Siesta Seen

Update offered on the proposed hotel Comprehensive Plan amendment; low-speed rental vehicles prompt Chamber discussion; mention of ‘sharrows’ leads to a wee bit of confusion; Cosentino apologizes to county commissioners; south Siesta parking issues aired at commission meeting; and long-time Chamber members will launch a new book

The building that once housed Fandango Cafe stands on part of the acreage zoned Commercial General on Old Stickney Point Road where a hotel possibly could be built if the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment passes. File photo

A proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that would allow hotels to be built on parcels zoned Commercial General on Siesta Key has not been submitted yet to Sarasota County planning staff, county spokesman Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader this week.

“The applicants did receive [County Commission] authorization to file a Comprehensive Plan Amendment prior to the open annual 2017 Comprehensive Plan Amendment cycle,” which traditionally is in May, Winchester added in a March 6 email. He was responding to a question from the News Leader. However, he pointed out, “The timing of the actual filing … is up to the applicant.”

Since word began spreading in early December about the proposal for the amendment, a number of residents on Siesta Key — especially those who live near Commercial General property on Old Stickney Point Road — have protested the idea of a hotel on the island.

After checking with Winchester, the News Leader contacted Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker law firm in Sarasota, who has been working as the agent for the applicant, Siesta Acquisitions LLC. (The manager of that entity is Dr. Gary Kompothecras, a chiropractor who lives on Siesta Key; he is best known for his “1-800-Ask-Gary” advertisements.)

Charles D. Bailey III. File photo

Bailey wrote the following response in a March 7 email to the News Leader: “We really don’t have anything further to share at this point. In response to some feedback we received from some Siesta Key stakeholders during and following our neighborhood workshop, we are working to flesh out some of the details of a proposed hotel and seek to refine and clarify the Comprehensive Plan Amendment. We feel doing so will greatly help the discussion. We hope to recommence that discussion in the next few weeks.”

The neighborhood workshop was held on Dec. 7 at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key.

As Bailey and Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development pointed out at that time, the proposed amendment would change the county’s Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 to allow redevelopment of Commercial General parcels on any of the barrier islands to provide transient accommodations.

‘The little red and yellow rentals’

During the first quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce for members, held last month, long-time Siesta Key Village Association director and officer Kay Kouvatsos told the Chamber leaders, “For years, I’ve been wanting to ask this question.”

She then noted “the little red and yellow rentals and the golf carts that go a maximum of 20 mph” that have become common on the island. “Is there any way we could forcefully suggest that they move over when there’s 73 cars behind them, as opposed to holding up traffic?”

Three-wheel rental vehicles head down Midnight Pass Road in May 2014. File photo

Michael Shay, who manages the Village upkeep for the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., asked specifically where she had seen the problem. Kouvatsos and another Chamber member replied that the vehicles go from Siesta Village “all the way to Turtle Beach.”

Glen Cappetta, who owns Sun Ride Pedi Cabs, responded that traffic laws prevent the vehicles from operating legally on South Midnight Pass Road, because of their speed limitation.

Still, Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office told Kouvatsos that the scenario she had described was “no different than any other person driving slow in a regular car.”

Nonetheless, Kouvatsos replied, “It’s just the common courtesy thing.”

A low-speed vehicle passes a parked beer delivery truck in Siesta Village. FIle photo

Cappetta pointed out that golf carts have a maximum speed of 26 mph. By law, he said, they cannot operate on any state or local road with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or greater. “Technically, we do have to stay behind them, like Jason said,” Cappetta added. “We don’t want those vehicles getting into the bike lanes, either.”

“We’re not a golf cart community,” Cappetta said. “But it is what it is, and we’ve just got to deal with it right now.”

If Kouvatsos thought the situation with the golf carts and little rental vehicles was bad, Shay told her, she should wait until Sarasota County employees paint “sharrows” on Ocean Boulevard from the Beach Road intersection to the Treasure Boat Way intersection. Referencing an article the News Leader ran last month, he pointed out that the rules when the sharrows are in place call for drivers of motor vehicles to move into another travel lane to allow a bicyclist to proceed safely on a stretch of road. “The problem is we only have one travel lane in each direction in the Village,” Shay added.

A county graphic explains ‘sharrows.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

Siesta Chamber Chair Mark Smith said he understood Florida law requires only that a motorist move over to give a bicyclist 3 feet of space.

‘Sharrow’? or ‘Sheriff’?

When Chair Mark Smith brought up the county’s plans to add the sharrows to Ocean Boulevard, Sgt. Mruczek thought Smith had said “Sheriff,” so Mruczek began to give his report.

After a few minutes of confusion — and some good-natured laughter — Smith continued, explaining about the coming signs that are designed to promote bicyclists’ safety. “The Chamber has agreed to let me write a letter of support for those,” Smith said of the sharrows.

Apologies from Cosentino

The county commissioners have become accustomed to seeing Siesta resident Mike Cosentino step to the podium to urge them to reverse a vote last year that vacated a 357-foot segment of North Beach Road. When he addressed them last week during a regular meeting in Venice, his appearance ended up taking a different turn.

