Siesta Seen

Sheriff’s Office handles 456 calls for service in June; Patterson Park restroom construction planned in 2022 fiscal year; Sheriff’s Office implements new practice for managing parking lot at public beach; Beach Club the focus of several incidents; Flavio’s gets concrete outdoor dining platform; Siesta Key Breeze ferrying plenty of passengers; OnDemand service strong in Siesta zone; county Planning staff provides wrong public hearing time to resident; and regional lifeguard championships return to Siesta Public Beach

This graphic shows the location of property and personal crimes on the Key in June. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Since the Siesta Key Association (SKA) did not conduct a meeting this month, Sgt. Arik Smith did not provide a report on crime on the Key in June.

Therefore, The Sarasota News Leader asked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for the type of information Smith normally would include in his report to members of the nonprofit.

In response to that request, the department’s crime analyst provided not just numbers but also information about specific incidents.

Altogether, the report shows, the Sheriff’s Office handled 456 calls for service on the island for the month of June. Of those, 31 — or 7% — were classified as crimes involving people or property, which the FBI used to designate Part 1 crimes, as Smith has noted.

Among those 31 incidents, two of three reported residential burglaries involved people known to the victims, the document says. In the third case, “[C]ash and a gift card were taken from a locked rental unit.”

The document also notes cell phone thefts, which Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Frescura asked Smith about during the Chamber’s mid-year meeting for members, held on June 16. “A group of Hispanic males distracted employees at stores along Ocean Blvd. and sole their cell phones,” the Sheriff’s Office report says.

When the News Leader asked Smith about the incidents, he noted that officers were able to view security video from some of the stores where incidents occurred. As he understood it, he continued, about four or five individuals were believed to have been in the group perpetrating the alleged thefts. In regard to the distraction aspect of the operation, Smith explained that a perpetrator would ask a clerk questions, keeping the clerk busy while another individual in the group targeted a cell phone.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “I think it’s going to be tough” to make any arrests.

Smith encouraged people at the Chamber meeting to be careful with personal items when they are in any business.

The Sheriff’s Office report for June also noted three shoplifting cases involving theft of alcoholic beverages from stores. Further, a suspect was arrested in connection with three alleged thefts involving a bicycle, an attached trailer and the contents of that trailer.

Two felony criminal mischief cases were reported in June, the document continued. One of those involved the keying of a vehicle, while the other entailed damage to water fountains at a park.

The largest number of calls related to a specific incident type in June — 56 — were for public service. Smith has explained to the News Leader that those can involve a variety of issues, including individuals finding lost property.

Forty-one “Suspicious Incident” cases were logged, along with 32 “Suspicious Person” cases. Twenty-two calls were related to noise disturbances, the document says, and 21 involved illegal parking situations.

Nora Patterson Park improvements a priority for FY 2022

Picnic tables and benches afford views of the Intracoastal Waterway from Nora Patterson Bay Island Park. File photo

Among the top priorities on the Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department project list for the 2022 fiscal year — which will begin on Oct. 1 — is the construction of a restroom facility at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, which is located at 946 Siesta Drive.

Although the property is within the city of Sarasota, the county owns and manages the portion on the south side of the Siesta Drive drawbridge.

A document county staff released early in January 2020 estimated the project expense at $900,000. Of that total, $500,000 was to come from North County Parks Impact Fees, with the remainder from City of Sarasota Park Impact Fees, the document said.

The undertaking originally was planned for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to “pauses” in spending, as County Administrator Jonathan Lewis had pointed out. With every expectation that revenue would be down considerably last year, county staff put on hold a number of initiatives that were not deemed critical.

In late May, when the County Commission conducted a budget workshop, a county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) document in included in the meeting packet showed the total expense for the Patterson Park project had risen to $1 million.

This is a rendering of the restroom facility planned for Nora Patterson Bay Island Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Of the 83 PRNR initiatives listed in that document, the restroom construction was ranked 11 for the 2022 fiscal year, and it had a “High” priority classification. Impact fees still were listed as the primary funding source.

On Nov. 18, 2020, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, conducted a virtual meeting to show the public the design of the restroom building, which was created by Seibert Architects of Sarasota. The structure would have two family restrooms, and it would be elevated to conform to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines for building in a flood zone.

“We did investigate a ground-level restroom at grade,” Rissler said. However, the design would have had to ensure flood-proofing. “It just financially wasn’t feasible at this location.”
The first level of the structure will allow for visibility to the south and views toward the Intracoastal Waterway, Rissler pointed out.

Planning for a ramp for the restroom structure that would conform to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines was “one of the biggest hurdles,” she said. The ramp will have one switchback, Rissler continued. “A small bench is proposed for halfway up for anyone that would possibly need to stop [and] rest …”

This aerial map shows the location of the county’s portion of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County via Google Maps

During the County Commission’s budget workshops in late June, County Administrator Lewis included the park restroom project on a list of major initiatives planned in the county’s Capital Improvement Program for the 2022 fiscal year.

