Siesta Seen

Traffic study supports workshop comments regarding proposed hotel on former Wells Fargo site; Sheriff Hoffman discusses need for new deputies on Siesta; another reckless jet ski incident reported; new bike racks installed in Siesta Village; and Mote relocates sea turtle nest from Access 2 area

This chart shows details about the findings of the traffic study. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the June 9 Neighborhood Workshop for the 100-room boutique hotel planned on the former Wells Fargo bank site, at 5810 Midnight Pass Road, the principal of the company behind the proposal talked of a traffic study his team had undertaken.

Although Sarasota County Transportation Planning staff did not require it, Dave Balot told the workshop participants, the team wanted to pursue such an initiative.

Balot also noted that he had learned from the manager of the bank that operated on the site that the traffic the facility generated was far greater than the average person might have expected.

And according to the traffic study, a different commercial use on the property also would produce much more traffic than a hotel.

The Sarasota News Leader recently obtained a copy of the traffic study through a public records request. The Stantec consulting firm in Sarasota undertook the research.

Indeed, the report shows, the hotel would generate 1,412 fewer daily trips than if the 2.15-acre parcel were developed with a 21,500-square-foot shopping center. (The site is zoned Commercial General.)

Such a retail facility would produce 2,114 vehicle trips per day, a chart shows, while the hotel would result in 702.

For the afternoon peak drive time, the net reduction in the number of trips with a hotel on the site would be 125, compared to the expected figure for a shopping center.

A graphic shows the Residential Multi-Family zoning districts around the proposed hotel site, which is in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As the document explains, the Commercial General (CG) designation of the property, within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations, “allows for a variety of commercial and service land uses. The maximum intensity for the existing land use CG/SKOD designation assumed 10,000 square feet per acre for a total maximum development of 21,500 square feet … This realistic maximum development considers the infrastructure needs of the property including parking, stormwater management, and landscape buffers.”

The report also noted that the bank, which encompassed 8,580 square feet, closed in October 2020.

The document was dated May 12. It was addressed to Paula Wiggins, the county’s Transportation Planning Division manager.

During the Neighborhood Workshop, participants scoffed at Balot’s assertions that the hotel would produce less traffic than the bank. Although a number of people did offer vocal comments that night, quite a few also made use of the Zoom meeting’s “Chat” feature to express their thoughts.

One, for example, wrote that she banked at Wells Fargo for 30 years and never saw more than two or three persons there at one time. Then, addressing Balot, she added, “The assumptions in your traffic study are inaccurate. It sounds like your study compared a ‘theoretical’ commercial property of a certain size to this proposed [hotel].”

Sheriff discusses assigning two more deputies to the Key

When Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman and members of his senior staff appeared before the County Commission on June 23 for their budget presentation, Hoffman talked briefly about what he called “increased activity” on the island this year.

That was the reason, he noted, that he was asking for two more deputies to assign to the Key during the 2022 fiscal year, which will start on Oct. 1.

“I always tell people it’s a math problem,” Hoffman said. “You can only fit so many people onto a spit of sand …”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler makes a comment during the June 22 budget workshop. File image

Commissioner Christian Ziegler talked about the fact that Siesta Public Beach “really drives our economic activity.”

Ziegler added that when he visits his constituents on Siesta, the need for more law enforcement presence “is one of the top issues that I hear …”

Ziegler holds the commission’s District 2 seat, whose boundaries include the northern part of the island.

Hoffman noted that Ziegler had called him a couple of times to voice those constituents’ concerns. Hoffman also pointed out that he and Major Brian Woodring, the new commander of the Sheriff’s Office’s Law Enforcement Division, had met several times with representatives of Siesta organizations.

He and his wife, Hoffman continued, recently spent a weekend on Siesta. During that time, he said, he saw a deputy go by probably nine or 10 times a day — on horseback, on an all terrain vehicle or in an SUV.

Nonetheless, Hoffman pointed out, “You just don’t see the seasonal change that we used to see in Sarasota County.”

More visitors are present year-round, he indicated.

Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta, has talked for months about the fact that tourists started showing up sooner this season, and more people — including snowbirds — seemed to stay longer.

Years ago, Easter weekend marked the end of high season.

On May 27 — weeks after Easter — Mason Tush, whose family owns CB Saltwater Outfitters on Stickney Point Road, told the News Leader, “We are still seeing elevated numbers [of customers]. We’ve had a really busy May.”

Moreover, Tush said, from all indications he had seen, the island would be “really busy, too,” during June and July.

Tush stressed that he was not complaining. “We’re so lucky,” he pointed out. “It could be so much worse,” given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheriff Kurt Hoffman. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Spencer Anderson, the county’s chief engineer, also noted the extended season when he presented the county’s Public Works Department budget to the commissioners on June 23.

