County Commission asks staff to work on parking lot design for South Midnight Pass Road parcel; no news yet on the 162 and 168 Beach Road parcels; Turtle Beach renovations celebrated; the open-air trolley has one group of detractors; Cosentino renews his complaints to County Commission; and an MTV Siesta Key series update comes from the SKA
Excitement began building among leaders on the Key after a Feb. 17 County Commission budget workshop discussion zeroed in on the potential for a new public parking lot at 6647 South Midnight Pass.
Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division, had identified the 1.84-parcel as owned by the county’s Utilities Department, with a structure on it used for training purposes by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Although the commissioners were talking about surplus property the county could sell, Kurant recommended the board hang on to the Midnight Pass Road parcel.
Commissioner Alan Maio wholeheartedly concurred with that. “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, Maio pointed out.
During the most recent commission budget workshop — conducted on May 26 — the board members not only reinforced their desire to keep the property, but they also directed staff to begin working with “folks on Siesta Key” — as Commissioner Charles Hines put it — to come up with prospective parking lot proposals.
Siesta Chamber Chair Mark Smith addressed the board that morning during the Open to the Public period, pleading the case for the parking lot as well as for continuation of the open-air trolley service. (See the related story in this issue.)
He believes, he said, that the South Siesta parcel will hold 182 parking places plus a building in the center that could be used as a facility for people wanting to catch rides on the trolley. An architect with his own firm in Siesta Village, Smith presented the board members with a copy of the concept for the parking lot, including the 20-foot by 40-foot Siesta Key Breeze trolley stop with a courtyard.
When Chair Paul Caragiulo asked about Smith’s recommendation that shell be used for the surface of the lot, instead of asphalt, Smith noted that shell is allowed under the guidelines of the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning for the island.
It would be an enormous benefit to the Utilities Department not to pave the lot, Smith pointed out. Because the site originally belonged to the Siesta Key Utility Authority, pipes are still in place underground, Smith said. All county employee would need to do to reach those pipes would be to remove the shell and begin digging, Smith added.
Commissioner Hines asked for clarification about which of the two buildings on the site is used by the Sheriff’s Office. Smith replied that the red property lines on his drawing encompassed that one. The other structure — outside the property boundaries — is owned by the Utilities Department.
“Thanks for the work you’ve done on this,” Caragiulo told Smith.
When the board members began their surplus property review later that morning, Kurant reiterated her February remark that the county’s Utilities Department staff “recommended hanging on to that [parcel].” However, she noted, “that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be revisited as a temporary parking lot” until the Utilities Department staff needs it for another purpose.
“They currently have no need for it,” Commissioner Alan Maio stressed of Utilities Department staff members. “But a non-intrusive use could be accommodated there,” he added, such as a shell parking lot.
Maio repeated Smith’s earlier comment about the ease of digging up the shell to reach the underground infrastructure.
“I am 100% in support of that concept,” Caragiulo said of the parking lot proposal.
“Perfect,” Maio responded.
“I think, considering the critical situation of parking on Siesta Key, we would look crazy for putting this [parcel] out to bid, frankly,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out. “I think we need to deal with our parking gridlock, first, and if we have a bare piece of ground, good for us.”
That was when Hines suggested staff start the process of turning the space into a parking lot. “That’s just a good use …”
“Just to make sure that we have a full house here,” Commissioner Michael Moran added, “I completely agree.”
“Five of a kind,” Caragiulo joked. “It’s a new [poker] hand.”
County Administrator Tom Harmer explained that after the Sheriff’s Office later this year moves several of its departments into a building the county has purchased on Cattleridge Boulevard, it no longer will need the training facility on South Midnight Pass Road.
In mid-February, Chief County Engineer Isaac Brownman told the board staff expected the Sheriff’s Office facilities relocation to occur in late summer.
Harmer also acknowledged the board’s direction to begin working on designs of the parking lot, which will be brought back to the commissioners.
In a May 30 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Smith of the Siesta Chamber said one purpose in his making the comments at the board workshop was to make sure “everybody [is] informed and for [the parking plan].”
As for actually creating the lot, he added, “It’ll take a little while to get it going.”
He and Bob Stein, publisher of Siesta Sand, had met with the board members individually prior to the workshop, Smith noted, to discuss the potential use of the parcel. “They could see that this is definitely something we need.”
In a separate telephone interview on May 30, Maio talked with the News Leader about “the relatedness of things.” The county’s $16.5-million purchase of the Cattleridge Boulevard building will enable the Sheriff’s Office to vacate that training space on Siesta Key, he noted. “With that happening, people came to the commission and said … [the Midnight Pass Road property] would make a great parking lot.”
