Cosentino’s appearances before County Commission may be limited in the future; update provided on Cosentino’s Charter initiatives; plea renewed for a park on Siesta Promenade site; Benderson’s director of development to speak at first quarterly Chamber session for members; proposal offered for site of the wastewater treatment plant; Eat Here building sustains damage; and Sunrise Cove residents get a county response
Ever since the latter part of May 2016, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino has been a regular speaker at County Commission meetings, using Open to the Public segments to press his case that the board violated its Comprehensive Plan in voting on May 11, 2016 to vacate a 357-foot segment of North Beach Road.
In more recent months, Cosentino has addressed the board more than once during a meeting. That action led to a request last week from Commissioner Charles Hines to the Office of the County Attorney.
Cosentino stepped to the podium on the afternoon of Jan. 25 — one of a number of people utilizing the Open to the Public period, because a discussion on the proposed Siesta Promenade was the first business item for board that afternoon. The Benderson Development project was not the focus of a public hearing. Therefore, anyone wishing to comment on it had to speak during Open to the Public.
Cosentino told the commissioners he was out of town the previous day for a funeral, which was the reason he did not appear before them that morning. “I’m sure you all missed me,” he added and then chuckled.
Before Cosentino could say anything further, Hines turned to Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy.
His understanding, Hines said, is that under the board’s Administrative Rules of Order, an individual can speak on any topic during Open to the Public. However, the individual may not offer comments on a specific subject more than once during a meeting unless the board grants the person additional time. “Is that accurate?” Hines asked Roddy.
“I would have to check on that,” Roddy replied. “I’m sorry.”
Hines then pointed out that Cosentino already had appeared before the commission that morning to discuss the North Beach Road vacation. “He’ll probably stay and speak again a third time,” Hines added, referring to the Open to the Public period provided at the end of that afternoon’s agenda. Nonetheless, Hines continued, he did not hear the commissioners grant Cosentino permission to talk about North Beach Road more than once on Jan. 25.
“I’ll let it go today,” Hines said, “but I’d like [the rules] reviewed.”
Chair Paul Caragiulo concurred, asking that the board have the information prior to its next meeting, which is set for Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.
When Cosentino began speaking again, he indicated he had planned to address all the board members. Instead, Cosentino continued, “Mr. Hines, I guess we’ll just stay with you.”
That morning, one of Cosentino’s supporters who has preceded him in numerous Open to the Public appearances had responded to questioning from Hines about one particular facet of the North Beach Road issue. It focused on whether the segment the board vacated actually is on the waterfront. Hines argued that it is not. Lots stand seaward of the road, Hines told Linda Valley of Siesta Key. The property owners who petitioned for the vacation of the portion of North Beach Road own those lots; part of their agreement with the county regarding the road vacation was the stipulation that they never would attempt to build on those parcels.
Valley insisted that the lots were not buildable, anyway. Hines disagreed with her.
Cosentino and Valley continue to point to part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan that was in effect on May 11, 2016. Parks Policy 1.1.13 said, “The County shall not vacate road segments on waterfronts along any creek, river, lake, bay or Gulf access point and shall encourage right-of-way use of these areas for coastal beach and bay access.”
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question this week about the Office of the County Attorney’s determination regarding the board’s Administrative Rules of Order, county spokesman Jason Bartolone provided a copy of the rules. In a Jan. 30 email, Bartolone wrote, “Section II.3(b) on Page 14 [addresses] speaking twice on the same subject at the same meeting, and II.2(7) on Page 13 addresses redundancy.”
The first section he referenced says, “No person may speak more than once on the same subject at the same meeting unless granted permission by the Board.”
The second section to which Bartolone pointed reads, “All public comments shall avoid personal attacks, abusive language and redundancy.”
By the way, when Cosentino made his first appearance at the Jan. 25 County Commission meeting, he was wearing an eye-catching item of clothing. “I got you guys a new jacket so you could see me coming,” he joked.
The white linen jacket has “RBR” stitched on both lapels. “RBR” stands for Cosentino’s nonprofit organization, Reopen Beach Road.