In response to a question from Commissioner Ziegler, Anderson said, “Our normal maintenance efforts [in Siesta Village] tail off toward the end of April.” However, Anderson added, “People have been here much longer [than in the past].”

During his budget presentation to the commissioners, Hoffman also took the opportunity to mention an issue that Sgt. Smith repeats routinely to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members.

A number of vehicle-related crimes occur regularly at the public beach, Hoffman said, because visitors leave their windows down and even leave keys in the ignition. When they do remember to roll up their windows, he indicated, visitors at times still will leave vehicles unlocked.

And the beach is not the only place on the Key where such incidents take place, as Smith has pointed out.

Those situations just keep happening, Hoffman told the commissioners, “no matter how much we do to educate people.”

When Smith addressed members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce during their mid-year meeting on June 16, he reminded everyone, “Lock your doors. … Keep your eye on your valuables …”

And speaking of incidents on the Key …

The News Leader has heard several complaints about the increase in reckless watercraft activity in recent months. The latest incident illustrating those concerns was reported on June 26, the News Leader found, thanks to the help of a reader.

Shortly after 11:30 a.m. that day, a report came in to the Public Safety Communications (911) center about persons on two jet skis near Beach Access 2 who almost ran into swimmers in the Gulf.

Beach Access 2, at the western end of Avenida Messina, is adjacent to private parcels on the shoreline. File photo

The caller said the jet ski operators were driving in and out of a private area of the beach adjacent to Access 2, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.

The responding deputy noted that approximately five persons — possibly teenagers — were on the jet skis. However, the deputy added, they were not operating in a marked swimming area, so no violations were observed.

New bike racks for Siesta Village

Sarasota County’s Public Works Department’s Field Services staff installed two new bike racks in Siesta Village on June 9, Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for the county, told the News Leader.

County workers install one bike rack in front of SunTrust on Ocean Boulevard. Image courtesy of Lisa Cece

The first was placed in front of the SunTrust bank on the east side of Ocean Boulevard, near the newspaper “condo.” The other rack, Cece noted, was installed at the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus stop on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, in front of the Whispering Sands condominium complex.

The latter bike rack was requested by leaders of the Siesta Key Association, Cece wrote in a June 29 email.

Mark Smith, leader of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., formally approved the installations, Cece added. The Maintenance Corp. represents the owners of property in the Village’s Public Improvement District, which encompasses the area primarily between Treasure Boat Way and Beach Road. The owners pay an annual assessment that covers maintenance expenses.

The second bike rack is near the SCAT stop on the northern end of Siesta Village. Image courtesy of Lisa Cece

“The new five loop bike racks match the hardscapes and will add to the future proposed new parking area,” Cece pointed out, referring to county plans to create 22 new public parking spaces within right of way on the northern end of the Village. “Public Works is also planning a new [electric vehicle] charging station that will charge up to two vehicles, next to the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] parking space,” as part of that plan, Cece added.

Cece serves as the county liaison to the Maintenance Corp. In that capacity, she oversees the upkeep of the Public Improvement District.

Sea turtle nest moved away from North Beach Road

The sea turtle nest near Beach Access 2 is marked by pink flags. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Quite a bit of buzz was generated on June 23 by the discovery of a sea turtle nest near Beach Access 2.

Sarasota County Communications Department staff members indicated that they had received calls about whether county workers would install protective turtle netting in the area.

The Communications advisory explained, “Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (Mote) holds several permits related to sea turtles,” as authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). “These permits give Mote the authority to conduct nesting surveys, mark, protect, or relocate sea turtle nests, among other activities authorized by the state. The County does not hold these same permits.”

As it turned out, Mote did relocate that nest. That action took place the same day the nest was discovered, Stephannie Kettle, Mote’s public relations manager, told the News Leader.

The county Communications Department advisory did provide details that the general public may not know about sea turtle protection. It explained that Sarasota County, Mote, and FWC each has different responsibilities when it comes to sea turtles.

“When deemed appropriate, and in coordination with Mote and with the relevant state authorizations, the county Public Works staff has installed protective screening within the public Beach Road right of way,” the advisory continued.

“In addition, the Sarasota County Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance (MTPO) was adopted in 1997 to protect nesting and hatching sea turtles from artificial light and obstructions on the beach. The MTPO aims at limiting obstructions on the nesting beach to reduce impacts to nesting, hatchlings, and adult turtles.”

The latest sea-turtle nesting data from Mote available prior to the News Leader’s publication deadline this week showed a total of 52 nests on Siesta, out of 409 countywide. That report covered the week of June 20-26.

This is the sea turtle nesting data from Mote through the week of June 20-26. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

Through the same period of 2020, the count was 37, but in 2019, the total was 68, Mote noted.

So far, Siesta has had only loggerhead nests, the report also showed. Eight green sea turtle nests have been documented on Casey Key, however.