He emphasized that the Utilities Department staff also was supportive of the use of the parcel for a surface parking lot. “[That], to me, is definitely a non-intrusive use.”
And given county staff’s intent to keep the Siesta Key trolley service operating on a permanent basis, Maio continued, the South Midnight Pass Road property also can be used as a trolley turnaround location. “All inter-related,” he reiterated his earlier point.
Maio was especially pleased, he indicated, that the board members on May 26 were unanimous in agreement about the proposal for the site.
“When people are patient, calm, make their case full of facts,
Maio said, “I think they have a commission that hears them loud and clear and does their very best to make things happen.”
162/168 Beach Road
The fate of two Siesta parcels on the list for potential purchase by the county’s Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program remains up in the air, the News Leader learned this week.
When questions arose on March 29, Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, and County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh told the County Commission she was trying to schedule a discussion regarding a proposal from the owners of 162 and 168 Beach Road that the county purchase the vacant lots.
Both parcels were the subjects of public hearings regarding Coastal Setback Variance petitions; each time, the petitions, which would have led to the construction of homes, were denied.
Subsequently, talks ensued about the county’s buying the parcels to add them to its parkland inventory.
In response to a News Leader question this week about the status of the negotiations, county spokesman Drew Winchester said no update could be provided at this time.
Celebrating the Turtle Beach Park improvements
County commissioners, county staff and representatives of the firm that handled the work — Magnum Builders of Sarasota — gathered at Turtle Beach Park on the morning of May 31 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to recognize the completion of renovations on the site earlier this year.
Begun in 2016, the county project included a new parking lot with 35 extra spaces; a new playground; covered picnic areas; a kayak launch and kayak wash-down area; new sidewalks, paths and pedestrian crossings; and a stormwater conveyance system with a rain garden.
Turtle Beach Park has been welcoming lots more visitors, thanks to its serving as one of the primary stops for the Siesta Key trolley.
Although leaders on the Key have pointed to overwhelming support of the free Siesta Key Breeze, one group of business people has proven disgruntled, the News Leader has learned.
During a May 30 telephone interview with the News Leader, Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Chamber, acknowledged that owners and employees of the free ride services on the Key have complained that the trolley has proven tough competition.
Still, Smith said, he believes plenty of business is out there for those free ride companies. They are more of a “custom” transportation service, he pointed out. Whereas the trolley is “more for the masses,” Smith added, the free ride vehicles take people specifically from one point to another without the need to accommodate other passengers wanting to stop at a variety of places.
Back at it
For a couple of months, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino stopped making appearances at County Commission meetings. He was back at it last week, though, as the board held two regular sessions in Sarasota.
On May 23, Cosentino voiced admiration for Commissioner Nancy Detert, who was elected last fall, but he indicated he did not know that much yet about Commissioner Michael Moran, who also was elected in 2016. Cosentino then accused the other three board members of being corrupt.
More than a year ago, Cosentino said, he undertook research at the Supervisor of Elections Office, where he discovered that Dennis and Wendy Madden had given money to the 2014 election campaigns of both Chair Paul Caragiulo and Commissioner Alan Maio.
The Maddens were among the three sets of owners of North Beach Road property who petitioned the board last year for the vacation of a 357-foot segment of that road. The board also voted to allow the Maddens to combine the square footage of the abandoned road section with parcels they own landward and seaward of the road, so they had enough property to qualify for the construction of six new dwelling units in place of 12 units that do not meet modern building standards.
“You’re clearly outside of the law,” Cosentino told the commissioners on May 23, citing the county Comprehensive Plan policies he has referenced in his lawsuit against the county over the North Beach Road vacation.
“Everybody keeps saying, you know, ‘Mike, calm down,’” he continued. “When I started out, I said [to the board], ‘This [May 11, 2016 vote] was a mistake. Let’s get together and fix this mistake.’ There has been no attempt to fix this mistake.”
Cosentino then repeated a claim he has lodged in the past — that “numerous counts of false testimony [were] given under oath” during the May 11, 2016 public hearing on the road vacation and Maddens’ petition for a Coastal Setback Variance.
“You guys are using taxpayer dollars to cover up your illegal acts and to keep me from being able to speak,” Cosentino added of the county’s fighting his lawsuit. “I think it’s despicable.”
As that appearance came before Memorial Day, Cosentino also thanked all the members of the military “for giving me my right to free speech.”
