Siesta Seen

Saba Sands II application for home near Beach Access 10 close to deactivation; Crystal Classic’s economic impact grows; SKA seeking new volunteers; Sheriff’s Office aviation unit aids in prowler’s arrest; Condo Council to sponsor hurricane awareness meeting; recent Beach Road fire a planned incident; Old Stickney Point Road parking petition leads to different sort of County Commission questions; Easter egg hunt registration open; new Siesta Chamber board members announced; and Chamber working on new website

A graphic included with the Saba Sands II application to the county shows existing vegetation on the property planned for the new house. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The application for construction of a house seaward of homes on Beach Road, near Beach Access 10, is facing deactivation if the attorney for the developer does not respond to Sarasota County Environmental Permitting Division staff by March 16.

That was the notice Weiqi Lin, a technical specialist in the Environmental Permitting Division, gave Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln in a Feb. 27 letter, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

As recently as the Feb. 1 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Victoria Ochoa, a yoga instructor who also manages property on Siesta, had urged people to continue to fight the proposal for the project, which would be well beyond the county’s figurative “line in the sand”: the Gulf Beach Setback Line (GBSL).

On June 26, 2017, Lin wrote, county staff sent Lincoln and other project team members a request for additional information about the application.

The Saba Sands II proposal last year detailed plans for a three-story, single-family home and pool on property west of the house located at 654 Beach Road. All of the construction would be fully seaward of the GBSL, the application noted. Furthermore, the proposal called for Beach Access 10, which is adjacent to the land, to be used as the access to the new house.

The applicant, according to documents county staff received on May 18, 2017, is Saba Sands II LLC, whose manager is attorney William A. Saba of Sarasota.

Citing Section 54-724 (c) of the county’s Coastal Setback Code, Lin pointed out in the Feb. 27 letter, “‘If additional information is required by the Code Administrator, the Applicant shall provide it within 90 days, unless a waiver has been granted by the Code Administrator. If this information response deadline has not been met, the application shall be deactivated and a new application shall be necessary.’”

The Saba Sands II property (outlined in red) is west of the house at 654 Beach Road. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Therefore, Lin noted, to prevent the deactivation of the Saba Sands II application, the project team would have to provide new information or submit a waiver request.

In the introduction to an environmental study of the property, which was provided to county staff with the May 2017 application, the Steinbaum and Associates ecological consulting firm in Sarasota wrote that, as indicated by attorney Lincoln, the Saba Sands II parcel “is the only privately owned property (from the County Beach to property north of the Terraces) that is both west of Tenacity [Lane] and not owned by the same entity as the landward lot (along Beach Road). As further indicated by Mr. Lincoln, such unique aspects are reasons that a denial of the right to build on the subject lot would in turn deny the applicant all property rights.”

The application itself stated, “The requested variance is the minimum variance necessary to permit reasonable use of the property.”

However, the County Commission has held steadfast for the past several years in refusing to allow construction of homes seaward of the GBSL. During a December 2016 hearing regarding a Coastal Setback Variance request for such a project, Weiqi Lin himself told the board members that the GBSL was established in 1978 “to protect the public interests and your investment.”

During the Feb. 1 SKA meeting, Ochoa pointed out that if the Saba Sands II proposal were allowed to move forward, that figuratively would pave the way for considerably more development on Siesta Beach, destroying habitat for wildlife as well as marring the beauty of the island.

Last fall, Ochoa began a Facebook campaign against the Saba Sands II project, Save Siesta Key Beach Access 10. She encouraged the attendees of the Feb. 1 SKA meeting to support her cause.

An even bigger impact

Moonlight Over the Pond is the 2017 winner of the People’s Choice Award for the Crystal Classic. Image courtesy of the Crystal Classic

The 2017 Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival’s economic impact on Sarasota County has been put at $9,041,500, based on research conducted during the event in November 2017.

That figure beats the 2016 number by almost $100,000. The 2016 event had an economic impact of $8,134,000, the organizers announced in February 2017.

Based on data compiled by Research Data Services Inc.,, a news release says, other key figures for the 2017 Siesta Key Crystal Classic were as follows:

  • Total attendance for all areas of the festival was 60,100, up from 56,500 in 2016.
  • 33% of attendees were residents or seasonal residents, while 67% were from outside the local area.
  • Average length of stay for overnight visitors was 7.3 nights (excluding seasonal residents).
  • The festival supported an estimated 17,700 room nights in area lodging.

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is owned by Siesta Beach Festival Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. The event is produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism, local businesses “and both ephemeral and visual arts through a collaborative partnership with the community,” the release explains.

The event will be back on Siesta Public Beach Nov. 9-12.

