Siesta Seen

Angled parking spaces on Ocean Boulevard likely to be constructed late this summer; construction of parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road could be completed by August; May crime stats provided; Siesta Village Public Improvement Area property value falls; and sea turtle nesting figures so far lagging 2020 numbers

This is the schematic Siesta Key architect Mark Smith showed the County Commission in October 2020, with parking spaces indicated in the rights of way on Ocean Boulevard on the northern end of Siesta Village. Image courtesy of Mark Smith

If all goes according to plan, the 22 new parking spaces the County Commission has approved for the northern end of Siesta Village should be complete by the end of September, the county’s Public Works Department staff has told The Sarasota News Leader.

In an April 29 update, Assistant County Engineer Larry Mau reported that the project was in the design phase, which was anticipated to be concluded by the end of May. However, Mau noted that that timeline depended upon the work that TECO Energy of Tampa had to undertake. A crew would have to identify the locations of utility lines in the areas slated for the parking spaces, Mau said.

Further, Mau noted that it would take staff six to eight weeks to obtain the materials for construction, and then the project itself would take approximately three to four weeks.

In response to a News Leader request for an update late last week, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported the following from Public Works staff: “The Ocean Boulevard parking design is nearing completion, tentative this month — there was some delay due to an existing utility. Construction most likely will not start before August.”

As the News Leader reported last October, the County Commission agreed to the parking concept that Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce leaders had proposed. Architect Mark Smith, a long-time Chamber director and past chair, showed the commissioners a schematic depicting 18 angled spaces in the area where landscaping buffers the Whispering Sands condominium complex from Ocean Boulevard. The other four spaces will go on the east side of Ocean, in front of the building at 5011 Ocean Blvd.

During his Oct. 6, 2020 comments, Smith noted that discussions began about five years earlier, between Chamber leaders and Commissioner Alan Maio, regarding the need for more public parking spaces.

“Parking is a premium on Siesta Key,” Smith pointed out, “and this, we believe, is a good solution … What we’d be removing is palmetto and cabbage palms.”

This is another aerial view of the affected portion of Ocean Boulevard, with the building at 5011 Ocean Blvd. and the Old Salty Dog on the right. Image from Google Maps

A Nov. 3, 2020 report that county staff produced in response to the commissioners’ request put the estimated cost of the project at $250,000.

While the commissioners offered full support of the plans, a number of residents — including the leaders of the Whispering Sands Condominium Association, the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) — have remained opposed to the undertaking. The leaders of those organizations have voiced concerns about the potential for accidents, because of the high traffic volume through the Village. Whispering Sands homeowners have pointed out that even though the speed limit in the Village is 20 mph, traffic coming into the Village often does not immediately abide by that restriction after leaving the 35-mph zone on the northern part of Ocean Boulevard.

Moreover, as one resident pointed out to the commissioners in late October 2020, delivery trucks often park in the center turn lane, so drivers can make deliveries. Such vehicles could exacerbate problems for drivers trying to back out of the spaces, Bernette B. Hoyt pointed out.

This photo shows the sidewalk on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, in the general area where the parking spaces are planned. Image courtesy of Catherine Luckner

Additionally, SKA President Catherine Luckner has noted that the area in front of Whispering Sands is one of the few left on the island with wide sidewalks that walkers and bicyclists easily can share.

Conversely, in a letter of support for the project, then-Siesta Chamber Chair Mason Tush of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters wrote county staff last year, “This is a rare opportunity for the County to add public parking that is located within a business district.” Tush added that, with the creation of the new spaces 22 fewer vehicles will be “driving up and down the street searching for a place to park or illegally parking down a side street in a residential neighborhood.”

Funds approved for construction of 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road parking lot

In unanimously approving their June 8 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the Sarasota County Commission agreed to pay Gator Grading & Paving LLC of Palmetto $156,954.60 for “miscellaneous concrete work” in the county parking lot under construction at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road.

A county graphic shows the location of the parking lot site at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Almost exactly a year earlier, the commissioners formally approved the parking lot plans in an effort to provide more options for visitors and patrons of the business district in the vicinity of Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road.

A June 8 county staff memo, provided to the board members in advance of the meeting, noted that the parking lot will have 43 spaces “in the South Siesta Key Village area.”

The initiative includes removal of a portion of the existing asphalt driveway and the concrete curb so “new pervious concrete pavement” can be put in place, along with a new 4-inch-thick concrete sidewalk, a 6-inch-thick concrete driveway and a concrete Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking pad.

