Siesta Seen

Electric bicycles prohibited on county beaches; Crescent Club outdoor seating area prompts concerns; Siesta Village streetscape improved; Suncoast Sports Club offers kudos to county staff in regard to events at Glebe Park; first snowy plover nest discovered this season; and SKA members put up funds to help with fight against Avenue B and C stoplight

This is an electric Beryl bike. Image by Sebastiandoe5, via Wikimedia Commons

After a thorough investigation into the applicable laws, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on April 1 that he definitely could say that electric bicycles are not permitted on the county beaches.

If someone is pedaling such a bicycle, Smith pointed out, that is allowed, because then the bike is not considered a motor vehicle.

SKA President Catherine Luckner and others have reported during recent meetings that numerous people have complained about the danger of electric bicycles, as the vehicles are so quiet that individuals have nearly collided with them. The problem has been especially bad at sunset, SKA members have pointed out, with members of the public moving around to get the best look at the sun as it sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

During the March SKA meeting, Smith said he had begun looking into the issue. At that time, he explained that he was waiting on a definitive response from the general counsel in the Sheriff’s Office.

On April 1, Smith referred to Section 130-37 of the County Code, which has the heading, “Motor vehicles prohibited on Beaches.”

In fact, Smith noted, two different county ordinances make it clear that electric bicycles operated by motor only are not allowed on any county beaches.

Not only did he consult with the Sheriff’s Office’s general counsel, he added, but he also addressed the issue with representatives of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR).

Section 130-37 includes the following provisions:

  • “It is hereby found and determined that the gulf Beaches in Sarasota County, Florida, are best and primarily suitable for sunbathing and other recreational purposes inconsistent with the operation of motor vehicles thereupon, and that the operation of motor vehicles on the gulf Beaches within the boundaries of Sarasota County, Florida, constitutes a hazard to public health, safety and welfare.”
  • “No person shall operate or park a Motor Vehicle or cause a Motor Vehicle to be operated or parked upon the Beaches or Dunes of Sarasota County, Florida.
  • Bicycle is defined as any device propelled by human power upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels, either of which is 20 inches or more in diameter, and including any device generally recognized as a Bicycle though equipped for two front or two rear wheels.
  • Motor Vehicle means a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any Bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device.”
Sgt. Arik Smith. File photo

“We’ve started to try to give that information out to people,” Smith told the SKA members, who were participating in the meeting via Zoom. Before beginning enforcement of the ordinance, he continued, officers would work to educate the public.

In the meantime, he continued, the county PRNR staff has added information to a Frequently Asked Questions on its county webpages to emphasize what is legal and what is illegal on the beaches. Contact information is provided, as well, Smith noted, in the event someone wishes to talk with staff about any of the provisions.

Smith acknowledged that groups of “20 or 30 people strong” riding electric bicycles together on the beach “can become a safety issue.”

SKA Director Margaret Jean Cannon told Smith she understood that signage had been placed on the lifeguard stands on the public beach to warn people about the fact that electric bicycles are not allowed.

Smith responded that he believed the lifeguards did put up that information. However, he said, the problem is that people often think the signs mean that bicycles are forbidden just on the stretch of beach where the lifeguard stands are located.

Cannon also told Smith that, the previous night, she filmed approximately 30 people on electric bicycles heading from her home to the groin on Mike Cosentino’s private property near Beach Access 2. When she called out to the riders that they were operating the vehicles illegally, Cannon added, “They tried to fake pedaling. … They can’t peddle that fast.”

SKA member Mike Holderness, who also owns property on North Beach Road, confirmed for Smith that people on electric bicycles routinely head to Beach Access 2 around sunset.

Beach Access 2, at the western end of Avenida Messina, long has been a popular spot for watching the sun set on Siesta Key. File photo

Smith replied that he had spoken with representatives of several rental companies that provide electric bicycles on the Key, to let them know about the county ordinance. Some of the business owners, Smith said, were worried about damage to the bicycles from use on the beach.

Smith added that he would talk with yet one more person whom Holderness referenced. That individual has been renting the vehicles for what Holderness and other SKA members have described as group sunset tours.

“Thank you very much for that,” Luckner told Smith.

Another issue for Sgt. Smith to investigate

Yet another issue that arose during the April 1 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting regarded people impeding bicyclists and pedestrians on South Midnight Pass Road in the vicinity of Capt. Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar and the Crescent Club.

SKA President Catherine Luckner told Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s substation on the Key, “We’ve had a lot of people spilling into the road,” in the area of those two establishments. “I don’t know what can be done … to get them out of the road. … There’s also a lot of noise.”