The Crystal Classic first was held in 2010, a product of discussions between master sand sculptor and Siesta Key resident Brian Wigelsworth and representatives of the Siesta Chamber, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department, Mote Marine Laboratory and Visit Sarasota County.

For more information about the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, visit

Speaking of the SKA …

The Siesta Key Association, like other Siesta organizations, has had a core group of individuals working on projects for many years, Vice President Catherine Luckner pointed out to about 150 people during the nonprofit’s annual breakfast meeting on March 3. That is all the more reason, she continued, that the SKA is seeking new people to become involved in issues. “Consider being an at-will volunteer for us,” she said, “if you have special interests that match what we are doing.”

She joked, “Those of us here — we’re getting old. … We need more of you.”

Apprehension of prowler aided by Air-1

James Runge. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Air-1 aviation unit aided deputies in arresting a Port Charlotte man late on the night of Feb. 26 on Siesta Key.

Deputies responding to calls about a prowler learned that two witnesses had seen a man with his pants halfway down in the carport at the Beachaven condominium complex — in the 5800 block of Midnight Pass Road — just before 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, a Sheriff’s Office report said. The man also was carrying a flashlight, one witness told the deputies.

James Robert Runge, 52, of 486 Chamber St. in Port Charlotte was apprehended on West Peppertree Way at 10:49 p.m., the report said. He was charged with Loitering and Prowling, the report added.

The witnesses told a deputy that when the Air-1 unit began shining a spotlight over the area, the suspect “took off running through the property,” the report continued.

Runge had made his way through several condominium complex parking lots, the report noted, when the Air-1 pilot advised deputies on the ground that Runge was heading south toward Sarasota Surf & Racquet Club. One deputy then spotted Runge approaching a tall white fence, the report said, so the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and identified himself as a deputy. “I gave the defendant [a] loud verbal order to stop running and lie [facedown] on the ground,” the deputy wrote in the report. The deputy was able to get a clear look at Runge’s face, he added, as Runge “looked back after jumping on top of the fence.”

The deputy also saw Runge drop a flashlight as Runge began climbing over the fence, the deputy wrote.

Again, the deputy reported, he ordered Runge to drop to the ground, but Runge “jumped down from the fence and kept running south.”

With the help of Air-1, which was able to keep Runge in sight, deputies pursued Runge into the parking lot at 1025 W. Peppertree Way. There he finally was taken into custody, the report said.

Along with Loitering and Prowling, Runge was charged with Resisting an Officer Without Violence and Trespassing on a Posted Construction Site. “Coastal Construction was adamant about pursuing charges,” the report pointed out.

Runge “could not provide a reason” why he was standing on the Beachaven property “with his pants down around his legs,” the report noted.

A still from the Air-1 video shows the suspect running on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Through further investigation, a news release said, deputies identified Runge as the suspect in a similar incident reported earlier in February on Siesta Key.

Runge, who was taken to the Sarasota County Jail, was released on March 1 on $2,120 bond, the release continued. However, the release pointed out, additional charges were pending.

Runge has prior arrests in Sarasota County, dating to the 1990s, for Indecent Exposure and Prowling, the release noted.

A YouTube video showing the pursuit and arrest is available at this link.

Hurricane preparedness meeting planned

The Siesta Key Condominium Council will sponsor a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at the Gulf &Bay Club that will be devoted to hurricane preparedness, the organization has announced.

Ed McCrane addresses Siesta Key Association members on Oct. 5, 2017. File photo

“No business of any nature will be conducted,” the notice says. Members of the Gulf & Bay Club “have graciously offered” the use of their clubhouse for the session, the notice adds.

Ed McCrane Jr., Sarasota County’s emergency management chief, will be the speaker, the notice points out. McCrane “is uniquely qualified to discuss this important topic and promises a presentation geared to Condominium Issues,” the notice adds.

Parking will be available on the Gulf & Bay premises, with overflow spaces available at the Wells Fargo bank next to the condominium complex, the notice says.

The Gulf & Bay Club is located at 5730 Midnight Pass Road.

That fire was out under control

After hearing that a fire recently was reported on Beach Road, the News Leader checked with county staff to learn what had happened.

As it turns out, “a small, legal and contained fire” occurred on the property at 145 Beach Road, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported.

That parcel is owned by the Burton M. Cooper Credit Shelter Trust No. 1, which is across the street from the vacant 168 Beach Road property that county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff unsuccessfully negotiated to purchase last year.

A morning presentation and an afternoon vote

Because Commissioner Alan Maio was attending a Southwest Florida Water Management District board meeting in Sarasota the morning of Feb. 2 — as the commission’s representative — he was not present when the commission was ready to address an agenda item involving Old Stickney Point Road.

