Siesta Seen

Health Department working with legal counsel on issues involving portable toilet at 10 Beach Road; cairns continue to proliferate at 162 and 168 Beach Road; update provided on Reopen Beach Road Charter petition drive; Condo Council members hear about more proposed laws; residents offer recommendations to help with beach traffic congestion; Condo Council survey results detailed; DOAH hearing transcript still not complete; Sheriff’s Office report offers information on north median incident; and a resident captures photos of an unusual looking sky

The portable toilet stands near Beach Access 2 on Siesta Key. Rachel Hackneyphoto

The environmental health administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County is working with legal counsel “to determine the best course of action” regarding Siesta resident Mike Cosentino’s installation of a portable toilet on the 10 Beach Road parcel Cosentino owns, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

During a Jan. 22 telephone interview with the News Leader, Tom Higginbotham said Cosentino has been notified that he needs a permit for the toilet. “We have not received a permit application,” Higginbotham said.

Additionally, Cosentino has indicated to the Health Department, as he did in an interview with the News Leader last month, that he has no intention of applying for the permit, Higginbotham noted.

In a statement he issued to the News Leader on Jan. 10, Cosentino wrote, “I figure I’ve kept about 300 gallons of human waste out of the adjacent neighbors’ bushes in the short time the potty has been there.” Cosentino continued, “I think the county, not me, should be responsible for keeping such facilities at ALL public beach accesses. It doesn’t seem fair to me that the county, by its inaction, forces the public to use the private property adjacent to public beach accesses as bathrooms.”

Health Department rules do allow a portable toilet on private property, Higginbotham explained, “where there are no other facilities available, and the public must be able to access the toilet, according to state law.

Tom Higginbotham. Photo from LinkedIn

“We have not seen any evidence of an overflow or spill of sewage” from the toilet, Higginbotham told the News Leader. It has to be serviced at least once a week, he said, and “more [often] if necessary.”

“We’re going to continue to monitor this,” Higginbotham continued. Someone from the department has been checking on the situation once a week, he added. If the department received any complaint, Higginbotham pointed out, it would “want to get someone there the same day.”

Thanks to “the beautiful white sand” on the beach, he noted, any overflow likely would be “pretty obvious.”

If the facility were still in place as hurricane season approached, he said, staff would be concerned about the potential for flooding on the beach.

The Health Department has a protocol in place to issue a warning if fecal bacterial counts climb to a level that would make swimming in the Gulf of Mexico — or any other body of water — unsafe for people.

However, Higginbotham expressed hopefulness that the issues surrounding Cosentino’s portable toilet will be resolved before June 1, which is the official start of hurricane season. “By then, I think we would have a legal opinion.”

During the Jan. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Avenida Messina resident Bill McLeod, who lives near Cosentino’s 10 Beach Road parcel, asked numerous questions of Sarasota County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Mruczek about Cosentino’s recent activities. McLeod voiced frustration about actions he indicated that Cosentino has pursued to draw attention to Cosentino’s Reopen Beach Road initiative.

During the interview with Higginbotham, the News Leader mentioned the apparent divide among island residents about Cosentino’s efforts to reverse a May 2016 County Commission decision to vacate a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road. “My goal is to stay out of the politics that are swirling around this,” Higginbotham said.

A continuing curiosity

Cairns and a moon sculpture have been placed on the 162 and 168 Beach Road parcels. Sarasota County owns 162 Beach Road, which is adjacent to the house at the right. Rachel Hackney photo

Following the Jan. 23 Condominium Council meeting, the News Leader took the opportunity to visit the properties at 162 and 168 Beach Road, where SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner had reported seeing an art installation early this month.

The wide array of cairns — plus a sculpture in the form of a quarter moon — still stood on both parcels, to the best of the News Leader’s ability to determine the property lines.

In response to further News Leader questions this week about the objects, Sarasota County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote in a Jan. 30 email that some of the items had been installed on the 162 Beach Road parcel before the county closed on that land in late December 2017.

“Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources [PRNR] staff will be contacting the [sellers] to offer an opportunity for them to remove the items,” Winchester continued.

The county bought the parcel from Ronald and Sania Allen of Osprey.

Additionally, Winchester wrote that PRNR staff was in the process of erecting temporary signage referencing the county ordinance “that obligates us to remove these items. This would provide notification of removal and give the individuals responsible for their creation an opportunity to remove [them].”

After the cairns have been taken away from the 162 Beach Road property, Winchester noted, PRNR staff will take down those notices and then add “permanent dune protection/restoration signs at the site to prohibit this activity from happening in the future.”

The cairns reflect a variety of designs. Rachel Hackney photo

And speaking of Mike Cosentino …

After the News Leader interviewed Tom Higginbotham of the Health Department, it contacted the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office for an update on Cosentino’s Sarasota County Charter amendment petition drive in response to the County Commission’s road vacation action in May 2016.

The total on proposed amendment 4.1 was 7,961 on Jan. 22. That amendment 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 vacate on May 11, 2016. On Jan. 22, the total for 4.2 was 7,840, the Supervisor of Elections Office said.

Altogether, Cosentino must have 13,866 on each proposed Charter amendment to get it on a ballot, the Supervisor of Elections Office has explained.

A ‘heads up’

Dan Lobeck. File photo

Along with reviewing new state laws that apply to condominium associations, Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck provided Siesta Key Condominium Council members last week with what might be called a “preview of coming attractions.”

He focused briefly on bills filed in the 2018 session of the Florida Legislature, though their fate obviously will not be known for some time.

First, Lobeck said, House Bill 841 would allow association boards to post notices of upcoming meetings on their websites instead of having to conspicuously post them on the condo property. “This presumes just about everybody is in the electronic age now … and has access to the internet.”

That bill would apply to cooperatives, as well, he noted.

The second bill introduced in the session that Lobeck addressed was a bit more complicated.

Senate Bill 1432 regards “engineered life safety systems,” he said. “This is the big new thing now.” A law previously passed by the Legislature, he pointed out, requires any building 75 feet or taller to have one of those systems installed by Jan. 1, 2020. Yet, he told the approximately 60 people present, engineered life safety systems may be more expensive than sprinkler systems.

But what is an engineered life safety system?, he asked. “That’s a good question.”

The fire marshal in each Florida county is charged with determining the answer for that county, Lobeck explained. As of the previous day, he noted, he had been unable to get an answer from the Sarasota County fire marshal about what would constitute such a system in this county.

Nonetheless, he said, his research has found that an engineered life safety system could include some sprinklers, along with pressurization of stairwells. In the latter case, he continued, pumps would push air into a stairwell in an effort to repel a fire.

When a woman in the audience asked about complexes with open stairwells, he replied, “I don’t know.” It might be necessary to enclose stairwells, he added, pointing out again that the law is “brand new.”

Nonetheless, he continued, if Senate Bill 1432 passes, condo associations would be able to opt out of installing the engineered life safety systems, “as long as you took a vote by Dec. 31, 2018.”

Additionally, the bill would give associations an extra year to opt out of installing sprinkler systems — from Dec. 31, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018.

Associations would have to let tenants know that they had opted out of providing these safety requirements, he pointed out. They would have to “mark the building with a sign or symbol approved by the State Fire Marshal in a manner sufficient to warn persons conducting fire control and other emergency operations of the lack of a fire sprinkler system in the common areas,” the bill says.

The engineered life safety system opt-out “is controversial,” he added. The Legislature passed such a bill last year, he said, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Reportedly, Scott took that action because as the bill was sitting on his desk, government authorities in England were dealing with the aftermath of the high-rise Grenfell Tower fire, which broke out in the early hours of June 14, 2017. The Sun reported that in November 2017, police revealed that 71 people died.

“[Scott] thought it would look very bad,” Lobeck said, if he signed the bill in the aftermath of that tragic event.

