Sheriff’s Office looks into complaints about Beach Access 2 parking at sunset; the pursuit of trolley service continues, with new avenues to be explored; Light Up the Village planning begins; and the new Sheriff’s Office lieutenant supervising the Key introduces himself to the SKVA
A Beach Road resident recently vented in an email to the Sarasota County commissioners about what she described as “problems [that] have exacerbated to the point of anarchy.”
She asserts that she addressed the same issue in emails to the board in April 2014, but she never received a response.
Her subject line in the email was “No Feed Back from Commissioners as of 07/28/2016. Anyone?”
The problems to which she alluded revolve around traffic at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Beach Road. Each evening, she wrote, from an hour or so before sunset until about 30 minutes after the sun sets, “many cars are parked illegally” at that intersection.
“There are many signs that prohibit parking in this area,” she continued. Nonetheless, “Cars pull into our driveways, park on the beach, block access and egress for [property] owners and emergency vehicles. When we ask politely for folks to move their cars they say NO, then verbally and with gestures threaten us. Law abiding citizens are not able to enjoy this area of Siesta Key. It has become a greater problem after season, suggesting local people are taking advantage of the [lack of law enforcement].
Additionally, she wrote, cars turn around in the driveways “ALL day and night. Constant.”
She pointed to yet another concern: the handicapped parking space “smack in the middle of this no parking area.” A vehicle in that spot blocks the county’s signage and “prevents emergency access to our homes,” she wrote. “Can that space be moved closer … so as to not block the turn into our driveways? Or take the illegal space out of there. It belongs in a parking area not in a no parking area! Discrimination?”
Commissioner Carolyn Mason responded to the writer the same day. Mason thanked her for the information, adding that she was sorry the woman and her family were experiencing those problems. Mason copied Sheriff Tom Knight on her email and asked that he and his staff look into the woman’s concerns and report their findings to the commissioners.
Following up on Mason’s request, The Sarasota News Leader this week contacted the Sheriff’s Office. On Aug. 2, Kaitlyn Johnston, the office’s community affairs director, replied by email. After checking with Sgt. Jason Mruczek — who heads up the Sheriff’s Office’s substation on Siesta — she said she wanted to point out that Beach Access 2, located at Avenida Messina and Beach Road, is posted with “No Parking/Stopping/Standing” signs. “Substation deputies make frequent checks at this location throughout their shifts and enforce the signage as appropriate, to include the issuance of parking tickets,” she added. “The area has been monitored by our personnel over the past several years and it appears that in terms of complaints, we seem to receive the same concern every year around the same time.”
Johnston continued, “We looked into our database and learned that since May 1, 2016, the majority of our entries for this location have been the result of self-initiated activity regarding parking enforcement. It appears only five times have we responded to calls for service.”
Johnston concluded, “We continue to work with our partners at Sarasota County Government to enhance the quality of life on Siesta Key and in all parts of Sarasota County, and will continue to keep an eye on the area in question ensuring everyone’s safety and quality of life.”
During a brief interview after the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting on Aug. 2, Mruczek told the News Leader that even though Sheriff’s Office staff was checking the call log for complaints regarding Beach Access 2, he had not heard of any incidents at the intersection.
Part of the discussion during the SKVA’s regular meeting on Aug. 2 focused on a July 7 discussion involving representatives of the organization and staff of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, said Rocky Burke, director of SCAT, and Kendra Keiderling, the bus system’s marketing, outreach and customer service manager, “were pretty unprepared for the meeting, in my opinion.” The focus was the SKVA’s renewed effort to establish a trolley service that would circulate on the north and south ends of the island.
Matthes added that Burke and Keiderling did not seem sure whether grant money might be available to assist with the proposal. (Keiderling told the News Leader on July 8 that SCAT is hoping to obtain such funding to enable it to lease trolleys, but it probably will not hear anything until September.)
