Lifeguards make a rescue in bitterly cold weather; bridge traffic leads to post-Christmas gridlock; proposed zoning text amendment sparks SKA exchange; and a littering complaint nets a Sheriff’s Office response
On Jan. 3, the average Sarasota resident who has adapted to the balmy Florida winters was shivering on land. Yet, two Sarasota County lifeguards proved once again that first responders take their responsibilities very seriously, even in very uncomfortable circumstances.
Siesta resident Michael Shay, who lives on Big Sarasota Pass, told The Sarasota News Leader that he went out of his home about 4 p.m. on Jan. 3 to pick up his mail. He immediately spotted a Sarasota County Fire Department truck, an EMS unit and two Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office vehicles in his driveway. Seeing no people, he walked around to the Gulf side of his property, he continued, “and that is where the ‘action’ [was].”
Shay said he learned from Deputy Chris McGregor of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office that boaters had become separated from their vessel in the pass; it had drifted across the channel and become grounded on riprap along the seawall.
Then the two lifeguards came to the rescue.
According to the official Emergency Services report from Sarasota County, a call came in at 4:10 p.m. on Jan. 3 to Siesta Key Beach, reporting that two people were “stuck on a sandbar in the pass and their boat had come loose from anchor and [was] drifting out to the [Gulf of Mexico].”
Lifeguards Brad Ward and Parker Lennertz climbed aboard one of the jet skis they keep at hand for emergency situations and responded about 4:15 p.m. to the scene amid “red flag rough conditions,” the report added.
“Red flag” means no one should be in the water, to put it succinctly. As Shay characterized the situation to the News Leader, “That was a miserable cold, windy day. Those boaters had no business out there.”
The temperature at 2:25 p.m. that day was 58, the National Weather Service noted, with wind gusts ranging from 22 to 31 mph out of the northeast.
Shay said he had put his mail inside the box he keeps in his home for recyclables as he talked with McGregor. “I couldn’t find a spot to put the box down … without getting stuff blown all over the place,” he added, referring to the wind.
The report says Ward and Lennertz spotted the boat along the rocks, but they proceeded to the “patrons on sandbar to make sure everyone was ok.”
Their thinking, the report continued, was that if the boat was drivable, they would bring it to the people on the sandbar so the people could leave in it. The folks on the sandbar told them, “‘Yes, the keys are on the boat,’” the report added.
Therefore, Ward and Lennertz proceeded to the boat. “Ward made sure that there were no leaks, hull damage or engine damage before he hopped upon the boat to make sure [everything] was safe.” He was able to start the engine, the report continued, so he drove it back to the sandbar.
The people “were very grateful and appreciative lifeguards were there to ensure their safety and to help them get their boat back,” the report added.
The lifeguards completed the call at 4:35 p.m. and headed back to the beach, the report concluded.
“It was a nasty day out there,” Shay stressed, and neither lifeguard was wearing a wetsuit. That was all the more reason, he told the News Leader, that he felt Ward and Lennertz deserved recognition — even if they were just doing their job.
That many vehicles!?!
As a condominium complex resident who lives near Stickney Point Road bridge, Michael Nestor has seen a lot of traffic backups on that bridge. Still, he told the News Leader last week, the situation a day or two after Christmas was the worst ever.
His understanding, he continued, was that traffic literally was backed up all the way to Beneva Road as visitors and residents labored to reach the fine white quartz sands of Siesta Key Beach.
In fact, Nestor added, he also understood that drivers were getting ticketed for creating gridlock at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
The ‘hotel amendment’ debated
During the Jan. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Joe Volpe reminded audience members that on Jan. 30, the County Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning text amendment to the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) regulations.
Volpe and SKA Secretary Joyce Kouba encouraged residents opposed to the amendment to send emails to the County Commission before Jan. 25, so their comments can be made part of the public record that will be provided to the board in advance of the meeting.
When an audience member suggested a petition drive, SKA directors responded that individual letters to the commissioners are more effective.
Vice President Catherine Luckner recommended people use the email firstname.lastname@example.org, as all the commissioners receive communications sent to that address.
“I think the [SKA] board is going to do some brainstorming about this,” Luckner said of the proposed amendment, adding that the board planned to send its own letter to the commission.