In response to a News Leader question about the timeline for construction, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported on July 13, “PRNR is just about to go out to bid for construction with hope to break ground later this year or early next year. Still hoping for a grand opening mid next year.”

Managing the parking lot at Siesta Public Beach

Through the years, the Sheriff’s Office sergeant and deputies on Siesta have tried a number of tactics to manage the traffic associated with the public beach parking lot.

During a recent News Leader interview, substation leader Sgt. Arik Smith explained the latest tactic.

On July 4, the Sheriff’s Office posted this photo on its Facebook page, showing the full parking lot at Siesta Public Beach. The image appears to have been taken from the Public Safety Building at the park. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook

“When the parking lot reaches capacity,” he said, officers work hard to keep people from turning into it. However, he added, that can create vehicle backups on Midnight Pass and Beach roads. “We’ve had it back up all the way down to the south bridge and to the Village,” he said.

In planning for the busy July Fourth holiday, Smith pointed out that he had decided to station a couple of deputies on Beach Road to ensure traffic could flow smoothly.

Whenever the turn lane filled up, he noted, an officer would prevent any other motorist from waiting to pull into that lane and, thereby, blocking the road.

Smith also pointed out that an extra 15 to 17 deputies had been assigned to the Key for the July Fourth holiday weekend, and their primary responsibility would be to “work the parking lot.”

His goal, he added, was to try to prevent crimes.

Even with rainy days leading up to the Fourth, Smith said, the parking lot was remaining full. When a downpour begins, he added, some people will leave. Nonetheless, he indicated, plenty of others will wait out the weather.

Sheriff’s Office responds to Beach Club incidents

Over the past decades, the Beach Club in Siesta Village has been quite a popular spot for visitors and residents.

As a result of that popularity, the venue also has had its share of incidents prompting calls to the Sheriff’s Office, as the News Leader has noted.

Thanks to the Sheriff’s Office’s Community Affairs staff, the News Leader was able to obtain reports on several recent calls for assistance.

Among those, a battery occurred outside the Beach Club just after 11:30 p.m. on July 15.

The perpetrator was identified as 20-year-old Sydney Rose Churchman of 295 Altair Road in Venice.

The 45-year-old victim opted not to be identified under the state’s Marsy’s Law, the report added.

In this case, the report said, two deputies “observed a physical altercation” outside the club. One reported that Churchman walked beside him and the second deputy, “making a pig oink sound.” Then, the report continued, the victim “made a gesture” toward Churchman, indicating Churchman should not be rude. One of the deputies saw Churchman engage in a confrontation with the victim, the report said, which resulted in Churchman’s punching the victim “in the face multiple times” and pulling her hair.

The two deputies detained Churchman afterward, the report noted.

Sydney Rose Churchman. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The victim confirmed the details of the incident to the responding deputy, who saw that she had “multiple abrasions” on her face and forehead, the report said.

Thus, the third deputy arrested Churchman and took her to the county jail, the report noted.

Churchman was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the alleged battery, the report said.

The Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division records note that Churchman paid $500 in bond and was released from jail on July 16. Her arraignment is set for Aug. 31.

In a second case, which occurred just before 11 p.m. on July 14, a deputy was dispatched to the Beach Club because of concerns that a 21-year-old woman, Alex K. McGovern of Cranston, R.I., needed to be confined under the guidelines of the state’s Marchman Act, that report said.

McGovern was impaired at the time, the report added.

After talking with her, the report said, the deputy relied on his “training and experience” in determining that McGovern met the criteria for the Marchman Act.

Chapter 397 of the Florida Statutes, which is known as the Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Services Act of 1993, “provides for emergency assistance and temporary detention for individuals requiring substance abuse evaluation and treatment in the state of Florida,” a website devoted to the act explains.

About three weeks earlier — on June 25 — a deputy responded to a call from a person at the Beach Club who reported that a 21-year-old woman had passed out from drinking too much alcohol. The call came in about 12:15 a.m.

The responding deputy found the woman was breathing normally, though she remained unconscious, the report said. The Fire Department ultimately was called, so firefighters/paramedics could treat the woman, the report added.

Flavio’s outdoor dining platform constructed

This is the new concrete pad for outdoor dining at Flavio’s in Siesta Village. Contributed photo

After receiving a question from a reader about the appearance of a concrete pad in the parking lot outside Flavio’s Martini Bar in Siesta Village, the News Leader learned that a contractor submitted a project application to county staff in August 2020.

The document said the pad would take up three parking spaces in the plaza located at 5221 Ocean Blvd.; the goal was to provide outdoor patio seating.

The application added that the estimated expense was $10,000.

With the COVID-19 pandemic underway, a number of restaurants were focused on creating more outdoor dining options, to make customers feel safer, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The contractor listed on the application was Woodside Homebuilders of Sarasota.

