Wetlands issue raised during workshop on south Siesta hotel and parking garage project; workshop question also focuses on proposed hotel bar; Court of Appeal tentatively agrees to oral arguments in Cosentino case; Siesta Key Breeze ridership up in December; SKA president tells tale of cut FIOS cable; Condominium Council reminding members about Jan. 12 meeting via Zoom; Sheriff’s Office substation leader reports busy holidays at the beach; and Turtle Beach Park improvements planned
When representatives of Siesta businessman Dr. Gary Kompothecras conducted a Dec. 15, 2020 Neighborhood Workshop on plans for a hotel and parking garage in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area” of the island, several questions arose about the potential effects on wetlands adjacent to the hotel site.
The first person to raise the issue was Robert Luckner, a director of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).
“In your narrative,” Luckner told attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm and Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton, “you say that there are no wetlands on the hotel parcel. I guess I’m confused on that.”
The rear of the hotel property, Luckner continued, appears to extend into the area of Sabal Lake. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has an inventory of all the natural wetlands in its territory, Luckner noted, and Sabal Lake is listed as a “non-tidal” wetland. “Do you contend Sabal Lake is not a wetland?” Luckner asked.
“It’s been confirmed that Sabal Lake is actually a retention area,” Medred responded, adding that that information is shown on the Development Concept Plan for the proposed hotel.
In land-development matters, Medred explained, wetlands that are considered herbaceous and forested are protected by state statute and county regulations. “We’ve got confirmation through SWFWMD that it is a retention area,” Medred reiterated his earlier comment about Sabal Lake.
Nonetheless, Medred said, he would ask representatives of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which is part of the project team, to take a look at the situation.
Luckner promised to send Medred the information he had gathered from SWFWMD.
Then Bailey pointed out that the Sarasota County Development Review Committee (DRC), whose members represent the various departments and divisions involved in land development, would make certain that no protected natural habitat would be affected by the hotel project. If they find a problem, Bailey said, “They will let us know.”
Luckner pointed out that mangroves — which are protected by state and county regulations — were destroyed several years ago on the shoreline near the hotel site.
“We are not aware of any violation on the property,” Bailey replied.
Medred indicated that the situation to which Luckner had alluded was action permitted through SWFWMD.
If the hotel project would necessitate any destruction of mangroves, Luckner said, “I think it would require mitigation steps …”
Later during the Dec. 15 workshop, Dr. Neal Schleifer, president of the Paradise Cove Association, whose residents live near the hotel site, reprised Luckner’s comments. “We’re very concerned about what’s being proposed,” Schleifer told Bailey and Medred.
He asked whether the project team had undertaken an environmental study.
To his knowledge, Medred responded, county staff had not required such documentation, as no herbaceous or forested wetlands would be affected by the plans.
“There are mangroves [in the area],” Schleifer said, adding that the Paradise Cove residents live on Sabal Lake. They have had to preserve the existing mangroves, he continued, noting that any construction has had to take place upland of the mangroves.
“I do believe you are required to do an environmental study,” Schleifer told Bailey and Medred. The area around Sabal Lake, he added, is “actually an entire stormwater management system for our area,” including Peacock Road, Old Stickney Point Road and Sabal Drive. The system has “many swales and retention ponds,” he pointed out, “and there’s a connection to the Intracoastal Waterway.” It is “there to prevent flooding. It’s quite a serious system.”
Bailey assured Schleifer that the project team would make certain the hotel construction would have no adverse effects on that system.
A May 21, 2020 form for the Kompothecras projects that was completed by Sarasota County DRC members did note that the hotel would be located in the Dona/Roberts Bay watershed, The Sarasota News Leader found. However, the Environmental Protection Division staff did not call for a study, as Medred had noted during the workshop.
Questions raised about proposed Kompothecras hotel bar
Yet another question participants raised during the Dec. 15 Neighborhood Workshop on Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ proposed hotel and parking garage focused on a bar planned in the hotel.
In response to a question from Siesta Key Association Director Margaret Jean Cannon, Robert Medred of Genesis Planning & Development said the bar would be located in the interior of the seventh floor. That level also will be the site of the outdoor pool for guests, he said.
Persons using the pool would be able to access the bar, Medred added.
Cannon said she did not realize that Kompothecras was seeking a liquor license for the hotel.
Court of Appeal tentatively agrees to oral arguments in Cosentino case
On Dec. 23, 2020, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal granted Siesta resident Mike Cosentino’s request for oral arguments in his North Beach Road and county Charter amendments case.
However, the court order did include a caveat: “Oral argument will be scheduled and, unless decided otherwise by the merits panel, conducted.”
