This is a scene at the Siesta Key Farmers Market. Image from the market website

Commissioner Christian Ziegler made the motion to approve the TUP, and Commissioner Alan Maio seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.

The staff memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting noted that the Siesta Farmers Market has been operating in Davidson’s Plaza since 2009. The latest TUP application, it added, was submitted by Bryan Eible — who founded the market — and Lloyd Dobson, who serves as the manager.

The memo said, “There have been no complaints against the Farmers Market since its inception, and the community has continued to generally support the Farmers [Market].”

Each commission vote to approve the TUP has been unanimous, starting in 2008, the memo pointed out.

The cost of the permit is $140, according to the application that also was provided to the commissioners prior to the meeting.

The market hours are 8 a.m. to noon, the application said. Average attendance was estimated between 200 and 400 people. The number of vendors was put at 18.

The application further noted that the property manager for John Davidson, whose family owns the plaza where the market takes place, has given the market permission to continue operations.

Among the vendors are Grumpy’s Farm Market, which offers fruits and vegetables, as well as sellers of candles, hand-painted china, bonsai, batik items, green tea, glass art and soaps.

Holderness petition hearing delayed indefinitely

The day before Siesta business and property owner Michael Holderness was to appear before the County Commission for a hearing on a Coastal Setback Variance petition, staff notified the board members that the item would be rescheduled.

Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, sent County Administrator Jonathan Lewis an email just before noon on Aug. 25. Referencing the agenda number and the petition number, Osterhoudt pointed out, As staff prepared for the Board meeting, staff discovered that the proposed plans did not accurately represent and depict a public access easement. Based on staff’s review, the proposed construction would encroach into the easement. Staff has brought this to the attention of the Petitioner and their representatives, who have now verbally agreed to remove the item from the agenda and reschedule the public hearing to a later date once the matter has been addressed.”

This is a close-up of the plans for the residence and ancillary structures planned seaward of North Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Holderness’ application, which The Sarasota News Leader reported on in early June, proposes construction of a pile-supported, two-story-over-parking, single-family residence that would be completely seaward of North Beach Road and a maximum of 166.92 feet west of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). That line, as county staff and commissioners have pointed out, was established in 1979 to allow for stabilization of the beach by protecting dunes and vegetation. In turn, the coastal systems would protect private property from storm surge and other flooding events.

The site where Holderness proposes the home does not even have an address, as no structure ever has stood there. The application lists the following as the location: Lot 14, Block 7, of the Mira Mar Beach Subdivision.

As for the public right of way issue: In the summer of 2016, Holderness purchased the North Beach Road property from the heirs of the late Capt. Ralph Styles. That transaction followed the County Commission’s approval — in May 2016 — of the vacation of the 373-foot segment of North Beach Road. In conjunction with that vacation, the property owners who had petitioned for it — including Capt. Styles’ heirs — agreed to a dedicated, 5-foot-wide public easement perpendicular to North Beach Road, which would extend to the public beach.

The new house would be adjacent to Beach Access 3 on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who represented the petitioners, consulted with them during the May 11, 2016 hearing and told the board that his clients would “proffer … the [public] access forever … That would formalize and provide a legal description that would be recorded in the public records.”

No formal path ever was created, however. County Administrator Tom Harmer reported later in the year that county staff had observed no problems with people making their way across the private property to reach the shoreline.

This is the top of the public access easement that Mike Holderness signed on Sept. 26, 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

We’re No. 1 — again!

Again this year, TripAdvisor has ranked Siesta Beach No. 1 on its list of Top 25 Beaches in the United States, based on travelers’ recommendations.

Next to a photo of a section of the fine quartz sand — with a scattering of people in the distance and volleyball nets also visible — the text says, “Pristine beach that never seems to end. Photographer’s dream. A place in the sun that warrants returning again and again.”

Of the 7,659 reviews of Siesta Beach on which the ranking was based, TripAdvisor points out that 6,074 gave the destination a rating of Excellent. Another 1,090 people ranked the beach Very Good, while 299 considered it Average and 94 marked it Terrible.

One review, dated Aug. 21 from “Ann & 3 Sisters,” gave Siesta the full five stars, based on a visit in October 2019. The writer pointed out that she and her three sisters spent four days on the Key “and wow was it a party … as well as super relaxing & beautiful.”

Visit Sarasota County compiled these photos from Siesta Beach with an article about the latest TripAdvisor honor. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Another five-star review, based on an experience in August, talked about the “[c]lean white sand [and] a [walkway] mat for making it easier to get to the area you desire and [that] disabled people in a wheelchair can use.

A four-star review posted by a Lakeland resident, who also visited in August, remarked on the “very clean” beach.” The writer continued, “Other than the walk from the car to the water this place is amazing.”

Yet another five-star review, based on a Georgia couple’s July visit, commented, “Great place to view the sunset and safe place to swim. Only thing I would say negative was it was truly disappointing to see how much trash vacationers leave on the beautiful beach!”

An Orlando resident who visited in July with family members also gave Siesta five stars. “Super clean, tons of free parking, soft sand that somehow stays cool in the hot summer sun, clear water … Plus plenty of dining options in the cute town of Siesta Key. Definitely worth the drive!”

Another July visitor, whose home area was not identified, gave the beach four stars, writing that it “is beautiful, the sand is like flour but it’s the most crowded beach I’ve ever been to in my life (guess that’s why it’s number 1).”

A visitor from Tennessee, who came in July, offered a five-star review, as well. That person noted, “The kids love the texture of the sand — it’s almost like kinetic sand and molds into balls, makes bridges and tunnels, and castles.”