Sarasota County Building Department staff finally issued the permit for the construction on Nov. 18, 2020, county records show.

Benderson Development, which has its offices in University Park, owns the plaza where Flavio’s is located.

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis has noted in recent months that the Planning and Development Services Department has been handling what could be a record number of permits this year.

A busy Breeze in May and June

These are the latest statistics for the Siesta Key Breeze. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With tourism booming on the Key over the past months, it should be no surprise to see the Siesta Key Breeze’s passenger counts climbing significantly.

In response to a News Leader request, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff released the trolley data for May and June.

In May, the total number of passengers was 31,746. That compared to 24,906 in May 2019.

For June, the count was 30,811, which exceeded the June 2019 total of 23,935.

In June 2020, with the pandemic well underway, SCAT finally put the Breeze back into service for the second half of the month. Masks and social distancing were required. With a partial month of operations, the passenger count was just 5,162. That was down 78.43% from the June 2019 figure.

Altogether, through June of this calendar year, the Breeze has carried 182,976 persons between Turtle Beach Park and Morton’s Siesta Market in Siesta Village, the SCAT data note.

Demand strong for OnDemand service

This graphic shows the Siesta Key OnDemand zone. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Last week the News Leader also asked SCAT staff about ridership in the Siesta zone for the county’s new OnDemand service.

On June 5, Sarasota County Area Transit launched the OnDemand mobility option in four county zones.

From June 5 through July 11, 304 trips had been completed in the Siesta zone, SCAT reported.

The OnDemand services are being handled under county contract with a firm based in New York. They allow persons to reserve trips through a mobile app for Apple and Google devices and by phone (941-300-1553).
The cost for the service is $1.25.

“After you book a ride, the app will display your pickup spot — we’ll either give you the address or business name at your pickup spot to help you find it,” a county fact sheet says. “All pick-ups should be at your requested location or within a block.”

Further, the fact sheet notes that all the vehicles will be branded with the logo and colors of OnDemand by Sarasota County, so they should be easy to recognize.

A mini bus is being used for many of the trips, county documents also have indicated.

When the county commissioners approved the OnDemand proposal, they likened it to use of Uber and Lyft.

The hours for the OnDemand service are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

A miscommunication

Margaret Jean Cannon addresses the commissioners on July 13. News Leader image

On July 13, Siesta resident Margaret Jean Cannon showed up in the afternoon at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, prepared to offer comments during the public hearing on a petition for a pool on property located at 450 Beach Road. (See the related article in this issue.)

A formal county notice she received in the mail stated that the hearing was scheduled for the County Commission’s afternoon session that day. (As a homeowner within 750 feet of the site of the proposed pool, she received the formal notification of the hearing, per county regulations.)

When she arrived, however, she learned from her fellow Siesta Key Association leaders — Catherine and Robert Luckner — that the hearing was conducted during the morning session; the variance was approved on a 4-1 vote.

Cannon decided to address the commissioners anyway, pointing to the error in the letter.

She told them that even though they had made their decision, she wanted her comments “on the record.”

Showing the board members an aerial map, she said the condominium complex where she lives was built in 1986. “There’s been a moratorium for some time,” she stressed, in regard to new construction in that floodplain.

Past commissioners, Cannon continued, “thought wisely” in denying variances. Just a couple of years ago, she pointed out, the board turned down a request for a pool in the same general portion of Beach Road.

“We have a potential problem,” she added. With the commissioners having approved this latest request, for the condominium complex at 450 Beach Road, other property owners in the vicinity will ask for pools, as well, Cannon said.

Chair Alan Maio did ask Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, to try to find out why the letter Cannon received from staff had the wrong time for the hearing.

Lifeguard competition returns to Siesta

Lifeguards compete in a U.S. Lifesaving Association Southeast Regional event on Siesta Beach in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Siesta Beach hosted the state’s top lifeguards for the 2021 United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) James “Mac” McCarthy Memorial Surf Lifeguard Championships July 21 and July 22, Sarasota County staff announced.

The two-day event was designed “to showcase the skills and abilities of lifeguards as they compete in swimming, running, paddling, rowing, and water rescue events,” a county news release explained. The competition served as the Southeast Regional championships for USLA competitors. Top finishers in each event qualified to compete in the 2021 USLA National Lifeguard Championships, which will be held Aug. 4 to Aug. 7 at South Padre Island in Texas.

Several Sarasota County lifeguards were expected to participate in the various events throughout the competition, the county release added.

“Hosting this competition gives Sarasota County the opportunity to thank lifeguards for all they do to protect citizens and visitors alike along our beaches and those across the state,” said Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier in the release.

This year marked the third time the competition has been held on Siesta Beach. The last time the event was conducted in Sarasota County was 2016, the release noted.

For more information, visit the Southeast Region of the United States Lifesaving Association.