Siesta Seen

New house at 99 Beach Road approved by county staff; fewer calls for Sheriff’s Office assistance in January than in January 2021; Sgt. Smith promoted to lieutenant and given new assignment; Key Code Enforcement officer gets new tools, courtesy of Office of County Attorney; and interim music director named at Siesta Key Chapel

The blue house that stood at the intersection of North Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard was home for many years to Capt. Ralph Styles. File photo

Island residents have expressed dismay to The Sarasota News Leader about the Feb. 11 demolition of the house at 99 Beach Road, which was the long-time home of the late, much beloved Capt. Ralph Styles.

Crowds routinely gathered at Styles’ blue house for the raising — and, especially, the lowering — of the American flag, prior to his death in October 2008 at the age of 98. A Pearl Harbor survivor, the captain also was one of the oldest living graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Styles served as a submarine commander in World War II and was a former assistant director of Naval Intelligence.

In May 2016, the owner of the property at that time — Christy Ramsey — was among the three sets of North Beach Road homeowners who petitioned the County Commission for the vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of that road, which the board approved.

Then, in July 2016, Ramsey sold the house at 99 Beach Road for $3 million to Holderness Enterprises LLC, whose principal is Siesta businessman, Realtor and hotelier Mike Holderness.

Previously, Linda Styles had sold the house in June 2009 to Brent R. Cooper — “individually and as a Trustee of the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1” of Rockville, Md., as county property records put it — for $1,650,000. In turn, Cooper sold it to Ramsey in July 2011 for $1.8 million.

Finally, in March 2021, Holderness sold the house for $3.5 million to 99 Beach LLC, which has a Lakewood Ranch Boulevard address.

Last year, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office put the market value of the property at $2,648,900.

The Florida Division of Corporations lists Marijo C. Martin and Anthony Martin, both of 5391 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Suite 11, as the managers of 99 Beach LLC. The Better Business Bureau says that address is home to Casto Southeast Realty Services LLC. The Manatee Chamber of Commerce notes that the firm handles property and facilities management and development.

On March 29, 2021, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson wrote to Aaron J. Barnard, chief architectural designer and principal of Beacon Home Design in Bradenton, responding to his request for a letter about what type of house would be allowed at 99 Beach Road. (The News Leader learned this through a public records request.) She explained that the property is zoned Residential Multi-Family-1 in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations. That designation allows six dwelling units per acre, she added. The land area is approximately 9,763 square feet, she pointed out.

The construction of the new residence could be seaward of the state’s Coastal Construction Control Line and partly seaward of county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL), Thompson added.

The GBSL was established in 1979 to protect dune habitat and native beach vegetation, which, in turn, protect landward structures from storm surge and other flooding events. Generally, anyone wishing to build seaward of the GBSL must win approval from the County Commission.

However, in this situation, Thompson explained, because of a “staff administered Written Conditioned Exception” allowed under the county’s Coastal Setback Code, the proposed new construction could proceed without the owners seeking a Coastal Setback Variance from the commissioners.

The 2018 Written Conditioned Exception was issued for a new house that Michael Holderness had planned to build at 99 Beach Road, according to information in the document. The “pile-supported single-family residential structure” could stand a maximum of 27.7 feet seaward of the GBSL, the document said.

This is the top of the November 2018 Written Conditioned Exception. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Thompson pointed out in her letter to Barnard that the latest construction plans would have to conform to the stipulations contained within that Written Conditioned Exception (WCE). She particularly noted in her correspondence that no pool would be allowed.

As the county’s Coastal Setback Code explains, a WCE can be issued in cases involving new construction in which the footprint of the habitable and non-habitable areas of a new residence will not be greater than those of a previous single-family or multi-family structure on the same site.

In late June 2021, the News Leader also learned from its public records request, Thompson wrote a letter to an engineer with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), assuring him that the new house could be constructed over a parking area at 99 Beach Road, as long as the design “is consistent with the County’s zoning regulations and does not contravene zoning code requirements with regard to setbacks, height, impervious coverage, daylight plane, or any other local requirements.”