About those petitions …
Last year, numerous people reported to the News Leader that Mike Cosentino was working hard to gain the required number of signatures to put two Sarasota County Charter amendments on the ballot. Even though he has brought suit against the county over the May 11, 2016 vote to vacate a portion of North Beach Road, he also has vowed to try to overturn the decision through one amendment and prevent such action in the future through passage of a second amendment.
When the News Leader checked again this week with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office, the News Leader learned that Cosentino had turned in no more signatures since the last time this reporter checked, in December 2016. The number of verified signatures still stands at eight. He needs 13,866, Supervisor of Elections Office staff has explained.
Speaking of Siesta Promenade …
Rhana Bazzini has not given up her dream of turning the site of the proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use development into a park.
During the June 2, 2016 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, she told Benderson Development’s director of development, Todd Mathes, that she felt a park would be the best use of the approximately 24 acres at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. Just last week, she renewed her call for that approach when she addressed the County Commission before it considered the scope of work for Benderson in its efforts to create Siesta Promenade.
On Jan. 25, she also gave the clerk to the board copies of a petition with more than 200 signatures of people supporting her view.
“It is clear that there are several negative components [of the Siesta Promenade plan],” she told the commissioners. Among them are the potential for exacerbation of the traffic congestion in that immediate area, incompatibility with the neighborhood and adding more vehicles to a major hurricane evacuation route.
Not only was she proposing a park, she continued, but she also wanted to recommend the site be the location of a “shuttle station,” which could provide much-needed transportation to Siesta Key and its beaches.”
To make all that possible, she added, Benderson “would need to divest itself” of the property. “I imagine Benderson has a cadre of accountants and lawyers who could figure out how to implement this,” she said. “They could donate the property to the county; they could sett it to the county.”
Bazzini told the board that she had been talking with Mathes about her ideas and hoped, at some point, to have the opportunity to speak with Randy Benderson, CEO of Benderson Development. Then, she said, she could “remind him that being a successful businessman and an enlightened corporate citizen are not mutually exclusive.”
Her conversations with Mathes, she noted, “have been always respectful. We may disagree as to the merits of the proposal, but we have never been disagreeable.”
And speaking of Todd Mathes …
When leaders of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) announced late last fall that the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce would be absorbing the SKVA at the end of 2016, they also talked about how quarterly Chamber meetings would serve as a form of replacement for the monthly SKVA sessions. Chamber Chair Mark Smith came up with the idea, he indicated to the News Leader, because Chamber members had had no regular forum during which to ask questions or discuss issues.
The first quarterly meeting will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, the Chamber has announced. It will be in Room F, where the Siesta Key Association used to hold all of its sessions.
The church is located at 5615 Midnight Pass Road.
The first guest speaker for these Chamber gatherings will be none other than Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development.
All Chamber members are invited to attend the session, a Chamber email blast says.
A suggestion for the wastewater plant site
With county work proceeding on schedule for the decommissioning of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant at the end of the year, members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) last month heard a proposal for a potential use of the site.
Philip Chiocchio told the attendees at the Jan. 12 meeting that he is chair of a subcommittee on mangrove awareness, living seawalls and living shorelines for the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum. That group comprises anglers, scientists and others “seeking to proactively address fisheries management and science topics in the Sarasota Bay area,” according to a Mote Marine press release.
The forum partners with Mote and the Florida Sea Grant program, Chiocchio told the audience.
He then explained that New College of Florida “cut a hole in its seawall and dug out an area upland” to create a living shoreline lagoon, “which is now a nursery.” Red mangroves and birds are making the area their home, he continued.
The New College website points out that, with funding from the state, the school in 2012 was able to replace the seawall that was constructed in 1925-26. The effort included the creation of “an intertidal lagoon with a sloping shoreline and additional intertidal habitat,” giving students and visiting schoolchildren better access for “studying the natural environment.”
If the SKA was interested in pursuing a similar project on the wastewater plant property, he said, he would be happy to provide more details at a future meeting.
