Siesta Seen

County staff talking with FDOT about swapping the state River Road for Siesta roads; Siesta and Casey key beaches fare well during Irma; and an historic cottage gets a tax exemption for rehab work

An aerial map shows State Road 758, mostly on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

Sarasota County staff has been in discussions with staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) about potentially assuming ownership of roads on Siesta Key in exchange for the state taking River Road, County Administrator Tom Harmer told the County Commission on Sept. 13.

Improvements long planned for River Road — a county road with a regional impact — have become increasingly important as the county works with the Atlanta Braves, the West Villages Improvement District and the City of North Port on plans for the Braves’ new Spring Training complex in the West Villages.

A Sept. 6 memo to Harmer from Spencer Anderson, interim director of the county’s Public Works Department, says staff has been talking about taking over portions of Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Drive, Higel Avenue, South Osprey Drive and Bay Road, which are county routes, while the state takes ownership of River Road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 in South County.

“Possible advantages of this transfer … may include advanced funding and construction of River Road between West Villages Parkway and I-75,” Anderson added.

During his report to the board as part of its Sept. 13 meeting, Harmer noted that Stickney Point Road also has figured into the discussions with FDOT.

“We’re not sure if that’s something that we would recommend at this point,” he added of the swap in general. Staff has been analyzing the potential, Harmer continued, and will prepare a report for the commission that will include information about the potential expenses for capital improvements and maintenance to the Siesta roads, South Osprey and Bay Road.

Spencer Anderson. File photo

“We anticipate further deliberation with FDOT over the next 30-60 days and a formal update to the Board of County Commissioners within the next 45-90 days,” Anderson wrote in his memo.

Formally, the discussions regard State Road 758, which encompasses Midnight Pass Road, Higel, Siesta Drive, South Osprey Drive and Bay Road. That segment is about 5.3 miles, Anderson noted.

The Stickney Point Road stretch is about 6.5 miles, according to Anderson’s memo.

Commissioner Nancy Detert asked that Harmer have staff “include any bridges that we would be responsible for” in its analysis and report.

Harmer responded that he has talked with L.K. Nandam, secretary of FDOT’s District One, which includes Sarasota County. The state “has indicated a willingness to removing the drawbridges” from the swap, if that transaction takes place, Harmer explained. “We’re still talking to them about the [two] fixed bridges and the entire segment” considered for the exchange, he added. “So that’s a good point,” he told Detert.

Beaches fared quite well during Irma

Sarasota County’s Environmental Protection Division staff reported late on Sept. 13 that the county’s beaches fared “very well following Hurricane Irma.”

On Sept. 12, the summary says, staff of the division conducted a countywide, post-storm inspection of the beaches and dune conditions on the unincorporated barrier islands, including Siesta and Casey keys. These assessments followed pre-storm inspections conducted on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, the summary notes.

The assessments following Irma were “based on visual inspections, local knowledge of our beaches, and comparisons of the photo-documentation of pre-storm and post-storm conditions,” the summary explains. “No specific surveying or topographic measurements are taken during these beach and dune assessments,” the summary points out. “Therefore, the evaluation is qualitative rather than quantitative and should not be used to make conclusions on estimated volumes of sand lost or gained in our coastal areas.”

For Siesta Key, the summary reported the following findings:

  • Wind-blown sand accumulated over portions of the restored dune vegetation at the South Siesta Key Beach Renourishment area at Turtle Beach.
  • The southernmost property on Siesta Key (9230 Blind Pass Road) showed minor beach and dune erosion (less than 5 feet), but only minor dune vegetation loss was noted in this area. “Overwash deposited a layer of sand on the pool deck at this property.”
  • Minor beach and dune erosion (approximately 5 to 10 feet) was observed at the southern end of Crescent Beach, immediately north of Point of Rocks on Siesta Key.
  • “The majority of public beach accesses on Siesta Key experienced flooding of varying degree. Several public access points had a few to several inches of standing water on the public footpaths leading to the beach” at the time of the Sept. 12 assessment, the summary said.
Before-and-after photos show conditions at 9230 Blind Pass Road on Siesta Key. Images courtesy Sarasota County
Water stands on the path of Beach Access 10 on Sept. 12. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The report contained the following information about Casey Key:

  • The step revetment area on North Casey Key Road saw wave overwash, sand deposition and impacts to guardrails. The road remained passable.
  • At 2007 Casey Key Road, the recent sand placement had washed out, exposing previously installed sandbags that continued to provide protection to the foundation. The septic tank at this location also had been exposed because of the loss of sand placed in the area; this site was reported to the Health Department.