Residents were petitioning for a prohibition of parking on the north side of the road.

Siesta Key is in Maio’s district, so his colleagues debated whether to delay the discussion until their afternoon session.

However, out of concern that they might inconvenience members of the public who had come to the meeting to speak on the issue, the commissioners finally agreed to hear the staff presentation and public remarks.

Then, after the board began its afternoon session, it returned to the “No Parking” request, with Maio in attendance.

Chair Nancy Detert pointed out that she had shared the public comments with Maio before asking a county staff member to recap the highlights of his presentation.

Maio ended up seconding Commissioner Charles Hines’ motion to approve the request for the parking prohibition.

Easter Egg Hunt registration open

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

For decades, the Siesta Key Children’s Easter Party and Easter Egg Hunt were a fixture at Beach Access 5, right at the end of Ocean Boulevard.

Then, in 2017, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce relocated the activities to Turtle Beach Park. That proved a very good place for the event, Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber, reported during the organization’s Feb. 21 quarterly meeting for members.

The extra room for activities, the ample number of parking spaces and the refurbished playground on site all factored into the Chamber’s decision to hold the event there again this year, she noted.

Turtle Beach Park is located at 8918 Midnight Pass Road on the south end of the Key.

Registration — which is required — is underway for the Children’s Easter Party, which will begin at 9 a.m. and end at noon on Saturday, March 31. The cost is $10 per child. Visit for a copy of the form.

Additionally, volunteers are being sought to assist Chamber staff, Frescura said.

A registration form sent to Chamber members lists the following advance activities for which assistance is needed: stuffing the eggs and goodie bags (All of the eggs traditionally contain prizes donated by businesses that are members of the Chamber); distributing flyers about the event; and fundraising. On March 31, volunteers are needed to help with event set-up; manning the registration table; assisting with the egg hunt, face painting and games; and for “Tear Down & Clean Up.”

The phone number for the Chamber is 349-3800.

The hunt itself is limited to children from the ages of 1 to 6. Parents are asked to bring baskets for their children to use in the hunt.

Members of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol will be present for the event, and children will be able to have their photos taken for free with the Easter Bunny.

The Siesta Key Breeze trolley, which is also free, will have extended hours that day, the Chamber has pointed out: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

New Chamber board members

(From left) Siesta Chamber of Commerce board members Nikki Logan Curran, Joye Argo, Gabe Hartmann, Stephanie Brown and Mason Tush participate in the quarterly meeting for members on Feb. 21. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Feb. 21 quarterly meeting of members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Immediate Past Chair Mark Smith — who was filling in for new Chair Wendall Jacobsen — introduced three new board members. They are Steve Cavanaugh of Tropical Sands Accommodations, Josh Ladwig of SunTrust Bank and Gabe Hartmann of The Inn on Siesta Key.

Along with Smith and Jacobsen, the officers for 2018 are Chair-elect Eric Fleming, an attorney; Treasurer Maria Bankemper, co-owner of the Best Western Plus-Siesta Key Gateway hotel; and Secretary Nikki Logan Curran of Mattison’s.

Jacobsen is general manager of Beach Bazaar, while Smith has an eponymous architectural firm in Siesta Village.

Returning board members are Joye Argo of Studio F Digital Marketing, Stephanie Brown of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, Kathleen Elliott of Signarama, Helene Hyland of Coldwell Banker, Debbie Szcesny of La Siesta Condominiums, Mason Tush of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters and County Commissioner Alan Maio, who serves as his board’s liaison to the Chamber board.

A new Siesta Chamber website

Photos rotate on the homepage of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. Image courtesy of the Chamber

Among other topics during that Feb. 21 Chamber meeting, Logan Curran talked of efforts to redesign the Chamber’s website. A committee has been conducting research for more than a year, she told the News Leader, looking at websites for chambers of commerce that operate in other tourist destinations across the United States.

The goal, she said, is to make the Siesta Chamber website a “destination dream website,” encouraging people to plan vacations to Siesta Key. One idea the committee has been working on, based on its research, is the ability to allow visitors to the website to file information in tabs, such as names of restaurants where they would like to dine and activities they would like to pursue. Such a feature entices people to keep coming back to the website, she noted.

Another big emphasis, she said, will be on encouraging people to ride the free Siesta Key Breeze trolleys.

She also pointed out that the committee wants the website to be “very conversational as opposed to advertorial.”

The committee has been putting the finishing touches on a Request for Proposals that it will issue, Logan Curran added. That should produce responses to enable the Chamber to launch the best type of design, based on the committee’s research. “We’re super excited,” she said.