Barring any major weather issues, the memo added, the “construction should be substantially complete” by August.

The money for the work will come out of county Capital Improvements Project funding set aside for the Operations Safety and Signalization Program.

This engineering drawing shows facets of the parking lot plans. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Although the original county vision for the parking lot was to serve the public, during the June 2020 public hearing on the proposal to create the facility, the potential arose that it ultimately could be leased to business owners as a site where their employees could park. That would free up spaces closer to the businesses on Old Stickney Point Road, especially restaurants, business owners said.

Then-Commissioner Charles Hines also stressed, “The public access to the beach from this location is not good.”

Residents of condominium associations on the west side of Midnight Pass Road had complained that members of the public routinely trespass on their property in trying to reach the shoreline.

Neither Beach Access 12 nor 13 is close to the 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road parcel, speakers pointed out during public hearings on the project.

The site originally was home to a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office training facility. Even before the Sheriff’s Office vacated the property, Commissioners Maio and Nancy Detert talked about the land’s potential for a parking lot to supplement spaces in the “South Bridge” area of the Key.

A county Public Utilities Department structure stands on the rear of the parcel, which is why the parking lot will be confined to the area closest to Midnight Pass Road.

The May crime stats

Although Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta, did not make it to the June 3 Siesta Key Association meeting, the News Leader was able to get a copy of the island’s May crime statistics from Kaitlyn R. Perez, the Sheriff’s Office’s community affairs director.

Altogether, the report says, the Sheriff’s Office tallied 608 calls on the Key in May; 31 of those — or 5% — were crimes involving people or property. (The FBI used to classify those as “Part 1 crimes,” Smith has explained. This year, law enforcement agencies began using a new classification process through the National Incident Based Reporting System — NIBRS.)

This graphic shows the locations of the personal and property crimes in May. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Among those NIBRS crimes, the Sheriff’s Office reported, two stolen vehicle incidents occurred after drivers left their keys inside the vehicles and the vehicles “were left unlocked and/or running.”

Smith has pleaded with SKA members to lock their vehicles, no matter where they leave them. He has stressed that most “crimes of opportunity” on the Key involving vehicles are a result of persons failing to ensure the locks have been engaged.

In both those May cases, the report continued, the vehicles were recovered. And in a third case, the report noted, “[I]t was determined that the victim misplaced the vehicle”; it had not been stolen.

In two of the four residential burglary cases, the report continued, persons were able to enter “unsecured garages, [and] unlocked vehicles parked inside were burglarized.”

As for the other two cases: The report said someone reported fishing items removed from a patio that was unlocked, and “a possible associate of acquaintances stole a purse from a rental unit.”

Three theft incidents involved unattended beach bags, the report noted, and three other cases regarded unlocked bicycles or bicycle trailers that were stolen. Of the other theft cases, a kayak was stolen from a dock; a debit card was stolen and used in Siesta Village; and “a suspect stole soda from a convenience store.”

The largest number of calls to the Sheriff’s Office in May — 100 — were for public service. (Sgt. Smith has explained to the News Leader that, for example, a person who finds an item someone left in a business or on the beach will call the department to report it.)

The second-highest count — 55 — was attached to the “Suspicious Person” category, while 50 “Suspicious Incident” reports were made. Noise disturbance calls added up to 45, the report showed, and 26 illegal parking incidents were noted.

Siesta Village Public Improvement District tax value falls

This graphic shows the parcels within the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The June 1 preliminary property tax value estimates released by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office show a drop of about 6.1%, compared to the figure for 2020, for the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District.

The new figure is $73,895,748. The June 1, 2020 preliminary figure was $78,632,233.

The property owners in the Public Improvement District pay an assessment each year, based on the value of their parcels, which goes into a fund to pay for the Village upkeep.

Sea turtle nesting lagging 2020 figures thus far

Siesta is off to a slower start this sea turtle nesting season, Mote Marine Laboratory figures show.

The data the News Leader found for the period from May 16-22 show a total of 24 new loggerhead nests, with no other types of nests discovered.

Altogether, as of that period, 54 nests had been documented on the Key.

This is the Mote sea turtle nesting data for the week of May 16-22, compared to data for the same period of the previous two years. Image from the Mote Marine website

The data for the following week increased the number of Siesta nests to 30. That compared to 58 for the same period of the 2020 nesting season, the chart showed.

Altogether, Siesta had 84 nests as of May 29. That was down from 143 for the same portion of the 2020 season. Those were the latest figures available prior to the News Leader’s deadline for this issue.