Siesta Seen

Yet another new date set for Holderness FLUEDRA hearing; Supervisor of Elections staff confirms number of registered voters on the Key; Save Siesta Key planning town hall meeting with two legislators; September crime rate steady; coyotes a new issue on the island; Capt. Curt’s incident leads to battery charge; Gilligan’s deals with a person who had had too much to drink; and Fire Department gets calls about a plane crash and a fire on Treasure Boat Way

This graphic shows the dimensions of the proposed house and other features of the site seaward of North Beach Road. Image courtesy Port and Coastal Consultants

For the third time, a Special Magistrate hearing was postponed in regard to the County Commission’s refusal to allow Siesta resident Michael Holderness to construct a house seaward of North Beach Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In March, Holderness petitioned the county for relief under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Action (FLUEDRA). He argued that the County Commission’s unanimous denial of his plans for the new residence essentially was a “total taking,” meaning that the county will allow him “no other reasonable and permissible uses” of the property he owns near Beach Access 3.

Originally, a Special Magistrate had set a hearing date of June 18. However, after that session began, paralegal Michael Barfield of Denovo Law Services LLC in Sarasota, who is representing Holderness, began talking about information that had not been provided to the Office of the County Attorney.

After Barfield gave copies of the materials to that office, another hearing date was set: July 15. The proceeding ended up being postponed again — that time, because of issues related to Tropical Storm Elsa.

Therefore, a new date was scheduled: Sept. 15.

As it turns out, the event did not take place then, either. Asked for the reason, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told The Sarasota News Leader that Assistant County Attorney David Pearce was ill on Sept. 15.

The latest new date, according to Special Magistrate Kenneth A. Tinkler of Tampa, is Wednesday, Nov. 3.

This graphic shows another view of Michael Holderness’ parcel’s location, relative to the beach and other structures. Image courtesy Port and Coastal Consultants

As with his prior notices, Tinkler has called for the proceeding to begin at 9 a.m. in the County Commission Chambers on the first floor of the Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

Tinkler has reserved six hours for the hearing, the notice says.

And, as in with the previous notices, this one explains that the matter relates to the County Commission’s unanimous denial, on Jan. 13, of Holderness’ Coastal Setback Variance petition for construction of a pile-supported, two-story-over-parking, single-family residence, plus a swimming pool, pool deck, driveway and landscape retaining wall on the vacant land at Lot 14, Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach Subdivision.

And, again, the notice points out that Special Magistrate Tinkler first will attempt to mediate the dispute. “If the parties cannot agree to an amicable resolution,” the notice adds, Tinkler “shall consider the facts and circumstances” in determining whether the County Commission decision was “unreasonable or unfairly burdens the real property …”

During a public hearing on a Coastal Setback Variance petition, the County Commission is asked to consider whether the proposal for construction is the “minimum reasonable use” for a parcel. The state’s Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act (Chapter 70 of the Florida Statutes) includes the FLUEDRA process among actions that individuals may take if they believe a local government has acted unfairly in denying them the use of their property.

This is dune habitat in the area of Holderness’ property, where the house has been proposed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In his FLUEDRA petition, Holderness claimed, “The dialogue during the [Jan. 13 public] hearing … supports the conclusion that the County does not intend to grant any development order regardless of the proposed use of the Property by the Property Owner.”

The land at the heart of the dispute is fully seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), which was established in 1979 to protect dunes and other coastal habitat, which, in turn, protect landward structures from flooding and other storm events.

Numerous times in the past, the commissioners have turned down CSV petitions for construction fully west of the GBSL. In recent years, however, they have allowed property owners to construct houses that are partly seaward of the GBSL. Most recently, they voted unanimously to approve such a project at Point of Rocks Circle on Siesta Key, and they voted 4-1 on Sept. 29 (with Commissioner Nancy Detert in the minority) to approve a CSV for a house and accessory structures that would stand a maximum of 47 feet west of the GBSL at 711 Casey Key Road in Nokomis.