The following day, Cosentino started out his comments with the remark, “Interestingly enough, social studies show that the biggest liars on the Earth all tell the truth 85% of the time … I stand before you to speak of the collusion and corruption that led to the horrible vote on May 11,” which, he continued, was predicated on lies, as demonstrated by “the various county documents” that he has obtained through public records requests.
Then Cosentino pointed out that May is Older Americans Month. As he has many times in the past, he singled out Commissioner Charles Hines. On this occasion, he said that because of the May 11, 2016 vote, Hines’ mother “can’t walk down that street anymore,” referring to the vacated segment of North Beach Road. The 2016 action has kept all of the elderly people and “mobility-impaired” from access to the road, Cosentino added.
In 1993, the county closed that portion of North Beach Road to vehicular traffic because the road had been damaged repeatedly by storms. The vacation the board approved last year allows all public access to the road, except by motor vehicle.
Cosentino proceeded to criticize County Administrator Tom Harmer for what Cosentino alleged was collusion with the three sets of property owners to close the North Beach Road section — again, citing documents Cosentino had obtained through his public records requests. (Many of them are referenced in his second amended complaint against the county. In April, the Maddens won a partial summary judgment ruling from 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Frederick Mercurio, in response to arguments in a counterclaim they filed against Cosentino.)
After Cosentino finished his May 24 remarks, Commissioner Detert asked to make a comment. She wanted to congratulate Caragiulo, she said, for his style of leadership.
Addressing Caragiulo, she continued, “Apparently, you believe in true democracy, where anybody can get up and say anything to us for 3 minutes, and it’s kind of a nice philosophy. Most of us would get angry or upset or want to rebut.”
Allowing Cosentino to levy allegations against the board members without their offering any responses — as is their protocol — is “kind of a new concept to me,” Detert added. “To be accused of some of the things that speaker comes and tells us at every meeting, it’s a little hard to sit through. I just congratulate your calmness and fairness, frankly,” she told Caragiulo.
“Thank you, Senator,” Caragiulo replied. (Detert served in the state Senate prior to her election to the commission.)
As for those proposed charter amendments …
Mike Cosentino is continuing to add valid voter signatures on his petitions for two proposed Sarasota County Charter amendments, which would reverse the County Commission’s 2016 votes regarding North Beach Road, the News Leader learned this week.
A May 31 check with the Supervisor of Elections Office found that the total on proposed amendment 4.1 is 3,788. That says, “The County shall not sell, and shall retain ownership of, County-owned Parks and Preserves, and shall not vacate or sell County-owned road segments or rights of way along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista. The County shall encourage maximum right of way use for public access and viewing of waterfront vistas.”
Amendment 4.2 would rescind the abandonment of, or have the county re-acquire, the section of North Beach Road that the commissioners voted to turn over to the Maddens and the two other sets of petitioners. The total number of valid county voter signatures on that one as of May 31 was 3,792.
On April 17, the total on 4.1 was 1,563, while the total for 4.2 was 1,559, the Supervisor of Elections Office said at that time.
Altogether, Cosentino must have 13,866 on each proposed Charter amendment to get it on a ballot, the Supervisor of Elections Office has explained.
The MTV reality series
Much buzz ensued last month when MTV unveiled an ad for its new reality series set on Siesta Key. Apparently, the news also generated calls and emails to the Siesta Key Association (SKA), as Vice President Catherine Luckner indicated to the News Leader.
On May 18, Luckner emailed her fellow SKA board members to let them know she had spoken with Major Paul Richard of the Sheriff’s Office that day. “He is aware of news which characterizes [the MTV show] as unwelcome and wanted to give some factual background,” she wrote.
The series’ executive producer had several meetings with Sheriff’s Office staff prior to the start of the filming, she continued, and completed all the requirements for permits from the county. “They’ve already finished filming,” she wrote, noting that the last episode was shot at Owen’s Fish Camp, a downtown Sarasota restaurant. It focused on a date between two college students, who discussed their families and life at school, Luckner added.
The series is about students who have known each other for some time who have come home to Siesta Key from college and are catching up with each other, Luckner pointed out. “It is not a ‘spring break’ type series as many have feared.”
Richard told her that, at all times during the filming, “Sgt. Jason Mruczek was on speed dial” in the event any problems arose. Mruczek is the leader of the Sheriff’s Office Siesta Key substation. “The [executive producer] was extremely sensitive to any disruption of life here,” she pointed out.
The first episode is set to air in July, she added.
According to Adweek, the date for the premiere is July 19.