Mike Consentino addresses the County Commission on Jan. 25. File photo

First, Cosentino referenced Commissioner Charles Hines’ recent request for the Office of the County Attorney to review the board’s rules of procedure. Hines said it was his understanding that no one can address the commission on the same subject more than once on the same day without permission of the board.

“I did go back and read the rules, “Cosentino said on Feb. 28. I do stand corrected on that and appreciate you bringing that to my attention.”

Second, Cosentino continued, he wanted to make a comment to Commissioner Alan Maio. Cosentino explained that he had run an advertisement in a newspaper (the February issue of Siesta Sand), in which he had criticized Maio. That ad took Maio to task for failing to try to prevent the Critical Area Plan process from going forward for the proposed Siesta Promenade project Benderson Development wants to construct at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

After the ad was published, Cosentino continued, it was pointed out to him that Sura Kochman favors the Critical Area Plan process. Kochman, he noted is one of the leaders of the Pine Shores Estates residents opposed to the mixed-use development.

He also had talked with Brian Lichterman, owner of Vision Planning and Design in Sarasota, who worked on more than 30 Critical Area Plans when Lichterman was a county planner in his previous career, Cosentino added; Lichterman also favors the CAP process.

“I’m actually not as [well] versed on the Benderson project as them,” Cosentino told Maio, “and I printed something about you, specifically, that may not have been correct, and I apologize for that. I want to make clear that that was not my intention. I try very hard to be credible in the things that I bring to the board’s attention,” he continued. “And I just want to make a public apology to you for printing something that I had not fully investigated,” he added, still speaking to Maio.

“That being said,” he began again and then paused. “Heck,” Cosentino told the board, “I’m going to give you guys a break. Have a nice day. Thank you.”

South Siesta parking concerns

Siesta also came up during the commissioners’ board reports during their Feb. 28 meeting.

When Chair Paul Caragiulo asked Commissioner Nancy Detert if she had anything to discuss, she hesitated. Laughter rang out from some of her colleagues when she said she was not sure if she should say anything.

“Come on!” Caragiulo teased her.

Aerial maps show the location of the parcel on Midnight Pass Road that the county owns and the Sheriff’s Office uses for training purposes. Images courtesy Sarasota County

Then Detert explained that she recently had taken a tour of Siesta Key “at the behest of someone else to review the lack of parking spaces and the illegal use of parking spaces and the way they handle parking spaces.”

When Caragiulo asked which part of the Key she was referring to, she replied, “The south end, oddly enough.”

She had asked staff to check on “a few things that probably aren’t kosher, and, hopefully, they’ll get back to us …”

“Bravo, Commissioner Detert, for doing that,” Commissioner Alan Maio responded.

At some point, Maio indicated, he was hopeful the board members would have an opportunity to talk about a 1.84-acre parcel located at 6647 Midnight Pass Road.

When the commissioners held their Feb. 17 budget workshop, the agenda included a discussion about surplus properties the county has under contract and others that it is evaluating for potential sale. Among those parcels, Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division, said is that Midnight Pass Road land, which the county’s Utilities Department owns. She recommended the board not put it up for sale, as it might be needed for future expansion related to utilities.

Maio concurred with her recommendation about keeping it off the market. However, he told her and his colleagues, “That [property], I would say, may be our last and only opportunity for a parking lot on Siesta” or for a turnaround area for a trolley or bus.

In a recap of board requests at the conclusion of the budget workshop, County Administrator Tom Harmer said staff indeed would evaluate the potential use of the property for parking or trolley turnaround use.

Commissioner Alan Maio. Rachel Hackney photo

On Feb. 28, Maio reiterated his Feb. 17 remark: “I would ask we just keep that in mind, if appropriate.”

Earlier that day, the board approved a contract to initiate a free open-air trolley service on Siesta, which will run from the Beach Club in Siesta Village to Turtle Beach. The six-month pilot program is scheduled to start on March 20.

Because Kurant noted on Feb. 17 that the Midnight Pass Road parcel is used by the Sheriff’s Office, the News Leader contacted Kaitlyn Perez, the office’s community affairs director, to ask about the site. She explained in a March 3 email that the Training Section utilizes the space, but that group eventually may relocate to the Sheriff’s Office’s South County facility.

She also pointed out that the parcel is owned by the county.

A new book

Long time Siesta Chamber members Bob and Eileen Parkinson of Trident Communications are launching their new book, Be As Good As You Think You Are, they and the Chamber have announced.

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

On Wednesday, March 15, Barnes & Noble in Sarasota will hold a books-signing event to celebrate the publication, a news release says. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the store, which is located at 4010 S. Tamiami Trail.

“Everyone wants to be a good public speaker,” the release continues. “Be As Good As You Think You Are is an exploration of a wide variety of experiences, skills, and techniques that will guide readers in developing strong behaviors that form and strengthen their personal professional presence,” the release adds.

“Many people in business, academia, government and social and civic organizations often overestimate their communication abilities and the impact they have on others,” the release notes. “This book combines a perspective of reality with fun and practical behaviors. It is filled with stories and examples of what works and how to personalize those concepts. Bob and Eileen have collected and developed their material over many years working with individuals and groups who seek to become better communicators,” the release adds.