The new Route 10 that SCAT implemented in July 2014 was touted as a “trolley service,” featuring buses with a specially designed “wrap” to give them more of an island flair, as then-SCAT Director Glama Carter put it to SKVA members. SCAT had obtained a $1,087,500 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the service. The county had to provide a local match of the same amount, but that was satisfied through the salaries paid to the drivers, Carter noted.
In a July 8, 2014 memo to the County Commission, Carter pointed out that the buses would operate between Southgate Mall and the Pavilion Shopping Center on U.S. 41 next to Gulf Gate. The memo added that Route 10 would be funded through the 2017 fiscal year.
On July 12, SCAT Director Burke told the County Commission that the recently completed comprehensive operations analysis of SCAT indicated a number of routes should be terminated because of poor ridership. One of those was Route 10. Although the County Commission will have final say next year, Burke has proposed that the service be discontinued in April 2017.
During the Aug. 2 SKVA meeting, Matthes pointed out that Route 11 already was serving the island when Route 10 was proposed. The average visitor is reluctant to “jump on a bus,” he continued, because of a lack of knowledge about the stops and schedule. Moreover, he said of SCAT staff members, “They didn’t advertise [Route 10] appropriately.” The “wrap” that Carter touted did not distinguish the bus as a trolley, either, he noted.
After the session with Burke and Keiderling, Matthes continued, he felt they needed to spend more time researching how trolleys operate in other Florida beach communities, including St. Petersburg and Fort Myers. Nonetheless, Matthes said, he had little confidence that such a staff initiative would be pursued. Therefore, Matthes continued, he believes the best approach is for him to bring up the matter to the County Commission and ask that it direct SCAT staff to undertake the necessary research.
Subsequent to the meeting with Burke and Keiderling, Matthes added, he received an email from former Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley, who was representing an individual interested in becoming involved in a trolley service on the Key. Matthes met with Ley, Matthes added. “He had some good input,” including the suggestion that the state or the county might be wiling to subsidize a private trolley service for Siesta.
Matthes also had met with a representative of the private company that co-owns the Siesta Trolley, he continued; their focus was on developing a business plan to determine how much money would be needed to operate trolleys serving the North Village, the South Siesta Village and the public beach.
The next step, Matthes told the 16 people at the SKVA meeting, will be for him to join Ley in a meeting with representatives of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority on Aug. 8. That system works with the Jolly Trolley company, which serves a number of cities in Florida — including Clearwater and Dunedin.
“Maybe they can give us some insight on how they’re functioning,” along with ideas about how to generate operating revenue, Matthes said.
He will seek the County Commission’s help after that Pinellas meeting, he told the group.
It will be here in no time
SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen this week asked for volunteers to assist the organization with its annual Light Up the Village holiday season kickoff, which will be held on the evening of Nov. 26 — the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
During the SKVA meeting, members agreed to hold their first planning session for the event on Aug. 18. Additionally, SKVA Vice President Mark Smith announced that he needs to go ahead and apply for the necessary county permit for the parade that has become a big part of Light Up the Village. “They did suggest that I get [the permit application in] in August,” he added of county staff members.
“All volunteers are wanted and needed,” Jacobsen said.
Your thoughts, please
Lt. Donny Kennard of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office introduced himself to SKVA members at their Aug. 2 meeting, explaining that he will be supervising the Siesta Key substation.
Because it was his first appearance before the group, he also asked for comments regarding how Sheriff’s Office personnel handled the July Fourth festivities on the Key.
Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, told him the committee that plans the fireworks and related activities at the beach had not conducted its wrap-up meeting. After that has been held, she said, someone would let him know the results of the discussion.
From the Sheriff’s Office standpoint, Kennard told the group, things went smoothly. Seeing SKVA board member Glen Cappetta, owner of Sun Ride Pedicab, at the meeting, Kennard added, “The pedicabs were busy [on the Fourth].”
“Yes, they were,” Cappetta replied.
“I think, safety-wise, we were happy with the plan that we worked out,” Kennard added.