This list is on the Visit Sarasota County website. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

However, one person who visited the Key in July gave the beach just three out of five stars, writing, “I rated [it] a ‘C’ for the water. Depending on the day the water can smell, the water can stay very shallow out for 50-75 yards and calm and yes can stink …”

When the News Leader asked county staff about the odor issue, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant responded that the problem was naturally decomposing seaweed.

Staff sent the following message, she said, “to a few folks who expressed concerns.” The heading on it was Seaweed accumulation on the beaches.

The message said, “Though this matter is naturally occurring, as it becomes exposed to sunlight the seaweed begins to break down, often producing an offensive smell. At low tide, the seaweed can become exposed, while high tide will cover up the seaweed and mask the smell. High tide can often take the seaweed back out to the Gulf as it ebbs.

“We recognize that accumulating seaweed can be unpleasant,” the message continued. However, it added, “please know that it is usually best to leave accumulated seaweed/seagrasses in place as they actually provide a great benefit to our beaches:

  • “Sea grasses washed up on the beach help sand accumulate by slowing down wind-blown sand or catch sand caught in the surf — this builds healthy beaches!
  • “Sea grasses washed up on the beach help provide nutrients (once they break down into the soil/sand) to beach/dune plants trying to survive in that harsh environment.
  • “Sea grasses washed up on the beach help provide forage and protection for numerous invertebrates, shore birds, and newly hatched beach-nesting birds.”

By the way, St. Pete Beach was No. 2 on the TripAdvisor list this year, followed by Ka’anapali Beach on Maui at No. 3, Pensacola Beach at No. 4 and Clearwater Beach at No. 5. Hollywood Beach, Panama City Beach, St. Augustine Beach, and Santa Rosa Beach also represented Florida on the list.

The snowy plover saga

In an Aug. 23 update about the nesting shorebirds in the county, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship program, wrote about an experience she had had on Lido Key and offered more details about the endangered snowy plovers. Her email included details about the plovers’ plight on Siesta in recent years.

“Remember Ms. Shady?” Wilson began. “She was the last Snowy Plover to nest on Lido and she made her nest under a chick shelter. I thought her nest was predated. She was not observed on the nest and the eggs were gone — it was the same day that a juvenile Herring Gull was seen predating some of our last Least Tern chicks. But, the following week when I was removing the Least Tern posting, these 2 little Snowy Plover chicks ran out in front of me!!

This is the papa snowy plover and the two chicks discovered on Lido Key. Photo courtesy Kylie Wilson

“I was completely stunned!” Wilson continued. “I thought surely, they had to have hatched from the last nest but that means I had missed them for 5 whole days! Clearly, these chicks were very good hiders. The two chicks were being raised by Dad; mom left after they hatched. This is a common thing with Snowy Plovers,” she added. “[S]ometimes mom does all the incubating and dad does the chick rearing.

“So, I watched as these chicks grew,” Wilson wrote. “By 3 weeks I had a really good feeling both were going to make it. But, one chick was getting to be more adventurous than the other and would wander far from Papa plover and his sibling. One day, the adventurous chick was missing.

“There were Great Blue Herons and a Herring Gull that were seen stalking around in the vegetated area where the chicks were normally found,” Wilson noted. “I suspect one of them depredated the chick. Just goes to show, even once they hatch, Snowy Plovers have a lot to contend with to be successful.

“Fortunately, the other chick never strayed too far from dad. Today the chick is 30 days old. It is about the size of an adult and can run very fast but I have not actually seen the chick fly so I am holding off on officially labeling it as a fledge. I have seen it do a big flap and hop! I expect it will be fledged within another couple days.

“These Snowy Plover chicks are the first to hatch in Sarasota County since 2017,” Wilson pointed out. “As some of you may recall, we had Snowy Plover chicks on Whitney Beach in 2018 but that is technically Manatee County. We also only fledged one chick that season.

“After seeing these birds nest repeatedly (and fail repeatedly) on Siesta for the past three years,” Wilson continued, “it is encouraging to see that they were more successful on Lido. “Maybe they will try on Lido earlier next year.”

The primary issues that hinder the plovers on Sarasota County beaches, she added, are predation by crows and “disturbance from people (particularly disturbance related to dogs).”

Then Wilson offered some statistics.

The southwest region of Florida has 17% of the state’s nesting snowy plover population, Wilson wrote, citing as her source the Florida Shorebird Alliance 2020 Annual Report.

“In our area,” she pointed out, “we consistently have around 12 breeding adults during nesting season.”

Siesta Key Association Director Robert Luckner showed the County Commission this image during an Aug. 26 public hearing. The yellow triangles, he said, mark snowy plover nests discovered on Siesta Key in the past 10 years. GPS data were used to pinpoint the spots, he said. The majority are seaward of the house standing at 636 Beach Road. Image courtesy of Robert Luckner

Since 2018, she added 33 failed snowy plover nests have been counted in the area:

  • “25 of 25 on Siesta (10 in 2018, 6 in 2019, 9 in 2020).
  • “5 of 6 on Lido (1 in 2019, 5 in 2020).
  • “3 of 9 on Longboat (all from 2018).

“We have only fledged two chicks from our area since 2018 (assuming our current chick will fledge),” she wrote.

“These small, well-camouflaged, sneaky, sassy birds are the most vulnerable of our nesting species in Sarasota. They need our help. Hopefully, we can work on getting predation management approved for next season and hopefully we can enhance protections for our beach-nesting species and enhance the enforcement of those protections,” Wilson added. “These are my main goals moving forward.”