Siesta Seen

Village Association members debate the handling of repetitive damage to structures, including light poles; the Key gets a new sergeant; interviews ahead for a new Chamber executive; and Siesta volunteers found a cleaner beach than usual during the International Coastal Cleanup

Mark Smith (left) and County Commissioner Al Maio. Photo by Rachel Hackney
(From left) Mark Smith, County Commissioner Al Maio and Gary Spraggins of the county’s Transportation Department. Rachel Hackney photo

The decision ultimately will be left to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. (SKVMC). However, some consensus emerged this week among members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) that when damage to features of the Village landscape necessitates removal, those structures should be replaced.

“My main fear is that as items get hit [by vehicles], if we don’t replace them, it lessens the ambiance of the Village,” SKVA Vice President Mark Smith of Smith Architects said during the organization’s monthly meeting, held Oct. 6. “We lose another couple palm trees; we lose a light; we lose a banner. … If we start knocking things down and say it costs too much to put them back … after a while, this place will be just ordinary.”

The discussion arose after Michael Shay, who serves as the Village Maintenance Corp. manager as well as the Siesta Key Association president, reported that a vehicle backing out of the 7-Eleven parking lot on Ocean Boulevard apparently struck a light pole, leaving the pole leaning toward the street at a 15-degree angle; county staff removed the structure for safety reasons. A traffic cone at the site covers the wiring for the pole, Shay told me after the meeting.

“It’s amazing that everybody is blind when there’s some sort of accident,” he added during the discussion, noting that no one had reported the incident.

One of the two striped bollards in front of palm trees on the sidewalk in that vicinity “is also very shaky,” Shay pointed out. Just within the past year, he continued, county staff re-cemented the area around those bollards to make them sturdier.

A traffic cone marks the spot where a light pole was removed in front of the 7-Eleven. Bollards stand in front of two palms (right). Rachel Hackney photo
A traffic cone marks the spot where a light pole was removed in front of the 7-Eleven. Bollards stand by two palms (right). Rachel Hackney photo

One option, Shay said, is to refrain from replacing the light pole for the time being. Another option is to pour cement over that entire area, he added, creating more space for delivery trucks to park on the sidewalk and unload instead of blocking a lane of Ocean Boulevard. “Personally, I think that for the time being, we should do nothing about the light,” he said, because we just keep throwing money in that spot and it’s a waste of money.”

Gary W. Spraggins, operational manager for the Sarasota County Transportation Department, who was a guest at the meeting, concurred that county staff had drilled into the curb and poured concrete around the bollards near the 7-Eleven to try to make them more stable, because vehicles have hit them multiple times. “It’s a very shallow spot right there to back up,” he pointed out. “We can’t just keep sending our people out here to fix these.”

The expense for that work has been coming out of his budget, Spraggins explained; now, it will have to come out of the Maintenance Corp.’s budget.

(The Maintenance Corp. comprises all property owners in the Siesta Village Public Improvement District. The county assesses them a fee each year to handle the upkeep of the Village, which the county paid to beautify in 2007. The Fiscal Year 2016 millage rate for the district is 2.5991, an increase of 67.49 percent over the rollback rate of 1.5518.)

Lisa L. Cece, business professional in the county Transportation Department, told the SKVA members that the Maintenance Corp.’s annual budget “doesn’t have a whole lot of wiggle room.” Little money remained after the end of the 2015 fiscal year, she added.

Spraggins had researched the issue with county Field Services staff and with Interim County Engineer Carolyn Eastwood, he continued. “The best thing to do is to concrete that whole thing in,” referring to the area in front of the 7-Eleven. “The little bollards just aren’t going to hold up.”

Further, Shay noted, the 7-Eleven has a couple of spotlights that provide what he feels is more than sufficient light in the vicinity.

Smith said he would like to have someone — perhaps a member of the county engineer’s staff — analyze the distance between the streetlights in the Village and determine what should be the appropriate distance between them.

Cece told the SKVA members she believes the county has a pole that could replace the one that was damaged; in that event, the only expense would be for the labor of installing it. She promised to check on that.

Cece also pointed out that the palm trees by the sidewalk could be relocated. One could be moved to the spot where the Michael Saunders real estate office on Ocean Boulevard lost a palm last year, she said.

(From left) Russell Matthes, SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen and SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman. Rachel Hackney photo
(From left) Russell Matthes, SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen and SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman. Rachel Hackney photo

SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman suggested it might be less expensive to purchase new palm trees than to relocate those standing in front of the 7-Eleven.

However, Cece said that because of county purchasing requirements, she felt moving them would be cheaper. She added that she would get an estimate of the expense for relocating them and report back to the Maintenance Corp.

Cece asked the SKVA members what their preference would be: Remove all the landscaping in front of the 7-Eleven and pave it over or just refrain from replacing the light pole?

SKVA board member Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, noted that rumors have circulated that the 7-Eleven property might be sold soon. A non-compete clause, he added, would prevent another convenience store from opening in that space. If a different type of business were to take the place of the 7-Eleven, he indicated, the recurring problems at that location might diminish greatly.

Smith then voiced his concerns about the future appearance of the Village. “The area was designed with a streetlight there,” he said of the 7-Eleven site. “I don’t think you can rely on private property lighting up the sidewalk forever. So my gut feeling is the streetlight ought to go back in.”