She provided the engineer, Rolando R. Gomez, who is with FDEP’s CCCL Program, a copy of the house plans that had been reviewed and approved by county staff.

These are views of the new residential structure planned at 99 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 20, 2021, Gomez signed the necessary FDEP permit for the construction seaward of the CCCL, the News Leader again learned through its public records request. That document noted that the two-story, single-family dwelling would be 320 feet seaward of the CCCL. The elevation of the first finished floor would be 16.96 NAVD, the letter said. “NAVD” refers to building elevations in flood zones.

This is an engineering drawing showing the plans for the first habitable level of the new house at 99 Beach Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Calls for Sheriff’s Office service in January lower than 2021 count

During the Feb. 3 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sheriff’s Office substation leader Sgt. Arik Smith reported that the agency had 336 calls for service in January, and only 13 of those — approximately 4% — were for crimes involving people or property.

Usually, he said, the incidents pertaining to persons and property were in the 5% to 6% range, which underscored the good news about the January figure.

In January 2021, the total number of calls for service was 341, which Smith noted at the time was a bit higher than the figures for the previous months.

In January of this year, Smith continued on Feb. 3, Sheriff’s Office personnel handled three vehicle thefts. While that may sound alarming, he added, it turned out that two of those cases involved electric bicycles, which state law classifies as vehicles.

Further, he said, deputies investigated one report of a stolen vehicle registration sticker; it had been removed from a license plate.

One SKA member asked for clarification about that: “How do you get a registration sticker off a car?”

Sheriff’s Office personnel routinely remind the public not to leave unattended personal items on the beach. Photo courtesy of Harriet Cuthbert

Smith admitted that he did not know the answer. However, he said, one thing he has learned through his years as a law enforcement officer is “If there’s a will, there’s a way. … [People] will get what they want.”

He did note that he was not certain how the sticker in this particular incident had been affixed to the vehicle.

Among other cases, Smith said, a couple of thefts involved items stolen from vehicles.

He followed that statement with a reminder to the SKA members — which he has delivered every month — that they always should lock their vehicles and homes. Moreover, he has emphasized that individuals should not leave valuable items in plain view in their vehicles.

Two other January incidents involved thefts of private property off the beach, Smith continued. One wallet and one cell phone were reported stolen. No doubt, he added, “Somebody came by and saw the opportunity and took ’em.”

Smith also has cautioned SKA members not to leave valuables unattended on the beach. The best practice, he has pointed out, is to leave them locked out of view in vehicles. If people have to take items such as purses and smartphones to the beach, he has stressed, they should make certain someone keeps an eye on the property at all times.

Another SKA member asked Smith whether the Sheriff’s Office personnel focus much on enforcement of the island’s speed limits.

“We are dedicated to it,” Smith responded. In fact, he continued, he had stressed that to the two new deputies who have been assigned to the Key since Jan. 6. They typically are working six days a week from 4 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Smith added, though their schedules are flexible, depending, for example, on whether they need to cover special events outside that time frame.

“We do get a lot of complaints about speeding,” Smith acknowledged. That issue seems especially common when people are leaving the island, a fact he himself has noted, he said. Drivers “just open it up right down Beach Road” and in their effort to get to Stickney Point Road to leave the island via the south drawbridge.

Smith added that he had asked the new deputies to put more emphasis on patrolling two areas that the Sheriff’s Office has identified as the sites of the greatest number of speeding complaints.

The man who asked the question told Smith that it appeared to him that people heading to work in the mornings are the biggest offenders of the speed limits.

Smith replied that he has been focused on keeping a strong Sheriff’s Office presence on the roads during school hours, to deter speeding. Nonetheless, he said he would ensure that day-shift officers address the concern the SKA member had raised.