“If there’s people standing in the roadway, and you feel it’s a safety issue,” Smith replied, “call us. A deputy will come out [to investigate the situation].”

Capt. Curt’s property (right) is located at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road. File image

Smith added that he would talk with representatives of Capt. Curt’s about the complaints “to try to alleviate that problem.”

Then SKA Director Erin Kreis pointed out that the greater problem is at the Crescent Club, which has outdoor seating in front of the bar on South Midnight Pass Road. At Capt. Curt’s, she added, people have a lot more room to congregate in the parking lot.

SKA member Jim Wallace noted, however, that he had seen a major change at the front of the Crescent Club that appeared to have ameliorated the problems to some degree.

“Yes, I noticed that last night, too,” Kreis replied.

Nonetheless, Wallace said, “It’s still bad.”

“I will check into it,” Smith promised, adding that he could understand why the situation would be more problematic at the Crescent Club than at Capt. Curt’s, based on the property where the restaurant stands, compared to the location of the Crescent Club.

“You have to check it out on Thursday, Friday or Saturday night,” Kreis advised Smith.

Given the fact that so many people are on the Key for spring break, she acknowledged, “Two weeks from now, it might be different …”

“We have no sidewalk whatsoever in front of the Crescent Club,” Wallace pointed out. Therefore, people have been accustomed to walking in the bike lane on Midnight Pass Road, while bicyclists have been forced into the street with vehicular traffic. Wallace called the situation “very dangerous.”

When The Sarasota News Leader searched the county’s permitting records for the Crescent Club, which is located at 6519 Midnight Pass Road, it learned that county staff had received several complaints over the past months about issues similar to the ones raised at the SKA meeting.

In June 2020, for example, a caller reported that the owners of the Crescent Club had “taken over the sidewalk” and were “putting folding signs in the bike path.”

A photo on the Crescent Club’s Facebook page shows the outdoor seating area in early February. Image from the Facebook page

Code Enforcement staff investigated that complaint and called it “Unfounded,” as noted on June 20, 2020.

Then, on Oct. 21, 2020, a caller reported that “the bar area that is set up in front of this business is impeding the line of [sight] for [pedestrian] and street traffic.

As of April 5, that complaint was still open, county Permitting records showed.

Next, on Jan. 13, someone called the county to say the Crescent Club’s “recent expansion in front (probably due to relaxation in rules due to Covid-19) is encroaching on the walking and bike path along Midnight Pass Rd, which puts pedestrians and bikers in the path of traffic.”

A “Building Compliance Investigation” resulted in that complaint’s being identified as unfounded, as well.

Documentation that the News Leader received about that complaint, through a public records request, said, “All work was permitted. No building violations noted. There are some decorative potted plants which may be a code or zoning issue. Forwarded to [Code Enforcement] for review.”

Then a March 29 complaint came in about planters having been placed in the front of the Crescent Club, in the area that the person considered to be the street setback. A Code Enforcement investigation ensued, the permitting form showed, but it was closed the following day, on March 30.

In an April 5 email, County Public Records Specialist Bethany Higgins told the News Leader that Code Enforcement staff reported to her that the Crescent Club’s manager or operator had moved the potted plants back into the appropriate area.

Let there be new trees

A new streetscape appeared on the southern end of Siesta Village the last full week of March.

Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for Sarasota County, told the News Leaderthat the black olive trees that had stood in front of Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill for many years had grown too large for their space; their root structure was lifting bricks in the walkway, and they were encroaching on the roof structure.

Four black olives in front of the Daiquiri Deck also were lifting some bricks, Cece added in an email. Those trees were not thriving, either, she added, so it appeared they would not survive. As a result, she continued, they needed to be replaced, as well.

Wilhelm Brothers employees install one of the new palms in front of Gilligan’s. Image courtesy Lisa Cece, Sarasota County Government

The Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which represents the property owners in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District — approved foxtail palms to be installed in both areas, Cece reported.

“The new palms will not create issues in the walkway in the future as they have a root ball and descend down rather than out with growth,” Cece explained to the News Leader. “The palms are self-pruning and will not create clearance issues street-side,” she continued.

As the trees in front of Gilligan’s grow, she added, they will extend up and over the roof.

In her county position, Cece serves as the liaison to the Maintenance Corp. The property owners in the Public Improvement District are assessed an ad valorem tax each year to provide funds for the Village upkeep. The directors of the Maintenance Corp. consider any special issues that need to be addressed with those funds.

