Siesta Seen

No $5,000 fines imposed thus far for illegal, short-term rentals; Condominium Council encouraging members to fill out incorporation survey; Siesta Chamber raising funds for 30th anniversary July Fourth fireworks show; Fire Department responds to report of watercraft in distress; jet ski operators called reckless; SKA urging people to help protect baby manatee in Grand Canal; fire damages Ocean Boulevard property; Siesta not eligible for Dr. Beach’s Top 10 list; and no new snowy plover nests found

Charlie Marchione, a county Code Enforcement supervisor, and Susan Stahley, the Code Enforcement officer for Siesta Key, listen as Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development, makes his presentation to the SKA audience on Jan. 10, 2019. File photo

With the Siesta Key Association (SKA) pursuing a new effort to try to persuade the County Commission to regulate “hotel houses” on the Key, one of our readers asked about an aspect of the current county ordinance that governs short-term vacation rentals.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, on Feb. 26, 2019, the County Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the County Code that imposes a fine as high as $5,000 for violations of the rental laws in districts zoned for single-family homes.

The ordinance makes it illegal to rent such a house more than once every 30 days.

Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on Jan. 10, 2019 that the $5,000 fine could be applied, for example, in situations when loud noise late at night at illegally rented homes proves disruptive to neighbors. The Code Enforcement amendment, he explained, was proposed on the basis of language in the Florida Statutes.

The fine previously could not exceed $250 per day for a first violation and $500 per day for a repeat violation of the county regulations handled by the Code Enforcement Division.

A Special Magistrate — a court official who presides over Code Enforcement hearings — would have to find a violation “to be irreparable or irreversible in nature” to impose a $5,000 fine, the 2019 amendment says.

Last week, the reader asked the News Leader whether a Special Code Enforcement Magistrate ever has imposed a fine as high as that maximum since the ordinance was amended.

The News Leader sent that inquiry to the county’s Public Records Division staff.

In a June 1 email, Bethany Higgins, a public records specialist, wrote that Zoning Code Enforcement staff told her that they were not aware of any Special Magistrate hearings in which a $5,000 judgment was imposed regarding an illegal, short-term vacation rental case.

The SKA has asked its members to let the directors know about any “hotel houses” in their neighborhoods. As SKA Director Joyce Kouba explained during the nonprofit’s May 6 meeting, a hotel house is a residence designed to sleep 12 to 20 or so people.

This is the link for SKA members to provide information about hotel houses in their neighborhoods.

Condo Council encourages members to fill out Save Siesta Key incorporation survey

This is the Save Siesta Key website banner. Image from the website

In a recent email blast, leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) explained to their members that an organization named Save Siesta Key (SSK) has been established by island residents and business owners who are concerned about the future of the Key.

“The objective of this organization is to explore the idea of making Siesta Key a Village/Town,” the email added.

“This organization has approached the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the SKCC to ask for their participation in conducting a survey,” the email continued. “The SKCC Board of Directors has agreed to participate in announcing the survey with the condition that in no way can this be construed as support at this time, and that survey results including other organizations’ results will be made available for the SKCC to send to its membership,” the email said.

Then the email provided the following information from Save Siesta Key:

SSK asks that you take this short, 6-question survey to help us better understand how our community feels, in general, about current governance. Future steps to be determined for a proposal of incorporating Siesta Key. This is an initial component of required due diligence, to better understand how you feel about the possibility of creating our own village/town separate from the county. A feasibility study is required to determine if this is the best solution for our island.

To take the survey, click here. In addition, the Condominium Council encouraged its members to read more about the organization at www.savesiestakey.org, if they wanted further information before participating in the survey.

These are three of the questions on the Save Siesta Key survey. Image from the nonprofit’s website

Moreover, the board of directors of Save Siesta Key is encouraging residents and business owners to sign a petition in support of incorporation. The link to that form is here.

The website emphasizes that the nonprofit cannot accept petitions electronically. Instead, persons who fill out the documents should drop them off at one of the Davidson’s Drugs locations on the Key or mail them to Save Siesta Key.

Finally, the nonprofit has continued to raise the $125,000 the directors say they need to finance the necessary feasibility study to submit to state officials. As of June 1, the organization had pulled in $70,090 through 73 contributions, the website noted. (See the related article in this issue.)

Chamber raising funds for July Fourth fireworks show

Last summer, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce leaders said they really had no choice but to call off the traditional July Fourth fireworks show at Siesta Public Beach.

This year, with the pandemic in decline, the Chamber will host its 30th anniversary show in partnership with Sarasota County.

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

The viewing area will open at 6 p.m. for sponsors, a Chamber event notice points out. The pyrotechnics will begin at dusk. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID safety guidelines and protocols will be in effect, the notice adds.

Admission for the public is free.

In a recent email blast, leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council asked their members to support the event, noting that the Council is a contributor to the show.

The email blast stresses, “This event is made possible from generous donations from our local businesses and residents. Sponsorship includes parking and access to the VIP area with preferred seating and complimentary beverages and snacks.”

Payments may be made by check or online by clicking this link, the email blast said.

The sponsorship levels are as follow:

  • $5,000 — 10 parking passes, 40 reserved seats and business logo on four banners.
  • $2,500 — 5 parking passes, 20 seats and logo on two banners.
  • $1,500 — 3 parking passes, 12 seats and logo on 1 banner.
  • $500 — 1 parking pass, 4 seats and name on 1 banner.

Fire Station 13 responds to call about watercraft in distress

On May 30, a crew from Fire Station 13 on the Key responded to an emergency dispatch call it received at 11:06 p.m. about the need for a water rescue in front of the Whispering Sands condominium complex, a Sarasota County Fire Department report said.

As it turned out, a boat was stuck on the sandbar in Big Pass.