Chief Judge Charles Roberts. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

On another issue, Smith explained that, starting March 1, the Sheriff’s Office’s Spring Break Operations Plan would go into effect, as that month typically is the busiest each year on the island.

“Come March 1,” he noted, “you’re going to start seeing a lot more [law enforcement officers] out here.”

In preparation for that, he continued, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge Charles E. Roberts had signed an administrative order that the Sheriff’s Office personnel use each year to deal with offenses committed by out-of-state and out-of-area visitors. “It doesn’t decriminalize certain laws,” Smith emphasized. Instead, it allows a deputy to give a $250 civil citation to an individual who has committed a misdemeanor or non-violent offense. “If they don’t pay,” Smith said, “they go to jail.”

In fact, Smith pointed out, the Sheriff’s Office will issue a warrant for someone in another state who has refused to pay the fine. “We’ll go pick ’em up and bring ’em back.”

The purpose of the citations, he explained, is to prevent the Sarasota County court system from becoming clogged with cases involving spring break visitors.

‘Bittersweet’ news from Sgt. Smith

(From left) Teletype Supervisor Wayne Bird, Sgt. James Achille, Lt. Arik Smith, and Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman. Photo contributed by Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

One big announcement from Sgt. Arik Smith, the Sheriff’s Office substation leader, during the Feb. 3 SKA meeting involved personal news.

Calling it “bittersweet,” Smith reported that Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman had called him earlier in the week to tell him he was being promoted to lieutenant.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Smith added. Still, he continued, he has enjoyed his work on the island, including his monthly appearances at the SKA meetings. “This is probably one of the better jobs at the [Sheriff’s Office],” he told the members.

As of that time, he noted, Hoffman had not named his successor. Nonetheless, Smith stressed, the sheriff “takes this position very seriously.”

In years past, Sheriff’s Office public information officers have told the News Leaderhow much care the county’s sheriffs have taken in deciding who will lead the Siesta substation, given the tremendous popularity of the island with visitors and the fact that the officers have to handle such a wide variety of incidents.

Smith also told the SKA members that he hoped he would be able to introduce his successor at the nonprofit’s March meeting.

He noted, too, that he had asked the sheriff to let him spend time with his successor, to fill that person in on Smith’s observations from his time as substation leader.

The Sheriff’s Office staff formally announced Smith’s promotion — and the elevation in rank for two other agency members — in a Feb. 10 email.

Just as Smith had informed the SKA members, the news release noted that he had been assigned to the Emergency Operations Bureau.

The other two officers who were promoted were Deputy James Achille, who was made a sergeant assigned to the Patrol Bureau; and Teletype Operator Wayne Bird, who was promoted to teletype supervisor at the Emergency Operations Bureau.

The Sheriff’s Office news release offered these details about Smith: He “began his career in public service as an emergency medical technician and paramedic” before joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2006 as a patrol deputy. He was assigned to the agency’s Tactical Unit and later served as a detective with the Special Investigations Section, the release added.

“Upon his promotion to sergeant in 2017,” it continued, “Smith served in both the Patrol and Special Operations Bureaus, and most recently oversaw the Siesta Key substation and Mounted Patrol Unit. He was twice named Law Enforcement Division Employee of the Month, received the Combat Cross award, and was recognized by the Sarasota Police Department with a Unit Commendation.”

He has advanced training in several areas, the release noted, including crisis intervention, and narcotics and dangerous drug investigations.

Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Liberty University, the release said.

Good news for complainants in illegal short-term rental cases

Rick Russ. Image from his LinkedIn account

Among other reports during the Feb. 3 Siesta Key Association meeting, the island’s new Code Enforcement officer, Rick Russ, had good news to offer about his efforts to pursue violations of the county’s short-term vacation rental policies.

During a recent discussion with Assistant County Attorney Scott Bossard, Russ explained, he had voiced frustrations that Code Enforcement officers cannot use emails laying out illegal short-term rental information as evidence in cases against property owners.