He added that he also would hate to see the palm trees removed, though their relocation elsewhere in the Village is a possibility. Smith reiterated, “I don’t want to lose what we’ve created, bit by bit.”

Frost over the years killed a number of coconut palms in the Village, he pointed out, and those have yet to be replaced.

Matthes agreed that he would prefer to see damaged items replaced. “If we have a repeated situation, over and over and over again … we address it with decent hardscape or whatever we need to do.”

However, he continued, if an isolated incident results in damage in an area, the Maintenance Corp. and SKVA board members should address that and decide how best to proceed.

“I like the importance you guys are putting on this decision,” Matthes told Spraggins and Cece.

When Cece asked for clarification about how to proceed, Smith replied that until he hears from all the Maintenance Corp. board members, including those representing the SKVA, “I really can’t give you an answer.”

If the board members choose to keep the bollards in place, Spraggins suggested taller structures — 6 or 8 feet high — be installed. “A [driver of a] big truck can’t see those 4-footers in [the] rearview mirror.”

In reference to Shay’s earlier comment about delivery trucks parking on the sidewalk, Smith noted, “They should be in the parking lot.

A beverage delivery truck is parked in the travel lane of Ocean Boulevard, next to Siesta Key Oyster Bar. File photo
A beverage delivery truck is parked on Ocean Boulevard. File photo

Shay replied that he routinely observes delivery vehicles parked perpendicular to the bollards at the 7-Eleven. “[The trucks] literally are on the sidewalk.”

When Spraggins questioned the legality of blocking a sidewalk, Sgt. Jason Mruczek, the new Sheriff’s Office representative in charge of the Key substation, responded that his understanding is that a vehicle cannot be allowed to impede pedestrian access to a sidewalk; he promised to research the appropriate statute.

In the Village, Cece noted, delivery trucks “always park in the travel way and when season kicks in, it’s a real issue; it’s a safety issue.”

The new officer

Sgt. Jason Mruczek addresses Siesta Key Association members. Rachel Hackney photo
Sgt. Jason Mruczek. Rachel Hackney photo

Speaking of Sgt. Mruczek: During the September meeting of the Siesta Key Association, Lt. Debra Kaspar of the Sheriff’s Office explained that early in the 2016 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Sheriff Tom Knight would assign a new person to be in charge of the Siesta Key substation. Mruczek is that person. (Sgt. Scott Osborne, who held the position for a decade, relocated to North Sarasota County in April as day-shift supervisor. His immediate replace, Sgt. Chris Laster, chose to return full-time to the Mounted Patrol, Kaspar said last month.)

SKA President Michael Shay explained to about 20 audience members on Oct. 1 that Mruczek was working as a deputy on the Key when Shay moved to the island about six years ago. Mruczek was promoted to sergeant two years ago, Shay continued, and he has been in charge of the substation for about two weeks.

“I want to take ownership of everything that happens out here,” Mruczek said, adding that he and the other Sheriff’s Office personnel are working out of a trailer at Siesta Public Beach until the new county Public Safety Building has been completed, which is scheduled for late this year.

Shay then pointed out that Mruczek is “very hands-on. He’s been very attentive since he’s been here.”

Shay remarked on two different incidents — nothing major, he added — about which he had contacted Mruczek; the sergeant personally handled them. In one case, Shay continued, Mruczek visited a homeowner who was concerned about squatters potentially having taken up residence in the house next to hers. “[Mruczek] investigated and put her mind at ease,” Shay said.

A trailer at Siesta Public Beach is the temporary substation for Sheriff's Office personnel. Rachel Hackney photo
A trailer at Siesta Public Beach is the temporary substation for Sheriff’s Office personnel. Rachel Hackney photo

Interviews ahead for new Chamber executive

During the Oct. 6 SKVA meeting, Vice President Mark Smith reported that the period for people to apply to be the new executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce had closed. A meeting was planned this week to review the applications, he added.

“We’ve got a couple of good ones,” Smith said, noting that Chamber members need to narrow down the list of people they wish to interview, conduct those sessions and then make a selection.

“God willing, we’ll have somebody hired before the end of the year,” he added.

Debra Lynn-Schmitz was released as the executive director on July 7. A July 20 Chamber email blast to members said the position would be posted by the end of that week, “and the search committee will be working on finding a qualified replacement.”

The announcement came from Chamber Chair Alana Tomasso.

Lynn-Schmitz began working as executive director on March 1, 2014. Having grown up in Columbus, OH, she and her family frequently visited Siesta Key and the surrounding area, a news release said at the time. She was with the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce for 27 years prior to taking the Siesta job. During her last 19 years with the Greater Medina Chamber, she served as the executive director/CEO, according to the Siesta Key Chamber new release reporting her hiring.

Coastal Cleanup results

During the Sept. 19 International Coastal Cleanup, SKA President Shay reported, he and 28 other volunteers collected 18 bags of garbage and two bags of recyclables from several areas: the stretch of public beach from Access 2 to Point of Rocks, the length of Ocean Boulevard and the public beach area at Shell Road.

The main public beach was not nearly as dirty as it has been in the past when volunteers have collaborated with Sarasota County on cleanup initiatives, he noted.