Siesta Seen

County has more than 1,200 acres of public water access, SKA members learn; new opponents emerge in response to another Coastal Setback Variance petition; lack of garbage cans on beach explained; SCAT provides latest Siesta Key Breeze stats; and Sheriff’s Office report has details on Oct. 3 Village incident

Beach Access 3b on Beach Road is among numerous public lands on Siesta Key. Storm debris from Hurricane Irma is piled at the left of the entryway. Rachel Hackney photo

Sarasota County has a total of 1,218.84 acres on the water — beaches, bayside parks and other public water accesses — Shawn Yeager, manager of the Beaches and Water Access Division of the Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members during their Oct. 5 regular meeting.

On Siesta alone, according to a document staff had compiled, 188.86 acres are divided among 13 accesses, Siesta Key Public Beach, Turtle Beach Park and Turtle Beach Campground, along with a couple of pocket parks, Nora Patterson Bay Island Park (part of which the City of Sarasota owns) and Jim Neville Marine Preserve.

Even more public acreage is comprised by beaches and water accesses in Venice, the chart shows: 298.6.

Parks with access to Sarasota Bay make up 305.13 acres.

Altogether, the chart shows, 913.81 acres of waterfront access is available to the public on the county’s barrier islands.

The county acquired a few of the properties through its Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, which uses revenue brought in by a voter-approved tax. Among those, for example, are Beach Accesses 3b and 7 on Siesta Key.

Yeager noted that, along with the county property it oversees, staff does manage some of the accesses owned by municipalities. One example, he said, is a portion of Lido Beach, which is a City of Sarasota property.

The list Shawn Yeager provided at the Oct. 5 SKA meeting includes water accesses on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The handout county staff had created provides property identification numbers (PID) for many of the access points, Yeager pointed out. Using that information, a person may visit the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website and look up those parcels. The county’s GIS mapping system also enables the public to see a map of the property, he said.

For example, among details about the larger portion of Beach Access 7 — 50,645 square feet — is the fact that the Property Appraiser’s Office valued the land at $10,255,600 this year. The county acquired the property in October 2007, working with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which is based in Tallahassee.

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner noted that county staff is at work, too on a document about the historical perspective of the public accesses on Siesta Key. The county acquired the first portion of Siesta Public Beach in 1954, Luckner added, thanks to help from the Trust for Public Land.

Luckner further pointed out that one of the Siesta access points listed on the chart Yeager provided the attendees is Christopher Wheeler Park. “I just discovered this by happenstance recently,” she said, noting that the sign links the pocket park to the SKA, as well.

It is at the very end of Old Stickney Point Road, she added, beyond the Marina Del Sol condominium complex; it was created on property where the original Stickney Point Road bridge stood. “It’s a really neat place,” Luckner said.

“That’s actually one of my favorite pocket parks,” Yeager replied. “Right now, it’s still feeling the effects of Irma,” he noted, though staff has been working to clear the debris.

A sign marks Christopher Wheeler Park at the east end of Old Stickney Point Road. Image from Google Maps

“It is peaceful,” Yeager said. “I’ve heard that it’s also very good snook fishing.”

“Oh, really?” Luckner responded.

“So it is a great spot,” Yeager told the audience.

In conjunction with his remarks, Yeager continued, he wanted the audience to know about the new kayak launch at the Myakka River Park in Venice. It is attached to a floating dock, he explained. “You ratchet yourself up with your oars” after pulling up to the dock, he said. The “EZ launch” helps the kayak remain stable while a person gets in or out of the vessel, he added. “It’s a safer alternative than trying to stabilize yourself on a floating dock.”

In an Oct. 6 email to county administration, Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, provided photos of that EZ launch.

“We believe this system will be well used by residents and visitors,” she wrote. “We are planning for similar launches in the future.

Furthermore, Yeager reminded the SKA audience members about new amenities installed this summer at Turtle Beach Park. Among them are a kayak launch, more paved parking spaces, picnic areas and “a brand new beach shower that was just opened up about a week ago. … Let us know what you think of them,” he said.

The flip side of Shawn Yeager’s handout shows other water accesses in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

New opponents to Saba Sands II proposal emerge

A new effort is underway to fight a developer’s proposal to construct a house seaward of Beach Access 10 on Siesta Key and to use the access as the driveway to the property.

A property manager on Siesta Key, a yoga instructor and “an avid beachgoer,” Victoria Ochoa told about 35 people at the Oct. 5 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting that she is among creators of a Facebook page, Save Siesta Key Beach Access 10.

On May 18, Saba Sands II, a limited liability company managed by Sarasota attorney William A. Saba, filed an application with Sarasota County staff, seeking a Coastal Setback Variance for construction seaward of the county’s Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL). The latter is the figurative “line in the sand,” as county commissioners and environmental permitting staff have put it, that protects the beach environment and property owners near the shore.

The application says Saba Sands II wants to build a three-story house and pool west of the house at 655 Beach Road.

Victoria Ochoa. Image from the Rosemary Court Yoga website

If Saba wins, Ochoa told the SKA audience on Oct. 5, “we will all lose.” One major reason Siesta Key’s beach is so beautiful, she continued, is because of all its marshes. Those areas also are a primary habitat for wildlife, she pointed out.

Any owner of property on the island will see the value of that land decline if Saba is successful in winning County Commission approval of the variance, Ochoa said, because that would open the door to even more construction along the Gulf of Mexico. More buildings, she added, translate into less beach.

“My intent today is to bring awareness,” Ochoa continued, urging the audience members to contact the county commissioners. “Tell them we do not accept this.”

