County Commission chair handles questions on a broad array of topics at the SKA annual meeting — from restrooms to restricting Siesta development; the county formally gets an extension on closing the Siesta wastewater treatment plant; and March 23 is the date for the Atkins peer review discussion by the county board
No restrooms by the “wedding pavilion” at Siesta Public Beach; parking lot problems at Turtle Beach; and rampant development in downtown Sarasota: Questions about myriad topics were those Sarasota County Commission Chair Al Maio and County Administrator Tom Harmer fielded on March 5 after they made formal remarks during the Annual Breakfast Meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).
Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, joined in a few times herself when she had ready answers.
The very first query fired off to Maio in the Q&A session handled by SKA President Michael Shay focused on the restroom issue. A man in the audience of about 140 people told Maio those facilities are sorely needed when weddings take place on the northern end of the beach park. (County commissioners cautioned staff against calling the shelter a “wedding pavilion” when planning was under way more than two years ago for the new park amenities.)
“That makes complete sense,” Maio responded. “How do I argue with that. Here’s the dilemma: FEMA.”
Maio was referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has specific guidelines for how high off the ground the first floor of new construction must stand in a floodplain.
“FEMA’s going to require [any restroom structure] to be way up in the air,” Maio continued. Add in the necessary ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he added, and “believe me, the cost of pipes and getting sewer there is the least of it.”
As for portable restrooms: “This commissioner is not going to dot Siesta Beach with porta-potties,” Maio said. “There’s no simple solution.”
On a related issue, a woman in the audience asked whether restrooms will be added at Beach Access 7, where a cottage stands on the property. That was when Brown first came to Maio’s figurative rescue.
“It all comes down to funding and then permitting,” Brown explained. When the county purchased adjacent parcels — including the cottage — several ago, she said, plans called for restrooms. Parking has been expanded at the access, she pointed out, and county staff is considering plans for renovating the existing boardwalk. “Bathrooms are on the wish list. … Right now, there is no identified funding source for that.”
In September 2010, a county staff report pointed out that the county purchased two parcels adjacent to Access 7 in 2007 and 2009, expanding the area by 3.7 acres. The goal was “to enhance public beach access, provide additional beach parking and preserve the viewshed toward the Gulf of Mexico,” the document says.
When staff conducted a public meeting on Oct. 29, 2009 to gain comments about the future of the access, the report continues, the desire for a restroom was among the ideas expressed.
On a different topic, Malcolm Lazin, who identified himself as a Philadelphia native, noted that he brought up concerns last year about the close proximity of a new residential structure to Midnight Pass Road; it is situated between Siesta Beach House and the Palm Bay Club. Maio’s subsequent research showed that it complied with county zoning regulations. SKA President Shay told The Sarasota News Leader — which was on hiatus last year when the issue arose — that when the multi-family home was under construction, the SKA board “heard a lot of complaints,” and Maio received numerous emails. “Everything seemed to be proper,” Shay added, in regard to the permitting process with the county.
County records show a permit was issued on Aug. 8, 2014 for new construction on the site.
During the March 5 SKA meeting, Lazin asked Maio to take a new look at the dwelling, “with that ugly fence and a couple of palm trees …”
Michael Saunders & Co. has the property at 1136 Windsong Lane listed as a single-family home on 0.23 acres with an asking price of $2,450,000. The structure has six bedrooms and five baths with 4,778 square feet of living space, the real estate firm says.
“Can we have a special zoning district along Midnight Pass Road … to protect it against now more developers with very valuable land wanting to build as close to Midnight Pass Road as possible?” Lazin added.
Furthermore, Lazin pointed to the “massive development that is happening” along U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota, especially the Vue Sarasota Bay project at the intersection of Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41. “All of a sudden, it’s the specter of Tampa and the specter of Miami,” he pointed out and then suggested a building moratorium until current community residents figure out how much density they want.
The Siesta Key Overlay District, which prohibits further density on the barrier island, already exists, Maio explained. An overlay of that district or a Critical Area Plan could be created to impose additional restrictions, Maio added. Still, because of stipulations in the county’s Zoning Code, he said, “people can’t just willy-nilly put up anything.”