It took about a year-and-a-half for the New College initiative to come to fruition, he noted. “This might just be a beautiful project for Siesta Key.”
“That’s my pitch,” Chiocchio added.
Damage to the Eat Here building
In mid-January, passersby in Siesta Village no doubt saw the boarded-up section on the front of the Avenida Madera building that is home to the Eat Here restaurant.
Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sheriff’s Office reported that a Porsche hit the building about 9 a.m. on Jan. 16. Although Deputy Jason Strom assisted at the scene, Mruczek told the News Leader, the Florida Highway Patrol handled the investigation — as per protocol for traffic accidents.
When the News Leader attempted to get the details of the incident from the Highway Patrol, this reporter learned that it would cost $16 to buy a copy of the report online. Needless to say, the reporter chose to forgo the details.
Answering Sunrise Cove’s cry for help
Regular readers will recall that, in mid-December, a representative of the Sunrise Cove condominium complex, next to Turtle Beach Park, voiced vexation to the County Commission about problems with the crushed-shell surface of the older parking lot at the park.
As of the first week of January, the residents had not received any help from staff, as promised at the meeting.
It turned out that Commissioner Alan Maio’s vow that staff would take another look at the situation apparently “fell through the cracks,” thanks to the holiday season. By early January, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff was working on solutions, the News Leader learned.
On Dec. 14, 2016, Ed Schmidt said he was representing about 155 owners at Sunrise Cove — located at 8877 Midnight Pass Road — in appearing before the commission. The older parking lot at Turtle Beach Park “has been there for 40 years, and [the construction crew] used broken shell as a matrix over there,” he explained. Traffic has crushed that shell into a powder in the ensuing years, Schmidt continued. “And that powder blows around the property, and then when it rains, it becomes a soupy mess, and we have slip hazards on the pavement there.”
During a Jan. 4 telephone interview, Schmidt told the News Leader that Maio had called him on Dec. 15, 2016 to tell him that staff would take care of the situation. Schmidt heard no more until Jan. 10, he said, when he received apologetic calls from Maio and Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department.
“I do appreciate both Ms. Brown and Commissioner Maio calling me back,” Schmidt told the News Leader, adding that he understood how the failure of county staff to make the call earlier could have happened.
During his conversation with Brown, Schmidt said, Brown first explained that a crew would re-grade the parking lot, but he told her workers do that already — every six months. Brown added that a different type of shell would be put on the surface, he added, but as of Jan. 18, he had not seen that material put down in the lot.
On Jan. 11, he and Brown both confirmed to the News Leader, the lot was graded. “This included grading over the south apron in an effort to help clear the debris associated with the low spot in the sidewalk that collects stormwater runoff from the road, sidewalk, and parking lot.” Brown wrote the News Leader in an email.
PRNR staff visited the site on the morning of Jan. 11 “to assess the reported concerns,” Brown continued. Afterward, PRNR staff contacted the Stormwater Division of Sarasota County Public Works and asked it “to provide an additional review of the area,” she noted.
Stormwater staff visited the site on Jan. 12, she continued, “to assess the sidewalk and drainage issues observed by PRNR staff.”
“In an effort to help reduce airborne dust, PRNR staff and associated PRNR contractors have been asked not to use any blowers to clear sidewalks, shell, or pavilions of debris at Turtle Beach for the foreseeable future,” she also pointed out, adding, “County staff continues to work together to identify how to best resolve these concerns.”
On Jan. 17, Schmidt told the News Leader, a crew working in the area used blowers, “creating major dust clouds” at Sunrise Cove. He sent photos to Brown, he added, and she was able to identify the county department for whom the crew members worked. PRNR staff “told them to stop that process over here.”
Schmidt remains convinced that the parking lot needs to be covered with a pervious surface, such as the type of concrete used in the new Turtle Beach parking area. That seems to be the most reliable remedy for the problems, he said, and he believes the area has sufficient space for small stormwater ponds, which would be a necessary part of such a project.