Brossard told him that that situation had changed, Russ continued. As long as the person who provides documentation via email is willing to come to court to offer testimony to back up the email reports, Russ said, the emails can be included as part of the evidence in a case.

“That was like music to my ears,” Russ added, “because that’s a game-changer for us.”

Bossard provided the same guidance to his bosses in Code Enforcement, Russ noted.

One man with whom he has been working, Russ continued, has emails going back to 2019 that document circumstances at a neighbor’s home. The man even had talked with some of the renters himself, who had admitted that they were visitors using the property for a short time, Russ told the SKA members.

“He’s home all day,” Russ pointed out of the complainant. Therefore, Russ said, “He sees ’em when they roll up [to the residence],” and he sees them when they leave.

Since he became the new Code Enforcement officer on the Key late in 2021, Russ continued, he has accumulated “quite a … long list of emails,” keeping him up-to-date about activities at the house. A few times, he said, he had gone to the residence himself, where he also has had renters admit to him that they had contracts for short-term rentals.

Catherine Luckner is president of the Siesta Key Association. File photo

That man is not the only person on the island who has offered him assistance, Russ pointed out. “[Residents are] really tired of this short-term rental stuff.”

Over the years, SKA members who live next door to houses used for illegal short-term vacation rentals have complained of loud partying at all hours of the night; garbage piled up at the curbside for days after visitors leave, awaiting the weekly Waste Management collections; and overflow parking in neighborhoods.

Emphasizing again how good Bossard’s guidance was, Russ said, “I can really work on each individual case with everything I can find and put it together. … I’m not looking to let [offenders] off that easily.”

SKA President Catherine Luckner asked Russ whether he could outline for the members what he needs for them to provide to him to pursue a case and email it to her for distribution.

Russ told her he wanted to talk again with Bossard, to make certain Brossard provides all the facets of the process as the Office of the County Attorney would prefer them to be written. Then Russ would send the outline to her, he added.

Russ also offered to discuss the guidance during the nonprofit’s March 3 meeting.

“Great,” she responded.

Siesta Key Chapel welcomes interim music director

Siesta Key Chapel, on the north end of the Key, has welcomed Martha Stiehl as interim music director, the Presbyterian church has announced.

A professional harpsichordist and organist specializing in music of the Baroque period, Stiehl is a native of Illinois, a news release says.

She earned her degrees from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it notes.

Additionally, the release points out, Stiehl studied organ with Wolfgang Rubsam at Northwestern University; in Paris, with Marie Claire Alain; and with Viennese organist/composer Anton Heiller.

She pursued her harpsichord studies with Arthur Haas at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York and at Yale; and with Charlotte Moersch at the University of Illinois, the release says.

Stiehl has been a featured soloist as well as continuo member of orchestras and ensembles throughout the United States and Europe, the release notes.

Martha Stiehl. Contributed photo

In a review, the release adds, The New York Times called her performance of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos “an utter joy.” She is a former faculty member at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was founder and director of the all-women Baroque ensemble, The Bach Babes, the release continues. She has had the privilege of working with noted traditional and Baroque musicians such as Helmuth Rilling, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zucherman, Kathleen Battle, Nic McGegan, Elizabeth Blumenstock, and Phoebe Carrai, it says.

Stiehl is married to Dr. James B Stiehl, “a retired orthopedic surgeon who researches wound care through his medical business, StiehlTech,” the release notes; he resides at their home in Salem, Ill. The couple has three adult children: Dr. Amanda Kleinman, a psychiatrist in Chicago; Kurt, a director at Apple Corp. in Cupertino, Calif; and Henry, owner and general manager of Riley’s Good Dogs in Milwaukee, Wis.

Among her goals for the music program at Siesta Key Chapel, the release points out, are coordination of Sunday music with the lessons; assembling programs for adults and children (choral and bells); introducing and training musicians for liturgical work; and presenting recitals and concerts.

For more information about Siesta Key Chapel, visit https://siestakeychapel.org/.

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