A woman walks along the sandbar in Big Pass, just north of Siesta Key, in July 2017. File photo

An EMS unit, a fire truck and one other vehicle responded to the emergency, arriving at 11:15 p.m., the report noted. Altogether, seven personnel were prepared to deal with the situation, the report indicated.

No one on the boat needed medical assistance, the report said; the people on board told the first responders they were waiting for a tow.

All fire station personnel left the scene by 11:25 p.m., the report added.

Reckless operation of jet skis reported

Another Memorial Day weekend incident — also reported on May 30 — involved a report of people zooming through the Intracoastal Waterway on jet skis in the area of people who were swimming, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

The account also noted that the jet ski operators were jumping in the water.

That call came in at 3:32 p.m., the Sheriff’s Office said.

This aerial map shows the location of Solitude Lane and Big Oak Lane. Image from Google Maps

The person who notified law enforcement officers reported that the area of concern was located between Solitude Lane and Big Oak Lane. Those streets are east of Midnight Pass Road in the vicinity of the Peppertree Bay and Polynesian Gardens condominium complexes.

The responding deputy was unable to find the jet ski operators, the report added. However, the deputy noted that he would check the area throughout his shift.

And speaking of concerns about reckless water activity …

This is a photo of the baby manatee in the Grand Canal. Image courtesy Margaret Jean Cannon

On May 29, Siesta Key Association Director Margaret Jean Cannon notified the News Leader that a baby manatee had been seen in the Grand Canal. She asked that the publication spread the news, with hope that boaters and those on other types of watercraft would watch out for the mammal.

After the News Leader put the information — and accompanying photo — on its Facebook page, more than 200 persons saw it. Two commented about their concerns for the safety of the baby, as manatees have increasingly been put in danger by boaters statewide.

From Jan. 1 through May 28, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported in its preliminary findings, 761 manatees died in the state. Forty-nine of those deaths were linked to watercraft incidents, the report said.

Fire results in damages at Ocean Boulevard home

Just after 9 p.m. on May 19, the News Leader learned, Fire Station 13 responded to a call about a gas or vapor combustion explosion

This map shows the house at 4625 Ocean Boulevard, outlined in purple. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser William Furst

outside the house located at 4625 Ocean Blvd.

No injuries were reported.

While Station 13 and Station 11 crew members were en route to the scene, the report said, 911 Dispatch advised them that neighbors had called to report a possible explosion and that the exterior of the structure was on fire.

When the firefighters arrived, they found an exterior fire on one side of the single-story structure, the report added.

After the fire was put out, the report continued, the homeowner told Fire Department personnel that natural gas is supplied to the area where the fire began. Firefighters attempted to locate the shut-off valve for the gas, the report said, but they were unsuccessful. They also were unable to find an extension of the gas line to the interior of the home, the report noted.

Fire Department officials requested that TECO Energy secure the gas line, the report continued.

Finally, a leak in the gas line was discovered, the report said. The level of gas dissipating into the air was not considered to be at a dangerous level after the fire had been extinguished, the report added. A TECO representative on site told Fire Department officials that the company would have to secure the line coming to the property from Ocean Boulevard; for that work, the company would send a crew with a small backhoe.

Total property damage was put at $3,000, involving primarily a fence and pool heating equipment, the report indicated, along with soffit, which is finishing material used to cover the underside of roof overhangs.

This is a street view of the house at 4625 Ocean Blvd. Image from Google Maps

The value of the house was listed as $173,000.

The fire crews finally cleared the scene at 11:21 p.m., the report said.

Siesta not eligible for Dr. Beach’s Top 10 list this year

As is his custom, Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami — known as “Dr. Beach” — released his 2021 list of the Top 10 U.S. beaches just before Memorial Day weekend began.

Only two Florida beaches won recognition this time: Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin and St. George Island State Park in the Panhandle.

If anyone has been wondering whether growing disputes over public/private property issues and the continued traffic congestion woes knocked Siesta Public Beach out of the competition this year, that was not the case at all.

Siesta won No. 1 status in 2011 and then, as Leatherman explained, Siesta, like its predecessors in that top spot, rotated off the list.

Stephen Leatherman — Dr. Beach — addresses members of the Siesta Key Association on Dec. 1, 2016. File photo

However, Leatherman has made his great affection for Siesta well known through the years, especially during appearances at events hosted by the Siesta Key Association.

In 2016, he decided essentially to start all over again, in celebration of the 25thanniversary of his having created the Top 10 list. A year later, Siesta once more was No. 1.

This year, top honors went to Hapuna Beach State Park on Hawaii’s Big Island.

By the way, as Florida International University (FIU) notes, Leatherman “is an internationally recognized authority on hurricane impacts, beach erosion, effects of sea level rise and rip currents.” He has authored or edited 20 books and more than 280 scientific journal articles and technical reports on coastal issues, the university website adds.

No new snowy plover nests as of late May

In her past three updates about snowy plover activity on Siesta Key — May 14, May 22 and May 29 — Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Shorebird Program in the county, has reported no new nests on the island.

On May 14, she wrote, “There are still three Snowy Plovers on Siesta on the north end but no nesting is active. We are monitoring them and waiting to see if they will attempt to renest.”

A crow had helped itself to an egg that Wilson had found in a nest this spring, she noted in an earlier report.

This snowy plover has been seen foraging on Siesta Key. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Then, on May 22, she wrote, “Sadly, few Snowy Plovers are being sighted around our area. It is possible after having nests fail at Siesta and Lido they will explore new areas to nest so be on the lookout for any potential mating pairs on the beaches!”

She was a bit more optimistic on May 29: “No active nests but there were two Snowy Plovers foraging separately on [Siesta] beach during my last survey.”

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