The January hearing on Holderness’ petition included testimony that the house he proposed would be a maximum of 189.61 feet seaward of the GBSL and a minimum of 295.86 feet landward of the current Mean High Water Line.

The property is zoned Residential Multi-Family 1, which allows six dwelling units per acre.

This is the dune mitigation plan that Michael Holderness’ representative provided to the County Commission as part of the home construction plans. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The latest hearing notice — like its predecessors — also points out, “Owners of contiguous properties to the [Holderness site] and any substantially affected person who submitted oral or written testimony which stated with particularity objections to or support for [the petition] may request to participate in the proceeding.”

How many registered voters are on Siesta Key?

Harry Anand. Image from the Save Siesta Key website

During the Sept. 30 Save Siesta Key presentation to the members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation about the proposal for island incorporation, board member Harry Anand said at one point that the Key has about 7,000 residents. A News Leader reader subsequently questioned that figure, so the News Leader asked the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office for the number of registered voters, thinking that that might have been the number Anand referenced.

In an Oct. 8 email, Barbara Bain, public information coordinator for Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner’s office, explained that she sent queries to each of the four precincts on Siesta — 401, 403, 411 and 421. The resulting total of registered voters, Bain added, was 7,408.

During the July 22 public meeting of Save Siesta Key, board member Tracy Jackson reported that the consultant working on the required feasibility study for incorporation had found that the island had 8,915 residents.

State Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, mentioned on numerous occasions during the Sept. 30 meeting that the agenda was very tight. Therefore, it is likely that Anand, in his efforts to pack as many details as possible into his comments, simply focused on the number of voters. After all, the voters are the Key residents who will decide on incorporation — if the county delegation approves the filing of a local bill on Save Siesta Key’s behalf, and then the bill passes and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it.

And speaking of Save Siesta Key …

In a recent email blast, the leaders of the nonprofit Save Siesta Key emphasized how happy they were to be able to offer that presentation to the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation on Sept. 30.

In fact, they were first on the agenda.

The members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation sit in session on Sept. 30. News Leader image

About 30 to 40 supporters of the organization — wearing their distinctive T-shirts — were in attendance in the County Commission Chambers of the Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, the email noted.

Save Siesta Key’s next step, the email continued, will be a town hall meeting featuring state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, which the nonprofit’s directors expect to hold on the island. No date has been set yet, the email added.

“We hope to hand out additional t-shirts and have greater attendance because many of our residents will be returning to their island homes,” the email said, noting the traditional return of snowbirds in the fall.

During the Oct. 7 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Save Siesta Key board member Tracy Jackson pointed out that the nonprofit’s leaders still hope to gather a minimum of 2,000 petitions supporting a referendum on incorporation. She has stressed that signing a petition does not mean that the resident or business owner would vote for incorporation, if the referendum were held.

Board member Harry Anand reported to the county legislative delegation that the group had brought a box with 1,870 petitions from homeowners and business owners on the Key.

Jackson told the SKA members in early September that the Save Siesta Key board members were hard at work trying to meet their 2,000 goal before the Sept. 30 meeting.

“We are in the final revisions of our feasibility study and hope to post the entire study on our website very soon,” the recent email continued. In the meantime, it noted that the summary of the study is on the nonprofit’s website:

Substation leader reports on crime and department preparations for upcoming events

During the Oct. 7 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, reported that the department handled 291 calls for service in September.

Eighteen of those calls — about 6% — involved personal or property offenses, which the FBI used to categorize as “Part 1” crimes.

“We typically stick around that 5 to 6% [level],” he added. “It’s not a bad number. … We live in a great community,” Smith pointed out, with people looking out for each other.

Smith did acknowledge to the SKA members, “I may have slacked these last couple of months,” because three of the September incidents were vehicle burglaries, and in each situation, the vehicle was unlocked.

Sgt. Arik Smith. File photo

He noted that he usually makes a point of reminding everyone to “please lock your cars; hide your valuables” or take them inside your residence. If necessary, he suggested, a person should set a cell phone alarm as a reminder at night to be sure that the individual has locked his or her vehicle. “Just a simple act like that can prevent you from being the victim of a vehicle burglary.”

