Siesta Seen

Condominium Council expresses dismay over County Commission SKOD vote; commission chair suggests a change for Clayton’s Siesta Grille; public comment cards proliferate at hearing; crosswalk issue on Midnight Pass Road spurs SKA action; and Siesta business owner Chris Brown opens new restaurant and buys more property

Many of the April 11 public hearing attendees sported ‘Vote No’ signs. Photo courtesy of Lourdes Ramirez

In the wake of the Sarasota County Commission’s 3-2 vote on April 11 to allow an amendment to the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning (SKOD) regulations, the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) expressed its dismay to its members.

In an April 13 email blast, SKCC President Frank Jurenka wrote that it was obvious that, for the three commissioners who approved the amendment, “the wishes of the voters/property owners took second fiddle to their particular priorities. The crowd at the hearing [and] the presentations and data within the presentations made the wishes of the voters/[owners] crystal clear.”

The vast majority of the 33 speakers — one of whom made his own comments after reading those of a person who could not attend the session — supported keeping the SKOD setbacks for commercial structures as they have been since the SKOD was approved in 2001. Even though a special exception process will be necessary for any applicant who wants a smaller street setback than 25 feet for a new commercial structure, opponents fear the amendment figuratively will open the door to undesirable changes on the Key.

In the email blast, Jurenka also explained a remark that Charles D. Bailey III, the attorney for the petitioners, had made about trying to talk with Jurenka before the hearing. The focus of that comment was an alternative the SKCC had proposed to the SKOD amendment Bailey presented to the commission on Jan. 30. (Bailey officially was representing Clayton and Diane Thompson, owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille, as the petitioners for the amendment. However, Dr. Gary Kompothecras — in his public remarks on April 11 — made it absolutely clear that Kompothecras’ desire to build a hotel on Old Stickney Point Road was the crux of the drive to amend the SKOD. The April 11 hearing was a continuation of the Jan. 30 hearing.)

Regarding Bailey’s remarks, Jurenka wrote that he felt they were intended as “provide political cover,” indicating that Bailey and Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta Key — were trying to work out a compromise with the SKCC.

“The problem with this is they called just two days before the meeting,” Jurenka continued in the email blast, and he told Bailey “to talk to Malcolm Lazin,” president of the Gulf & Bay Club, who was the SKCC’s spokesman on the issue. Lazin did not return their phone message, Jurenka added in the email blast, “as he was out of the area.”

Bailey left a voicemail for Lazin, Bailey told the commissioners on April 11, but had not heard back from him.

Frank Jurenka. File photo

Jurenka said on April 11 that he declined to talk with Bailey on the phone “because I’m an engineer; I’m not a lawyer.”

During the hearing, Maio brought up the fact that the SKCC board members had “proffered what they thought was a solution” to the setback situation.

The SKCC’s Option B said that in the three commercial zoning districts on the Key, the minimum setback “shall be two feet for buildings or structures not exceeding 35 feet in height. If a special exception is granted in any of those districts for structures or buildings exceeding 35 ft in height, the minimum street yard setback shall be two feet plus one additional foot for every additional foot in height above 35 feet.” Thus, a 36-foot structure would have a minimum setback of 3 feet from the street.

That option added that if a building is taller than 66 feet, the minimum setback should be one-half the height of the structure.

Under county zoning regulations, no building may be taller than 85 feet on any of the barrier islands.
Bailey told the board members on April 11 that Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson had provided him a copy of Option B.

Jurenka also noted in the email blast that the SKCC had proposed the two alternatives to the SKOD amendment three weeks ago, indicating that Bailey had had ample time to approach the organization prior to the April 11 hearing.

In the email blast, Jurenka further pointed out to all the 90 associations that are members of the SKCC that “three events are on the horizon that have a potential impact on this hotel issue.”

First, he wrote, a neighborhood workshop and public hearing before the Planning Commission and the County Commission will have to be conducted after Kompothecras formally submits a proposal for the hotel to county staff.

The other two events, Jurenka noted, are “the Primary Election in August and the General Election in November.”

Lourdes Ramirez has filed to run against Commissioner Alan Maio in the Republican primary in August. Photo contributed by Ramirez

Maio’s term as the District 4 County Commission representative is up this year. He is running for re-election, and he has one opponent in the Republican primary — Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key, who has fought against the SKOD amendment. Two Democrats also have filed for the District 4 seat.

Jurenka added that Kompothecras’ project team members may turn in their petition to county staff soon if they feel the current make-up of the County Commission will be favorable to their plans.

“In closing,” he wrote, “the SKCC mission statement does not allow for political messages but you can be assured that the SKCC will be on the [forefront] for the hearings [after] a project is submitted for vetting. We will certainly … support the position of the Condo voters and owners on the Key.”

During his April 11 statement to the County Commission, Jurenka explained that the SKCC represents 90% of the 100 condo associations on the Key, totaling about 7,000 of the 10,000 units.

Creating a Clayton’s inside Dr. K’s hotel

One topic that arose during the April 11 public hearing on the SKOD amendment was the potential for the property where Clayton’s Siesta Grille stands on Old Stickney Point Road to be combined with two other parcels Dr. Gary Kompothecras owns on that street, so more space would be available for the hotel without amending the SKOD.