A 1994 article in The Record, the journal of the Appellate Practice Section of the Florida Bar, explains, “The Second District routinely assigns an oral argument date in most final appeals in which an oral argument is requested.”
The Dec. 23 order was signed by Mary Elizabeth Kuenzel, clerk of the court.
Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure allow for 20 minutes for each side during oral arguments, except in capital cases, when the time limit is 30 minutes.
After Cosentino filed his motion for oral arguments, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce responded in a Dec. 15, 2020 brief. Pearce first noted that even though the court gave Cosentino an extension of time to file his reply to the answer briefs submitted by the other parties, Cosentino filed his reply brief one day late, “without requesting additional time from the Court. Earlier this year,” Pearce continued, “[Cosentino] also filed his initial brief one day late without leave from the Court.”
Then, Pearce pointed out, one day after that — again “without leave of court” — Cosentino “filed an amended reply brief. Earlier this year, he likewise filed two amended initial briefs without seeking leave from the Court.”
When Cosentino finally filed his Dec. 4 motion for oral arguments, Pearce continued, he “essentially [asked] the Court to forgive the ‘late filing’ of his request …”
Yet, Pearce pointed out, with emphasis, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.320 states that a request for oral argument must be filed in a separate document “not later than 15 days after the last brief is due to be served …” Thus, Pearce noted, Cosentino’s request was due no later than Dec. 8. Therefore, Cosentino did file his motion within the required time frame, contrary to what he wrote in his motion, Pearce added.
Nonetheless, Pearce wrote, “Rule 9.320 also states the Court may dispense with oral argument.”
Pearce further noted, “This matter has been thoroughly briefed by the parties … Cosentino intends to present his oral argument pro se and has repeatedly shown a lack of respect for the rules and orders of this Court. Waiting to conduct oral argument would further delay the outcome of this appeal. For these reasons, the County does not believe the Court would benefit from, and requests that the Court dispense with, oral argument.”
Cosentino has been representing himself in the case since his last attorney, Janelle A. Weber of Manta Law in Tampa, withdrew from it, with court approval, in late September.
In his Dec. 4 motion, Cosentino wrote, “Opposing parties will not be adversely affected by the granting of this motion, as the requested Oral Argument gives all parties equal opportunity to present arguments of their positions set forth in their respective Briefs.”
In a Dec. 16, 2020 filing — one day after Pearce submitted his response — the attorney for the Siesta residents who have intervened in the case, Dennis and Wendy Madden, formally adopted the county’s response to Cosentino’s request for oral arguments.
The Maddens were among the North Beach Road property owners who petitioned the County Commission in May 2016 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that had been closed to vehicular traffic since 1993 because of repeated storm damage.
Lewis Hall III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota is the Maddens’ attorney.
In his original complaint against the county, filed in June 2016, Cosentino argued that the county commissioners violated a county Comprehensive Plan policy that prohibited the vacation of any county roadway on a waterfront. Later that year, in adopting an updated version of the Comprehensive Plan, the board members approved an amended policy that gave them greater flexibility in considering such road vacations.
Even so, during the May 2016 public hearing, then-Commissioner Charles Hines argued that the affected section of North Beach Road technically did not abut a waterway, as private parcels owned by the Maddens and their neighbors lay seaward of the road.
Cosentino’s appeal also involves two county Charter amendments that he wrote, which won passage in the November 2018 General Election. His goal in getting them on the ballot, he told the News Leader, was in creating another avenue to reverse the road vacation and prevent similar future action by a County Commission. In October 2019, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ruled that the amendments were legally invalid.
In February 2020, a second Circuit Court judge entered a final order in Cosentino’s case, ruling in favor of Sarasota County; that prompted Cosentino’s appeal.
A good year in spite of pandemic
Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) has reported that the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley carried 13,894 passengers in December.
Although that figure was down 44.87% in comparison to the December 2019 number — 25,204 — the Breeze has been limiting ridership in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The trolley was out of service from the latter part of March through mid-June, as county staff worked to try to keep residents and visitors as safe as possible.
Altogether, the Breeze carried 186,086 passengers in 2020, SCAT noted. That was a 46.88% drop over the 350,320 count for 2019.
Fiber optic cable cut causes holiday problems
Call it the “Curious Case of the Cable Cut.”
On Dec. 26, 2020, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner copied the News Leader on an email she sent to county staff, seeking help with a very big problem: Early in the evening of Dec. 23, she reported, the fiber optic — or, FIOS — cable that provides internet access to her home was cut. “We have been talking [to] Frontier since Dec. 23 but not on Christmas day,” she wrote Lisa Cece, the county’s special district coordinator, and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. “I’m desperate to find a means to remedy this situation,” Luckner added.