Would-be criminals will come into an area and try doors of cars and trucks to see whether any are unlocked, Smith continued. “Please help us out; help yourselves out.”

In other related news: A couple of simple assault cases and two domestic battery complaints were among the September crimes, he noted. One battery incident involved a law enforcement officer, Smith said.

Otherwise, he continued, “For the most part, the month of September was pretty … slow. … The beach hasn’t been extremely busy. It’s been nice.”

Nonetheless, Smith said, he has talked with business owners in Siesta Village and the South Village who have told him that they served more customers this September than in past Septembers.

Traditionally, September was the slowest month on the Key, as it came between the end of the summer travel season — which used to involve a lot of visitors from other parts of Florida — and the traditional time when snowbirds would return to their homes.

The Sheriff’s Office also is making preparations for the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival in November, Smith told the SKA members, as well as the holidays. “We hope it doesn’t get too crazy,” he added.

After having been cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Light Up the Village kickoff of the Christmas season is scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving — Nov. 27 — from 5 to 9 p.m.

Additionally, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce will host its long-time Halloween event, Safe Treats, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, its website says. Participating businesses will be displaying festive balloons, the notice adds.

image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

The free event “provides a safe venue for children to trick-or-treat and is a fun afternoon for the entire family,” the Chamber points out.

“You’ll start seeing here, probably next month, the horses” back on the Key, Smith told the SKA members, referring to the Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol. They likely will be present for the Crystal Classic, he pointed out.

“We always like to be ready to show a strong presence [for that],” Smith said, as the event usually draws tens of thousands of people to the island.

The Crystal Classic will be held from Nov. 12 through Nov. 15.

Visitors to the 2018 Crystal Classic enjoy the sculptures and the Vendor Village. Image courtesy of Siesta Beach Inc.

Help with catching coyotes

After Sgt. Arik Smith finished his report to the Siesta Key Association members on Oct. 7, one of the nonprofit’s directors, Roland Clark, raised a new issue.

“I was just wondering what the situation was with the coyotes … that seem to be pretty prevalent on the Key now,” Clark told Smith.

Has the Sheriff’s Office been engaged in any discussion about trying to remove them?, Clark asked, adding that he sees them “quite a bit” in his neighborhood.

It was funny that Clark brought up that topic, Smith replied, because just the previous day, a deputy had told him about a resident commenting to the deputy about a coyote in a residential area across from the public beach.

“You can call us,” Smith continued. A deputy will try to locate the animal. An individual who sees a coyote also may call the Animal Services Division of the Sheriff’s Office, Smith said. Personnel will set traps to try to capture coyotes in an effort to move them to another area, Smith added.

This is a still from a video of a coyote in a Sarasota neighborhood, sent to City of Sarasota staff in November 2018. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“Some of my neighbors — they have small cats and they’re a little bit concerned,” Clark said. Those neighbors asked that he find out whatever information Smith could provide, Clark added.

Animal Services staff works with deputies, Smith explained. Even if a person calls the division directly — at 941-861-9500 — it is not uncommon for a deputy to be dispatched, as well, Smith noted.

Speaking of the battery incident involving an officer …

Thanks to the help of the Sheriff’s Office’s Community Affairs Division, the News Leader did learn the details of a Sept. 2 incident involving a 27-year-old Bedford, Ind., man, Adison K. Watkins, who was charged with Battery on Officer Firefighter EMT.

That incident was reported just after 11 p.m. at Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar, which stands at 1200 Old Stickney Point Road, the report said.

The victim opted not to be identified, per the state’s Marsy’s Law, the report noted.

A related case named a different defendant, Robert Graham George, also 27, also of Indiana. He was charged with Resisting an Officer: Obstructing without Violence, as well as trespassing, that report said.