Maio also noted that the County Commission in recent months turned down two proposals for development on Siesta Key. (One of those was a house planned at 162 Beach Road that has been underwater in past decades.)
As for density in the city, Maio turned to Harmer, who explained that the county’s municipalities have their own rules and regulations, and the county does not interfere with them. The Vue project is in the City of Sarasota, Harmer noted. Therefore, the county has no say in that matter.
Given the breadth of Lazin’s comments and questions, Shay drew some laughter when he told SKA Secretary Joyce Kouba to get the man an application, so Lazin could join the organization’s board. “I’m not that much of a masochist,” Lazin replied.
The last query ended up going to Brown as well, after a man asked why the Turtle Beach parking lot is in such poor condition. “It’s a disaster,” he said. “It’s full of potholes, and it’s been that way for 10 or 15 years.”
Turtle Beach Park is scheduled to be upgraded within the next few months, Brown told him, including improvements to the parking area. “It is hopeful that that will be rectified very soon,” she added of the situation he described.
The county’s website offers a fact sheet on the Turtle Beach Renovations, saying a new parking lot with 35 spaces will be added along with a new playground, a new boardwalk that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and feature a dune walkover, two additional two-pole picnic shelters, more covered picnic areas, a kayak launch and kayak wash-down area, pedestrian crossings, sidewalks and paths, and a stormwater conveyance system with a rain garden supporting low-impact development.
The design is complete, the fact sheet notes, but the County Commission has not yet awarded a contract for the work. Construction tentatively is scheduled to start this summer and last for six to eight months, the sheet says.
Wastewater treatment plant update
During the SKA Annual Breakfast Meeting on March 5, Commission Chair Maio noted that the wastewater treatment plant on the Key will be open a year longer than planned. Just three days later, as part of its Consent Agenda, the County Commission approved the second amendment to a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that moves the shutdown of the facility’s treatment operations to June 18, 2018. The structure will serve as a master lift station, Maio told SKA members.
The date in the amended consent order, the county memo notes, “coincides with the expiration of the existing operating permit for Siesta Key.”
The reason for the delay is the time it is taking to implement “several large multiphase capital improvement projects … in an effort to install the infrastructure necessary to transfer the wastewater flow from … Siesta Key to existing facilities on the mainland,” the memo points out.
Earlier this year, when staff was reviewing projected construction timetables, the memo continues — “as well as limitations within the County’s existing utility wastewater collection system” — staff determined that it was not practical to decommission the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Facility by Dec. 31, 2016, which was FDEP’s deadline under the existing consent order.
Staff in the county’s Public Works Department has kept FDEP “fully informed of the progress” on achieving the necessary milestones, the memo adds. As soon as staff realized it would not be possible to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, the memo notes, staff began discussing an extension with FDEP representatives.
The County Commission accepted the original consent order on Jan. 11, 2011, the memo says. When that was signed, according to the order, the wastewater treatment plant was handling 2.7 million gallons per day, which — after advanced treatment — was going into the Grand Canal and then into Sarasota Bay. FDEP found that the effluents were not meeting state standards regarding limits of specific chemicals, including phosphorous and chlorine.
The dredging project
County Commission Chair Al Maio also reminded all the attendees of the SKA Annual Breakfast Meeting on March 5 that the board will hold a discussion on March 23 regarding the findings of the Atkins peer review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/City of Sarasota proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach.
Members of the Atkins project team, he said, will give the commissioners a complete rundown on their findings.
“Be warned right now,” he added, that because it will be a discussion item, no public comments will be allowed as part of those specific proceedings.
However, Maio pointed out, “You always have the option of speaking at Open to the Public at the beginning of the meeting and at the end of the meeting. … Exercise your democratic rights.”
The most recent information county staff has provided has indicated the item will be on the afternoon agenda when the board meets at the County Administration Center on March 23 in downtown Sarasota. That session will begin at 1:30 p.m.