Speaking of the Condo Council meeting …

Siesta Key Condo Council President Frank Jurenka conceded to being a bit anxious just after 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, when the featured speaker for the organization’s meeting — attorney Dan Lobeck — still had not arrived.

Lobeck “is conspicuous by his absence,” Jurenka told the audience.

As Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Siesta substation, was making his report to the group, Lobeck finally arrived.

Given the fact that Mruczek was responding to several questions related to traffic congestion on the island, it is probably safe to say that none of the meeting attendees were surprised when Lobeck announced the cause of his delay: “Traffic!”

And speaking of traffic …

Sgt. Jason Mruczek. File photo

During a question-and-answer session after Sgt. Jason Mruczek’s remarks, one woman at the Jan. 23 Condo Council meeting noted signage at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 that warns motorists to avoid gridlock. Yet, people proceed to block the intersection, she said, asking Mruczek, “Do you patrol that area?”

It was especially bad right after Christmas 2017, she pointed out, when drivers blocking the intersection were ticketed.

The Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit erected the signs, Mruczek responded, and deputies on motorcycles do ticket motorists who create gridlock. It is easier for motorcycle officers to make their way through such congested traffic to try to deal with those situations, he pointed out. The motorcycle officers generally handle the patrols at “problem intersections,” he said, such as Interstate 75 and Fruitville Road, and Midnight Pass and Stickney Point roads. Officers “wrote a lot of tickets last year,” he added, for blocking the latter intersection on the Key.

The fine for that offense is $166, Mruczek told the News Leader.

In response to a Condo Council question about whether officers could direct traffic to alleviate the gridlock, Mruczek explained that that “is not really an option.” Referring to Siesta, he added, “There’s more cars than God made space to put ’em on roads.”

Then a man in the audience suggested that someone erect signs at both entryways to the island when the Siesta Public Beach parking lot is full, so drivers would not have to wait futilely in long lines to reach that destination.

Those signs could direct drivers to bus stops, the man added. Furthermore, perhaps a radio station could broadcast details about the status of the beach lot, the man said, so the signs could tell drivers to tune into that station. If the beach lot is full at 10:15 a.m., the man continued, “there’s absolutely no point getting in the line at 11.”

Even when the Sheriff’s Office puts up signs saying that the lot is full, resident Michael Shay pointed out, “you’d be surprised how many people still drive in … and drive around.”

The Sheriff’s Office does communicate quite a bit with Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff, Mruczek said, to try to deal with the traffic in the best possible way — especially before holidays, such as Memorial Day weekend and July Fourth. The office also posts regular updates on social media, including Twitter, he added, and it sends out news releases in advance of periods when heavy traffic is anticipated, effectively warning visitors, “You’re going to be sitting in traffic a lot.”

Still, Mruczek told the audience members, he would talk with Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff about the possibility of erecting more signage.

“That’s a good suggestion” about signage at the northern and southern approaches to the Key, Condo Council President Frank Jurenka said. “We’ll take that up … and try to let the proper people know.”

Condo Council survey

Among other business during the Jan. 23 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting was a report on a survey the organization conducted in the spring and fall of 2017.

Director Hilla Blatt said that of the 43 people who responded, 51% felt more meetings should be held during the year.

The current schedule calls for three, she noted. The other 49% of the respondents concurred that that number was sufficient, Blatt added.

Some thought has been given to holding a town hall type of session in March, she pointed out, but “we may not do it.”

Regarding the survey question about whether the members find the meetings of value, 93% marked “Yes,” the report shows. Another 4% had no opinion.

Audience members gather for the Jan. 23 Condo Council meeting at Siesta Key Chapel. Rachel Hackney photo

Responding to a question about whether the association should continue its annual Holiday Lighting Contest, 45% marked “Yes” and 43% had no opinion.

The Condo Council received a variety of answers to the question about the three important issues facing members’ associations, Blatt said. The top answer was “Unregistered rentals with short-term rentals.”

Each association has its rules, Blatt stressed, and they need to be enforced.