Capt. Curt’s property is located at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road. File image

When a Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived on the scene shortly after 11:30 p.m., the report noted, a manager asked the officer to issue trespass warnings to several people “standing in the parking lot next to a white Porsche SUV …” A member of the Stewart family who owns the complex told the deputy that the persons “were verbally loud and combative,” and they initially refused to leave when asked to do so. When they finally departed, the Stewart family member said, the individuals “continued to yell at customers in an aggressive manner,” according to the report.

Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court records show that Watkins entered a plea of “Not Guilty” on Sept. 16.

Then, on Oct. 7, court records note, Watkins filed an application for criminal indigent status. He marked a box on the form that said, “I have a private attorney or am self-represented and seek determination of indigence status for costs.”

On that form, he wrote that his income is $3,000 a month and that he had $40 in cash. His liabilities and debts added up to $25,000, he wrote.

As of Oct. 11, the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller had not made a determination on the indigence issue, according to court records.

Too much to drink at Gilligan’s

The Beach Club in Siesta Village is not the only place where patrons occasionally have too much to drink and get into trouble, as evidenced by a Sept. 26 Sheriff’s Office report involving Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill.

The News Leader also received a copy of that document, at its request, from the Community Affairs Division of the Sheriff’s Office.

Just before 1 a.m. on Sept. 26, the report says, an officer was called to Gilligan’s to handle a disturbance. When the deputy arrived, Mike Gatz, the manager, identified the person causing the disturbance as Brian David Trout II, 34, of Bradenton.

The bartender had told Trout that Trout had had too much to drink and that Trout needed to leave, the report continues. When Trout refused to depart, the bartender called in the bouncer to make certain that Trout left. At first, the report says, the bouncer tried to talk Trout into leaving the premises. The bouncer was unsuccessful, the report adds, so the bouncer had to escort Trout out of Gilligan’s.

At that point, Trout’s wife, Tuanita Nguyen, 38, “started to argue with the bouncer,” causing another disturbance, the report notes.

Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill is located at 5253 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Village. Image from the business’ website

Gatz told the deputy that he did not want the couple back inside Gilligan’s; Gatz asked that the officer issue both the husband and wife a trespassing warning.

The officer explained that process to the couple, the report continues. Nguyen told the officer that she understood the situation and that she would make certain her husband did, as well, after he “gets sober.”
However, the report says, neither Trout nor his wife would sign the warning.

The issuance of such a warning means the individual cannot legally enter the specific property for a certain period of time. If the person trespasses during that period, the person will face an additional charge.

The report on the case notes that the deputy made certain that the trespass warning was entered into the Sheriff’s Office’s records.

No, the plane did not crash

The firefighters/EMTs at Station 13 on Siesta get calls about all sorts of situations — and, sometimes, what appears to be an emergency does not prove to be one.

Such was the case just after 10 a.m. on Sept. 22, when Station 13 was advised that a plane had crashed into the Intracoastal Waterway near a home in Siesta Cove.

The red balloon on this map marks the location where the call about the plane originated. Image from Google Maps

The report said that a unit from Fire Station 11 ended up responding to the call. When it arrived, the crew found an amphibious plane was “just landing and taking off from the water repeatedly …” Pilots call that scenario “touch and go’s.”

In other words, it seems the pilot was getting practice with water landings.

“[N]o hazards [were] present,” the report added, so the crew canceled a call that had gone out for additional units to respond to the scene.

And in other Fire Department news …

In the News Leader’s perusal of Fire Department reports over the months, it has learned that, fortunately, emergency situations do seem to be rather rare on the island.

For example: A week after the no-plane-crash-after-all call, Fire Station 13 received an alert about a fire on Treasure Boat Way.

This aerial map shows the location of the home where the fire was reported, outlined in purple. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

The resulting report noted that a crew arrived at 412 Treasure Boat Way at 7:31 p.m. and left not even a minute later.

The firefighters learned from the resident that his pressure washer had caught fire, but he was able to put out the blaze without any problem.

A News Leader check of Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records found that the single-family home has a swimming pool with a patio and a boat dock.