Architect Mark Smith is president of the Maintenance Corp., and Gabe Hartmann is the manager.

New foxtail palms also stand in front of the Daiquri Deck. Image courtesy Lisa Cece, Sarasota County Government

Cece also shared with the News Leader a copy of a March 26 email that went to the members of the Maintenance Corp., showing the foxtail palms on both sides of Ocean Boulevard, in the area of the Daiquiri Deck and Gilligan’s.

Cece noted that the installation of the new trees was performed by Wilhelm Brothers Inc., which handles the Village landscaping under the terms of a county contract.

On April 6, Cece notified the News Leader that the fronds on the new palms had been released, and she provided more photos.

Kudos to the county from Suncoast Sports Club

An aerial map shows the location of Glebe Park, near St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. Image from Google Maps

In a March 29 email, a representative of the Suncoast Sports Club, which conducts soccer matches for youngsters and teens at Glebe Park on the Key, recently offered lots of praise for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff.

Addressing all the county commissioners, the person — whose name was not provided in the email — wrote, “We have worked with Sarasota County Parks and Recreation for 23 years at Glebe Park. The year 2020 and now 2021 have been difficult for everyone; however, we had 160 registered players for soccer in the Fall and 180 registered players for our Spring season which was the largest to date. The Parks department gave us guidelines to follow and placed signs at the field that if people were sick not to enter Glebe Park. We enjoy working with the parks staff and they are always available and ready to assist us with our needs. The parks staff line our soccer fields, keep the restrooms clean and the fields are always ready for play. (FYI — no families got sick this Fall or Spring). We look forward to many more years at Glebe Park and all commissioners are welcome to visit us on Saturday mornings. (thanks to all staff in reservations!)”

Replying for himself and his colleagues, board Chair Alan Maio wrote a note of thanks to the club representative “for such a wonderful email.”

Maio added, I’ve forwarded it to the County Administrator for his file.”

First snowy plover nest of season discovered on the Key

On April 2, Kylie Wilson, the coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in Sarasota County, reported that she had discovered the first snowy plover nest of the season on Siesta.

It had one egg in it, she noted in her most recent email update to volunteers and other interested persons.

“When I walked up, the female was hovering over the egg with the male nearby and not even 15 feet behind the nest were two unknowing beachgoers set up with their chairs!” Wilson wrote. “I politely explained the situation to the two people, and they were very understanding and moved out of the area so I could post it. The beach is pretty narrow here at high tide but so far, the birds seem to do okay with people. I am concerned about dogs though. With nesting season officially here, it is important that residents and visitors do not take dogs to the beach and particularly to avoid areas with nesting (from Access 5 through 11),” she added.

This photo shows a snowy plover on the first nest of the season on Siesta Key. Image courtesy of Kylie Wilson

In her March 19 update, Wilson pointed to continuing problems with the nesting area that she posts each year on property owned by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey.

“Well, this week has been a busy one,” she wrote in that report. “[S]pring break has the beaches packed and has caused some trouble for the Snowy Plovers on Siesta. Twice last week our pre-nesting enclosure at the [Conservation Foundation] area … was vandalized. The stakes were taken down and dragged away. I reported both incidents to [the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] and to the [Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office].”

During an April 1 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Association, Wilson said she had installed cameras at that site, which is located near Beach Access 11. As a result, she said, she was able to determine that several groups of what appeared to be college-age people were responsible for the vandalism. She added that, based on the actions she observed in the videos, the individuals seemed to have consumed alcoholic beverages before the incidents took place.

If anyone sees someone disturbing a snowy plover nest, Kylie Wilson has asked that the individual contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which handles enforcement issues related to beach-nesting birds. Image courtesy of Kylie Wilson

“The bright side,” she wrote in her March 27 email update, is that the vandalism is likely to stop “once spring break ends in a week or so.”

She showed the SKA members slides about the snowy plovers and noted that the birds do not like to nest in the more vegetated areas on the beach. However, “All of the white sand … is interspersed with public accesses, so there’s a lot of recreational use of this habitat.”

A show of financial support

During the April 1 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), one member was quick to offer up $100 to help with a fellow member’s fight against the planned stoplight at Avenue B and C on Stickney Point Road.

After President Catherine Luckner provided an update on the latest details in the case (see the related article in this issue), Michael Holderness, one of the owners of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, said he would provide $100 if someone would match that.

SKA Director Erin Kreis, who manages the Siesta Royale Apartments, announced that she would put up $100 from that facility’s homeowners association. Match made.