On Dec. 7, the county Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend that the County Commission approve the change to Siesta’s zoning regulations for which the owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille have applied. It would allow a commercial structure as tall as 85 feet to be as close as 2 feet to the sidewalk. The County Commission would need to grant a special exception to make that narrow a distance possible, however.
Dr. Gary Kompothecras, prominent for his 1-800-Ask-Gary advertising for his chiropractic clinics, has been working for more than a year on a proposal to construct a hotel on property zoned for commercial uses on the Key. His actions led to the zoning regulations proposal.
In June 2017, the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted 3-2 in support of county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson’s interpretation of the SKOD commercial zoning stipulations. She had provided a letter to Kompothecras’ attorney, Charles D. Bailey III, saying that the SKOD requires a building to be set back a minimum of 25 feet from the sidewalk if the structure is taller than 35 feet. The maximum setback would be half the height of the building. Since 85 feet is the maximum height allowed on the county’s barrier islands, Thompson indicated in a zoning determination letter, the setback for an 85-foot-tall building in the SKOD would be 42.5 feet.
Bailey, who is with the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, had appealed her determination to the BZA.
Subsequently, a different attorney acting on Kompothecras’ behalf filed a complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, seeking to overturn the BZA ruling. That case has been on hold as a result of an agreement between the County Commission and Kompothecras, as the proposed zoning text amendment remains under consideration.
Although residents on Old Stickney Point Road are convinced Kompothecras has plans to erect the hotel partly on the site of the former Fandango Café, Volpe told the SKA members on Jan. 4, “The elephant in the room is the Village,” as it is zoned for commercial uses. “And there’s a lot of money at stake here,” Volpe added.
Yet, he continued, “Everybody likes the quaintness of the Village.”
“Commissioners get elected by votes,” Volpe said. “It’s time to speak up and put a stop to this nonsense.”
Then Bob Waechter, a past chair of the Sarasota County Republican Party and a former SKA board member, asked Volpe if he could speak.
“I think you’re mischaracterizing it a little bit,” Waechter said of the SKOD. “I was very involved in the whole process [to draw up the Siesta zoning regulations]. And I realize what I am going to say is probably not going to be popular with some of the folks in this room.”
The SKOD was written to encourage the construction of commercial buildings “2 feet off the sidewalk,” Waechter continued.
Referring to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court case, Waechter noted, “There is a legal challenge pending that will go through if this [amendment] doesn’t go through.” If the court overrules the BZA, Waechter pointed out, “There will be no recourse.” Buildings will be allowed to stand 85 feet tall just 2 feet off the sidewalk, he continued, without the County Commission having any say about extra setback, as the board would under the guidelines of the zoning text amendment. “So I think you’re making an argument against your own interests,” he told Volpe.
“We should just roll over and just let ’em do this?” Volpe responded, referring to approval of the amendment. “I don’t think so.”
Then Lourdes Ramirez, president of the Siesta Key Community, told the audience that Waechter “is a good friend of 1-800 Dr. Gary, so he has a special interest in getting Gary’s hotel built.”
Ramirez added, “The lawsuit is frivolous. [Kompothecras] is suing for a right he doesn’t have.”
A littering issue
In a Jan. 8 email to the News Leader, SKA board member Joe Volpe addressed an issue that he did not have the time to bring up during the Jan. 4 SKA meeting.
He copied the News Leader on a Dec. 30 email he sent to Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer who works on the Key. “I have attached a piece of literature that was folded up inside a zip-lock bag with rocks and thrown out of a vehicle ‘delivering’ them,” Volpe wrote. “Not only is this littering but whoever did the delivery just dropped them in the gutters in front of the homes on Treasure Boat Way sometime late Friday or Saturday 12/30/2017.”
The material to which Volpe was referring was a flyer for a landscaping company in Sarasota.
In response to a News Leader query about a Code Enforcement response to the complaint, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester explained that the Sheriff’s Office handles littering. Therefore, the News Leader contacted Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office.”
She wrote in a Jan. 9 email, “[I]t sounds like based on your email this incident isn’t something that would typically meet our threshold of investigating.” However, she pointed out, “dumping a large quantity of anything on a residential street, wooded area, public access road or other, would certainly fall under the county ordinance for illegal dumping and littering.”
If the issue on Treasure Boat Way continued, she added, Volpe should contact the Sheriff’s Office with details. Then an officer would arrange to meet with the business owner to discuss the matter.