Construction crews have been working along Higel Avenue on the northern part of the Key, not too far from where she lives, she noted.
As of Dec. 26, she continued, “We are still without internet access on our fios buried lines … Can you help or direct me to a Regional supervisor of this work crew?”
Luckner pointed out that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents rely on the internet for work, not to mention Zoom meetings with loved ones.
“Thank you so much for any help you can offer!” she concluded her email.
Then, at 12:47 p.m. on Dec. 26, Luckner sent another email to county staff. Her internet was back up, she wrote. “Thank you for any help you provided,” she added.
The county’s Public Works Department’s routine One Week Look Ahead publication has contained information in past weeks about a drainage project along Higel Avenue from Little Pond Lane to Somerset. The initiative includes the resurfacing of the roadway and improvements to the sidewalk and shoulder. The county publication has warned, “Motorists should expect delays due to single lane traffic and flaggers, including evening and overnight work.”
The Higel project, which the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was pursuing, was expected to be concluded at the end of 2020, “weather permitting,” the One Week Look Ahead for Dec. 27 reported. The document listed FDOT contact information.
Therefore, the News Leader this week emailed Brian R. Rick, spokesman for FDOT’s District One, to ask if the FIOS problem resulted from the FDOT project.
On Jan. 5, he responded via email, explaining that no FDOT-related incident occurred on Dec. 23, adding, “(Most crews were off early as the holidays were beginning.)”
“If there ever were an incident, Frontier is onsite, so [the problem] would have been fixed immediately, and it would have likely been during overnight hours, when usage is low,” Rick continued.
As of the deadline for the publication of this issue of the News Leader, county staff had not responded to a request for any information regarding the incident that Luckner reported.
When the News Leader spoke with Luckner on Jan. 6, she talked about the fact that, “Within three hours after I sent that [Dec. 26 email to county staff], things started working … It may have been coincidental.”
Even though she and her husband, Robert, are “very adaptable,” she said, she worried about other Frontier customers without internet service during the three-day period. “I don’t know how many other people had a problem,” she told the News Leader.
She learned about the cut in the cable by talking with a Frontier representative, she pointed out. That person also promised to text her when service was restored, but Luckner said no one sent her any message.
“Anyway,” she added, “[the internet service] came back. I don’t know what to say.”
A Frontier media representative who responded to a News Leader inquiry about the cause of the incident and the number of customers who were affected sent the following note late in the evening of Jan. 7: “We have no record of a cable cut or any technical issues in our central office for Siesta Key on that date or thereafter. Not sure what you heard or from whom.”
Condo Council meeting reminder
The leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council are reminding members that the organization will conduct its first meeting of 2021 on Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. via Zoom.
The speaker will be attorney Dan Lobeck of the Lobeck and Hanson firm in Sarasota. As in past years, Lobeck will provide an update on state laws that affect condominium associations. He also will address issues related to conducting business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A question-and-answer session will be provided at the end of the presentation, the Council notice points out. “If you have a question of a General Condo nature and would like to have it addressed as a part of Mr. Lobeck’s presentation the question can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org and will be consolidated for consideration,” the email blast notes.
To participate in the meeting, use this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89814643930?pwd=Nzl0MVVmVWxNZHJ2OTQ2MFpZSHZXUT09.
The meeting ID is 898 1464 3930; the passcode is 531732.
The News Leader this week contacted Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, to ask about the holiday season.
Typically, Smith said, from Christmas through New Year’s Day, the island is very busy, not only with tourists but also with county residents who have time off.
Even though the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases in the county were rising in December, Smith noted that the 2020 holiday season on Siesta “was right on par with previous years.”
“It was absolutely jam-packed out here,” he noted of conditions at Siesta Public Beach during the week following Christmas. The parking lot generally was full by 11:30 a.m. each day, he added.
At least the Sheriff’s Office had few calls for service, Smith said. “Everybody was getting along.
New restrooms planned, eventually, at Turtle Beach
Among a long list of projects Sarasota County’s Capital Projects Department has planned for this fiscal year — which began Oct. 1, 2020 — is the replacement of the restrooms and office at Turtle Beach Campground. The expense was listed at $4,115,000.
However, no funding was identified to pay for the construction, even though it was ranked as a “High” priority, with “Medium” and “Low” as the other two options.
The Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources project was ranked 45 out of 74 among that department’s priorities for the 2021 fiscal year.