Chair Nancy Detert raised that idea. “We’re trying to be problem solvers up here,” she told Clayton’s owner Clayton Thompson.

Combining the three parcels “for a bigger piece of land … would be a little closer to qualifying to do what you’re asking to do,” she said.

Kompothecras probably has put more thought into that than he has, Thompson responded.

“I was thinking more about tearing down your restaurant,” Detert told him, and having it recreated inside the hotel.

“That clearly is an option,” Thomson responded, but it was not his desire. Then he turned to Kompothecras in the audience and joked, “Gary, if you’ve got a really big check … come talk to me after the meeting.”

No more speakers allowed

Commission Chair Nancy Detert. File photo

Before she called up the first group of speakers during the April 11 public hearing on the SKOD amendment, County Commission Chair Nancy Detert told the audience that she had 25 cards. It was 2:30 at that time, she added, so that meant two hours’ worth of testimony, as each speaker is allotted 5 minutes.

“So if you want to live long enough to see the vote,” she added, “I would suggest … you be succinct.”

At 4:22 p.m., she said she had four cards left. The board then took a break that lasted about 10 minutes.

When Detert reconvened the hearing, she announced, “I will personally ask you to stop sending up cards …” She had received three more during the break, she noted. “We’ll deal with that, but, you know, I think we’re done accepting any more input, unless you have something extremely startling to say, which I sincerely doubt.”

Later, after rebuttal from Charles D. Bailey III, the attorney for the petitioners, Detert and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo exchanged comments about whether the commissioners should try to write new zoning regulations themselves for the “South Bridge” area of the Key, which encompasses Old Stickney Point Road.

Then Commissioner Michael Moran asked whether Detert ever had closed the public hearing.

“The public hearing is definitely closed,” she replied, eliciting some chuckles among her colleagues and audience members.

Crosswalk timing tweaks suggested

During the April 5 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Gene Kusekoski talked of how repetitive use of any one of the crosswalks on Midnight Pass Road between Beach Road and Stickney Point Road can back up traffic.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), he pointed out, did not program the crosswalks to provide a brief delay between uses. As a result, he said, people constantly can stop the flow of vehicles.

The Midnight Pass Road crosswalks have lights that pedestrians may activate. File photo

Recently, he and his wife finally had managed to get back onto the island after crossing the Stickney Point Road bridge, Kusekoski continued. They had to wait in traffic as one person at one crosswalk hit the button and crossed the road. Then, no sooner had that person reached the other side of the road than another person walked up, hit the button to activate the lights at the same crosswalk and began heading to the other side of the road. As the lights stopped flashing, a couple of children ran up, whacked the button and started running across the road before the lights began flashing again, he pointed out. Fortunately, Kusekoski said, traffic had not begun to move, so the children made it safely to the other side.

The crosswalks are “a great safety feature,” he added, “but I think we need to work on ’em a little.”

“So I’ve written a letter to Commissioner [Alan] Maio and suggested that he work with FDOT to try to come up with a couple of solutions,” Kusekoski continued.

One idea would be to incorporate a timing delay into the operation of the lights, Kusekoski said.

SKA President Gene Kusekoski. Rachel Hackney photo

The News Leader sent an inquiry to Sarasota County staff and to FDOT on April 13 to ask whether any action had been taken on Kusekoski’s communication.

In an April 19 email, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told the News Leader that staff “has made an inquiry on this matter, but [has] not received a reply. They plan on following up next week if they don’t hear back.”

Zachary Burch, government affairs & communications manager for FDOT, also responded in an email: “I spoke with our traffic operations office, and they said that we are not aware of anyone from the County or public raising this issue. It is possible for us to program in a delay so that the signal has to wait a set amount of time before it can be activated again. We would usually do this in instances where heavy pedestrian activity is causing the signal to operate so frequently that it is beginning to back up traffic excessively. The delay gives time for groups of pedestrians to assemble and then letting them all cross at once.”

A new owner for the Lofino Building

It turns out that Siesta property owner and proprietor Chris Brown and his business partner, Mike Granthon, not only bought the Key Corners Center late in 2017, but they also purchased the Lofino Building at 5011 Ocean Blvd. People may remember the latter structure was home to the Pelican Press for many years.

Brown and Granthon also are partners in the Beach Club, The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage and the new Summer House restaurant, where Blue Que used to operate, located at 149 Avenida Messina.

The Summer House reprises the name of a much beloved restaurant that stood for years on Midnight Pass Road. The new restaurant’s website calls Summer House “an elegant relaxed transitional steak house with a seafood attitude.” The Summer House opened on March 19, according to its Facebook page.

In late January, construction continued on the home of the new Summer House restaurant on Avenida Messina. Rachel Hackney photo

Brown told the News Leader last fall that he long had believed the Village needed an upscale steak and seafood dining establishment.

As for the Lofino Building: Brown’s limited liability company, Ocean Blvd, purchased the 18,211-square-foot property on Dec. 2, 2017, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office. He paid $1,350,000 for it, the records show. The previous owner formally was Lofino Family LTD, those records say. The structure dates to 1996.

Brown has talked with the News Leader of his continuing efforts to find more valet parking spaces for his Village businesses. The Lofino Building does have a parking area beneath the building and space on both sides of it that can accommodate vehicles.