When The Sarasota News Leader asked about the status of the Saba Sands II petition, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester replied in an Oct. 10 email that Saba had yet to provide the additional information county environmental permitting staff requested during the summer.

Why no garbage cans on the beach itself?

When Shawn Yeager asked for questions after his presentation to SKA members on Oct. 5, one issue an attendee raised has proven to pop up frequently in discussions about Siesta Public Beach: Why are there no garbage cans on the beach itself?

“They seemed to work well,” the man told Yeager. “Now they’re gone.”

“We moved them back to the accesses,” Yeager replied. “One of the biggest reasons why is for safety.”

On a holiday weekend — such as July Fourth — or a busy weekend during spring break season, Yeager continued, the county’s garbage cans at Siesta Public Beach need to be emptied about every 30 minutes. If the cans were on the beach packed with people, he pointed out, it would be almost impossible to reach them without risking the potential of injuring someone.

Shawn Yeager addresses the SKA audience on Oct. 5. Rachel Hackney photo

Additionally, Yeager explained, gulls will become accustomed to eating the remains in the cans, which would lead to their relying on that artificial food source. Moreover, he said, both gulls and crows will pull leftover food out of garbage cans and inevitably drop some of it elsewhere on the beach or in the Gulf of Mexico, which is an unhealthful situation.

Yeager’s boss — Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department — faced a similar question in August during a quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. She pointed out that even using a golf cart to move among crowds on the beach to pick up garbage “is really an unsafe thing.” That is why county staff has been working hard to educate the public about using the receptacles at the accesses to the beach, she said.

In response to a suggestion on Oct. 5 from SKA member Margaret Jean Cannon, Yeager said that if the county installs stands at the beach accesses with bags for people to use for disposing of trash, “folks will just take ’em and use ’em for shells or whatever.”

However, he told Cannon that he would talk with staff about the potential for county employees to distribute bags to people on the beach.

In the meantime, he said, staff has been working to emphasize that people “pack out” what they take to the beach, so no trash remains on the sand when they leave.

Yeager thanked the SKA members and all the volunteers on the island who assisted county staff members with handing out yellow bags for garbage collection over the July Fourth and Labor Day weekends. He added that he certainly did notice a decrease in trash on the beach after Labor Day. “That’s a tribute to each of you and your help.”

Breeze-in’ right along

The Siesta Key Breeze heads south on Beach Road. File photo

The Siesta Key Breeze remained popular through the summer, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff told the News Leader this week, though ridership was down quite a bit in September.

In July, SCAT recorded 25,506 passengers on the open-air trolley that circulates between Turtle Beach Park and Siesta Village. For August, the total was 14,040, Kendra Keiderling, marketing, outreach & customer service supervisor for SCAT, wrote in an Oct. 9 email in response to a News Leader query about the latest statistics.

In September, however, she noted, ridership was 5,165. “We knew it was not going to be good,” she said of the figure. Not only is September traditionally the slowest month for tourists on the Key, she pointed out in a telephone interview, but Hurricane Irma dampened that trend even more. “[W]e had at least 6 days affected by the hurricane,” Keiderling wrote in the email.

When the County Commission held its two public hearings on the 2018 fiscal year budget in September, County Administrator Tom Harmer made a point of reminding the board members that — at their request — SCAT had full funding for the Breeze included in that budget. Commissioners have remarked at length about the success of the trolley, including its reduction in motor vehicle traffic on Key roads.

More on the Oct. 3 Village incident

The incident that prompted a reader last week to contact the News Leader about a number of Sheriff’s Office and emergency vehicles near the Beach Bazaar in Siesta Village involved an allegedly stolen vehicle and the driver’s fear he was suffering a major medical problem, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.

The driver also did not have a valid license, the Sheriff’s Office report says.

After a deputy began talking with him, the report notes, the driver “complained of chest pain and stated he was having a heart attack.”

A SCAT bus stops in front of Beach Bazaar in Siesta Village. File photo

The official report says that about 3:30 on Oct. 3, a woman walking near the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, located at 5238 Ocean Blvd., saw an older model Chevrolet Trail Blazer pull onto Ocean Boulevard across the street from her, with tires screeching. She added that it began to fish tail before she observed it pull into the parking lot near Beach Bazaar, which is located at 5211 Ocean Blvd., the report continues.

“Concerned for the safety of pedestrians in the area,” the report notes, the woman contacted the Sheriff’s Office.

Two other witnesses, it turned out, also had observed the vehicle; they provided similar descriptions, the report adds.

The two deputies who responded found one person in the Trail Blazer near Beach Bazaar, the report says. When one of them checked the license plate of the vehicle, that deputy learned that the City of Sarasota had a report listing the vehicle as having been stolen, the Sheriff’s Office report notes. The male suspect then was placed in handcuffs, the report says, because of his actually being in physical control of an allegedly stolen vehicle. That was when the suspect said he did not have a valid driver’s license — which a check of records confirmed, the report notes. In fact, the report says, the man will not be eligible for a license again until Sept. 14, 2018.

After he was put in handcuffs, the man complained of chest pain, the report says, adding that he was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

The suspect is Juan Carlos D. Acuchi, 39, of 510 Audubon Place in Sarasota.

The Sheriff’s Office report explains that because Acuchi was admitted to the hospital without having been arrested first, the case information was forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office for review.

The News Leader found no file on Acuchi that had been recorded with the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller as of Oct. 9. Because of a federal law regarding privacy in medical issues, the publication also was unable to learn whether Acuchi was still in the hospital.