Siesta Seen

Discussions underway about legal action in aftermath of hotel approvals; Sheriff’s Office has fewer calls for service in October; new Code Enforcement officer assigned to Key; SCAT provides latest ridership figures for trolley; Siesta had more sea turtle nests this year than in 2020; and Condo Council announces Holiday Lighting Contest details

This is one of the banners on the Siesta Key Coalition website. Image from the website

Leaders of the Siesta Key Coalition and other groups are considering legal challenges over the County Commission’s recent approval of two high-rise hotels on the island, Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Robert Luckner told SKA members during their regular meeting on Nov. 4.

Any legal complaint would have to be filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court within 30 days of each commission vote, Luckner explained. (Luckner also is the vice president of the Coalition.)

On Oct. 27, with a 3-2 vote, the commissioners approved the 8-story, 170-room hotel planned on 0.96 acres between Calle Miramar and Beach Road. Than, on Nov. 2, the board voted 4-1 to give the go-ahead for a 7-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road and a five-story parking garage between that street and Stickney Point Road.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents the northern part of Siesta as part of District 2, voted “No” on the Calle Miramar project, but he was part of the majority in favor of Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ projects slated for the south end of the Key, Luckner noted.

This is a ‘massing’ image that the Siesta Key Coalition commissioned of a Sarasota firm, to show the bulk of the planned Kompothecras hotel on Old Stickney Point Road. Image courtesy Siesta Key Coalition

Commissioner Nancy Detert was in the minority with both decisions.

“The Coalition is considering working with other residents,” Luckner told the SKA members.

Because of the way the law is structured, a person needs “standing” to be able to contest a commission decision, he explained.

As the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell University Law School explains, the U.S. Supreme Court created a three-part test to determine whether a party has standing to sue:

  • 1. “The plaintiff must have suffered an ‘injury in fact,’ meaning that the injury is of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent.
  • 2. “There must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct brought before the court.
  • 3. “It must be likely, rather than speculative, that a favorable decision by the court will redress the injury.”

Regular readers may recall that, when a lawsuit was filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court after the County Commission approved the Siesta Promenade mixed-use project on Dec. 12, 2018, the complaint had a solitary plaintiff: Sura Kochman, a resident of the Pine Shores Estates neighborhood, which is immediately adjacent to the approximately 24-acre Siesta Promenade site in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. The primary backer of that lawsuit, James Wallace III of Siesta Key, worked with Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes to ensure that standing could be proved in that case.

During the SKA meeting, Luckner further noted that Coalition leaders are “also working with some attorneys” as they contemplate action.

Other groups are considering complaints as well, he said, including residents of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex, which is just to the east of Kompothecras’ hotel site on Old Stickney Point Road.

Marina Del Sol resident Julie Wright Halbert addresses the County Commission during the Nov. 2 public hearing. News Leader image

Attorney Julie Wright Halbert warned the commissioners last week that if they voted to approve Kompothecras’ projects, a legal challenge would be likely.

For both hotel hearings, the Coalition had gathered a group of speakers — including experts on land-use issues and transportation — who offered their comments on various aspects of the two projects that residents have found objectionable. Among those is what Coalition members assert is incompatibility with surrounding residential areas and the expectation that the hotels and parking garage will exacerbate the already congested island traffic. (See the related article in this issue.)

The Coalition, which represents about 6,500 households spread among 71 residential associations on the Key, was organized in the early summer of 2020 to oppose construction on the island that would exceed the existing zoning standards laid out in the decades-old Siesta Key Overlay District. President Mark Spiegel continues to stress that the nonprofit is not anti-development. He himself, he points out, has made a career in development.

Further, Luckner pointed out that financial support from residents would be critical in making any legal challenges feasible.

Information about contributing to the Coalition is on its website.

Fewer calls for service for the Sheriff’s Office in October

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s monthly crime analyses for Siesta Key show not only the types of incidents that have been reported but also provide an indication of just how busy the island has been.

For example, in June, the Sheriff’s Office had 456 calls for service on Siesta. For October, the figure was 352, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, reported to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members during their monthly meeting on Nov. 4.

Smith noted that he and the four officers assigned to the Key handle all of those calls.

In October, he continued, 24 calls involved persons or property. The FBI used to classify those as “Part 1” crimes.

This is a sampling of crime statistics that Sgt. Arik Smith provided to the Siesta Key Condominium Council for 2019 and 2020, including incidents at Siesta Public Beach Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

“We usually over around the 6% mark [out here], which is fairly good,” Smith said of such incidents. The fact that Siesta is such a great community is a big contributor to that low rate, he added.

Almost 50% of those crimes against persons or property in October were thefts, Smith continued. “Some of these can be prevented,” he stressed. “I say that all the time.”

The Sheriff’s Office gets many reports about what it characterizes as “crimes of opportunity,” he explained. People often will look for unlocked vehicles and homes, Smith pointed out.

In fact, he continued, two of the four vehicles from which items were stolen in October were unlocked at the time of the incidents. In a third case, he noted, the owner had left the key in the gas tank, and in the fourth case, the rear passenger window was broken and the owner had just put up a bag over it to keep out the weather.

Yet another theft in October involved a house under construction that was not secured, he said: Tools that had been left on the property were reported stolen.

One other incident involved the theft of a paddleboard that had been left outside a house overnight, Smith pointed out.

“These are crimes of opportunity,” he emphasized again to the SKA members. “With just a little more effort,” he said, people could prevent such incidents.

In response to a question, Smith explained that every call for service the Sheriff’s Office receives is logged, including the time of day as well as the date. That goes for illegal parking problems and noise disturbances, he said.