Update on the Shop Local Card

Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, provided an update this week on the debut of the Shop Local Card the Chamber has created.

More than 30 businesses have signed up to participate in the program, a news release says. The list will be maintained on the Chamber website and enclosed with each purchase of a card.

Cardholders may use them as frequently as they wish, but they must show the cards at participating businesses to receive the specials and discounts.

The cards will be valid from Oct. 1 through Sept. 31. “Let the shopping begin!” the release adds.

The cards will be sold through the Chamber for $25 each, or five for $100. The cards may be purchased on the Chamber website or at the office, which is located at 5114 Ocean Blvd., in Davidson Plaza.

No refunds or replacement cards will be provided in the case of lost or stolen cards, the release notes.

This is a sampling of the specials and discounts provided to Shop Local Card holders. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

A tax exemption for an historic cottage

The pared-down agenda the County Commission handled post-Irma on Sept. 13 included one item related to a historic beach cottage near Point of Rocks.

A view from the Gulf of Mexico shows the Palmer-Honore Beach Cottage. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Under the heading of Presentations Upon Request, staff of the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department were seeking adoption of a resolution “granting ad valorem tax exemption status to the designated historic single-family residence located at 7132 Point of Rocks Circle, Sarasota, for 100 percent of the value of the qualifying improvements made to the property,” the agenda item said. The exemption would be good for 10 years, commencing on Jan. 1, 2018.

With no member of the public present to make comments, and no board member seeking a presentation, Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to adopt the resolution and to approve an historic preservation property tax exemption covenant between the county and the Barry J. Eckhold Trust, which the agenda identified as the owner of the property. The covenant requires the trust “to maintain the integrity of the qualifying property improvements for the duration of the exemption period.”

Commissioner Michael Moran seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

The focus of this action is a structure known as the Palmer-Honore Beach Cottage. Based on research conducted in the Manatee County historical archives, ownership of the property dates back to 1911, a 2015 county report said. “This information supports the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s record that dates the house as c. 1918. The owner at that time was Mrs. Bertha Potter Palmer,” the report added. “Following her death in 1918, the property went to her estate,” with her brother, Adrianne Honore, acting as executor, the report noted.

A graphic shows the location of the cottage on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Bertha Potter Palmer, as many people in this area know, arrived in Sarasota from Chicago in the winter of 1910 and fell in love with the area. She became one of the most prominent people in the history of the county’s development.

When she first traveled to Sarasota, “she was preceded by her reputation as a keen businesswoman, a patron of the arts, an international socialite and the widow of Chicago multi-millionaire Potter Palmer,” according to the Sarasota County History Center.

“The cottage is historically significant,” the 2015 county report said, because of its “association with early beachfront development in Sarasota County. The simple vernacular style was typical of beach cottages scattered along Siesta Beach up until Sarasota’s post World War II development boom. … Although larger permanent residences have been constructed in the Point of Rocks area, several remaining early beach cottages exist as a reminder of the low scale, small size seasonal structures that had been so common on the barrier islands.”

The report also noted the cottage’s “integrity of materials”: original framing, pier foundation, masonry fireplace, exterior siding and interior pressboard wall sheathing, which convey material use and craftsmanship typical of the period in which the structure was built.

A photo shows Point of Rocks circa 1950. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On April 21, 2015, the County Commission adopted a resolution granting the historic designation of the cottage. A staff memo provided to the board in advance of that meeting said that on Jan. 27, 2015, Greg Hall of Hall Architects, the authorized agent for the property owner — Barry Eckhold — had submitted an application to the county’s Historical Resources Division staff, seeking that designation.

A staff memo provided to the board on May 31 of this year explains that the county’s staff and its Historic Preservation Board (HPB) took the necessary steps to ensure that the rehabilitation of the historic building met the necessary criteria for the trust to seek the ad valorem tax exemption.

The HPB provided a recommendation to the County Commission, dated Jan. 24, saying that the County Code allows designated historic sites within the county to seek such exemptions for restoration, renovation or rehabilitation work. However, the overall project cost has to exceed 15% of the value of the property at the time the rehabilitation is undertaken.

In this case, the memo notes, the total of the rehabilitation was $507,530.27. As the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office valued the cottage at $150,200 in 2015 — the year the application for the work was submitted to county staff — that far exceeded the 15% mark, the memo added.

According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, the total assessed value of the land and buildings this year is $1,377,200. The Eckhold Trust has owned the property since May 2014, the records show, paying a total of $1.8 million for it.