Among other answers to that questions were the following:

  • Getting owners to pay maintenance fees.
  • Water damage from pipes and questions regarding who is responsible for repairs.
  • “Unruly and unreasonable owners.”
  • Increased insurance expenses.
  • Aging infrastructure.
  • Construction rules and permitting.

A waiting game

During the Jan. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Vice President Catherine Luckner discussed the fact that no one knew for certain when a decision would be handed down in the state Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case involving the challenges by the SKA and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) to the proposed dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach.

The timeline was pegged to the completion of the transcript of the proceeding, which was conducted from Dec. 12 through Dec. 18, 2017, she explained. After the transcript was made available, she continued, the proverbial clock would start ticking. The attorneys in the case would have 30 days to provide recommendations to Florida Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter about how they felt he should rule. Then Canter would take up to 45 days to render his decision.

As of the morning of Feb. 1, the transcript still had not been completed, the News Leader found. The DOAH docket in the case (17-1449) will include a notation after the transcript has been made available, a DOAH staff member told the News Leader in an email exchange. And although a hard copy would not be cheap, the staffer indicated, an electronic copy would be provided for free to anyone who requested it.

The Jan. 9 north median incident

Damage to the landscaping in the north median is visible on Jan. 10. Rachel Hackney photo

It took a bit of time, but the News Leader finally found the citation for the driver who, on Jan. 9, allegedly ran over the north landscaping median on the approach to Siesta Village.

The Sheriff’s Office charged Andrew H. Butherus, 33, of 5538 Rollingwood Drive, Sarasota, with Driving Under the Influence in connection with the incident, which was reported at 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 9. The location listed was 4708 Ocean Blvd.

In his arrest report, Butherus’ occupation was listed as “Poker Dealer,” but the Sheriff’s Office citation said he was unemployed.

He was released from jail on a $500 cash bond, the report added.

The incident report said the responding deputy found Butherus sitting in his 2006 Toyota Tacoma on the side of the road, with his hands on the steering wheel and the engine still running.

The deputy added that he “was able to detect the odor of the impurities of an alcoholic beverage coming from the defendant and from inside of the vehicle. The defendant had glassy, bloodshot, watery eyes,” the report continued, and the deputy saw an open bottle of whiskey on the front passenger floorboard.

The deputy further noted that he already was familiar with Butherus, because the deputy had spoken with him about 30 minutes before the incident occurred.

Andrew H. Butherus. Photo courtesy Sheriff’s Office

Although the deputy gave Butherus “the opportunity to perform a series” of field sobriety tests, the report added, “the defendant refused.” Butherus told the deputy he had not had “anything to drink,” and Butherus “refused to acknowledge” the whiskey bottle in the car, the report added.

At the jail, the report noted, Butherus also refused to take a breath test and a urine test to detect the level of alcohol in his blood.

The vehicle had damage on the front and purple flowers were dangling from the passenger side fender, the report said. “The front passenger tire was also flat.”

A witness told the deputy that the witness saw the defendant “driving up the center of Ocean Blvd., through a flower bed, striking a road sign. This event occurred approximately [one-quarter] mile from where [the deputy] located the defendant on the side of the road,” the report continued.

A towing report regarding the vehicle, filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, reported that among the contents found in the Toyota were an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a sleeping bag and “totes full of clothes,” along with “miscellaneous garbage, and miscellaneous paperwork.”

That document listed Butherus’ address as 2035 Fiesta Ridge Court in Tampa.

That wondrous, fearful sky

The cloud cover begins to fill the Siesta Village sky on Jan. 25. Photo courtesy of Peter van Roekens

The National Weather Service notation for conditions may have been “Fair” at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on the afternoon of Jan. 25, but Siesta residents were treated to — or startled by, depending upon your perspective — a cloud formation that obscured the blue sky.

Peter van Roekens was kind enough to share a couple of photos with the News Leader. To put punctuation to the visions he had captured, he signed his email, “Henny Penny.”