Then a resident of Avenida de Mayo told Smith about continuing problems on that street with people parking illegally.

This aerial map shows the location of the neighborhood along Avenida de Mayo. Image from Google Maps

Homeowners on Avenida de Mayo fought for a couple of years, she explained, to get the County Commission to impose new regulations on parking on the street to ensure that people had access to their homes and that emergency vehicles could traverse the road.

Yet, the woman continued, she understood that some Sheriff’s Office personnel have said they will not ticket offenders for fear of making drivers angry, so they will not come back to the Key.

“Of course, we’re concerned with business, tourism,” Smith replied, but the Sheriff’s Office has no policy that dictates tickets should not be written for illegal parking. “The guys that work for me — that’s not how we handle it.”
An officer will knock on the door of a home in front of which vehicles are parked illegally, he continued, “and give them an opportunity to rectify what’s going on.” Nonetheless, he stressed, “We have rules.”

If a person sees vehicles parked in violation of county regulations, Smith added, the person should call the Sheriff’s Office.

Key getting new Code Enforcement officer

During another segment of the Nov. 4 Siesta Key Association meeting, President Catherine Luckner announced, “We’re losing Susan Stahley,” who has been the Sarasota County Code Enforcement officer for the island for a number of years.

“The good news is we’re getting Rick Russ,” Luckner added. “He comes to us from Longboat Key, where he worked for the town.”

Rick Russ. Image from his LinkedIn account

Both Russ and Stahley appeared during the meeting via Zoom — along with a number of SKA members. (People also were present at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, which long has been the meeting place for the SKA.)

Referring to Russ, Luckner continued, “I told him we are a friendly bunch.”

Russ explained that he formally is taking over Zone 5, “which is your favorite spot.”
He also provided his cell phone number: 941-264-4988.

Russ added that if he does not answer right away, he will return a call as soon as possible.

“And I still have your card; I’ve not lost it so far,” Luckner told him, referring to a recent meeting she had with Russ, to get to know him.

County Code Enforcement Officer Susan Stahley addresses Siesta Key Association members in 2017. File photo

“Put me on speed dial,” Russ responded.

“OK,” Luckner replied with a bit of hesitancy and a laugh.

“Can we say, ‘Thank you’ to Susan?” SKA Secretary Margaret Jean Cannon asked.

Applause ensued.

Responding to a question about her leaving her position on the Key, Stahley explained, “I live in North Port, and Venice is a lot closer. That’s the only reason, really.”

“She’s much loved,” SKA Vice President Joyce Kouba pointed out.

Russ told the SKA directors and members that he is looking forward to working with them.

Siesta Key Breeze ridership reflects time of year

In response to The Sarasota News Leader’s recent request for an update on ridership on the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, the staff of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) provided a graph that shows trends since October 2018.

This year, based on that graph, the number of passengers has declined, as usual, since the end of the height of tourist season, in the spring. Still, the graph indicates that the number of passengers continued to exceed 10,000 per month in August and September.

Additionally, SCAT provided the News Leader data about the county’s OnDemand service, which launched in the spring. Siesta is one of the four zones where vehicles other than the traditional buses are used to transport people to their destinations.

This graph shows how ridership on the Siesta Key Breeze has varied from month to month. The service was shut down for part of 2020 because of the pandemic. Image courtesy SCAT

The figures for June through September show the high mark for those Siesta trips was in July, with 353. However, September was in second place, with 281. The average time a person had to wait for one of the vehicles ranged from 13 minutes in June to 10 in August, that chart showed.

For more details about the OnDemand transit options, for which the public can use a mobile app, visit this link on the county’s website. The service is offered from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The fee is $1.25.

More turtle nests in 2021

Final data that Mote Marine Laboratory recently released on sea turtle nesting season for 2021 show that Siesta had more nests this year than in 2020.

The figure for 2021 was 521, compared to 465 in 2020, Mote says. However, in 2019, the total was 711, according to Mote’s chart.

A sea turtle nest found near Beach Access 2 in June is marked by flags. Mote Marine staff relocated it because of all the activity in that area of the Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The total number of nests countywide this year was 3,763, Mote notes. That compares to 3,747 in 2020 and 5,108 in 2019. And, as usual, loggerhead turtles accounted for the vast majority of those nests each of the three years. For 2020, the figure was 3,673; in 2020, it was 3,667. In 2019, the total was 4,920.

Condo Council announces annual Holiday Lighting Contest

This week, the Siesta Key Condominium Council sent out the formal notice of its annual Holiday Lighting Contest.

“The holidays are fast approaching,” Hilla Blatt, chair of the association’s Holiday Lighting Committee, pointed out in the Nov. 8 email blast.

Logo courtesy Siesta Key Condominium Council

“The contest is open to condominiums who are members in good standing (including dues paid current to date) of the Siesta Key Condominium Council,” she added with holiday emphasis.

The deadline for registering a condominium’s participation is Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 5 p.m., Blatt wrote. Judging will take place on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 8, starting at 6 p.m., she noted. The judges will depart from the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce office in Davidson Plaza at that time, she wrote.

A first-, second- and third-place winner will be selected from each of three following categories, the notice continued:

  • Category I — 101 or more units.
  • Category II — 51 to 100 units.
  • Category III — 50 or fewer units.

In October, the Condominium Council sent out a reminder about the event. In that email blast, Council leaders wrote, “[W]e hope that the condos make an effort to brighten up our year.”

The link for the registration form for the contest may be found here.

The Siesta Key Chamber and Siesta Trolley Inc. co-sponsor the Holiday Lighting Contest.