Siesta Seen: Pocket park proposal on hold

Peter van Roekens was kind enough to share this spectacular shot he took last month at Beach Access 4 on Siesta Key.

Wonder what became of the proposal for a pocket park on that 1-acre vacant lot facing the Gulf of Mexico just north of Siesta Village?

Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, told me the foundation never gained enough support for the project to pursue it.

Spray comes over the seawall of the vacant lot on Ocean Boulevard that was proposed as the site of a pocket park. Photo by Rachel Hackney

Residents of the adjacent Windward Passage condominium complex protested the proposal mightily during both a Siesta Key Association meeting and a Siesta Key Village Association meeting early this year, but other residents thought the site would be a great place for a park.

“Basically, something had to give,” to bring the idea to fruition, Johnson said. “There wasn’t enough community support for it,” she said, and “the owner was intractable” on the price, which was reported to be between $3.5 million and $4 million.

Johnson pointed out that the foundation staff was sympathetic to the owner, however, because the property was saddled with a lot of debt.

The foundation staff did search for prospective benefactors to help purchase the parcel, she said, but “[everyone contacted] thought that the price was too high.”

Even if benefactors had stepped forward, Johnson said, it was unlikely the foundation could have gained the County Commission’s approval of the park, given the opposition of the adjoining condo owners. Yet, she said, those residents’ fears that park users would disrupt their quality of life could have been assuaged through the planning process.

“There’s always that hope,” she conceded, that a more optimistic set of circumstances will present itself at some point, but she didn’t seem to think that was a likely prospect for the immediate future.

Rain delays?

Although the Florida Department of Transportation granted the contractor for the north Siesta bridge rehabilitation project a total of four weather days, consultant Jennifer Stafford told me on Aug. 31 she still feels the work will be completed on the planned date of Oct. 16.

First, of course, Tropical Storm Debby poured rain on Siesta; then, Isaac showered the area intermittently and blew in some gusty winds.

Nonetheless, Stafford said, “Things just seem to be moving along.”

That incentive money to finish early — $7,500 per day, up to $150,000 — remains in sharp focus, she pointed out. “They’re going to want to hit those early dates,” she said of the contractor and crew.

FDOT staff probably will have a clearer idea of the completion date within the next three to four weeks, she said.

An FDOT project veteran, Stafford added, “Even when you think [contractors are] not going to pull it out, they do.”

Another music festival idea

Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson received an email on Aug. 24 from a fellow named Ryan Nazario Heras, who told her he was organizing a music festival in Florida that would feature “well-regarded dj’s from Ibiza, Spain.”

The tentative time frame for the event, he wrote, is early March 2013, “and [the event] will last at most two days.”

The concept has garnered considerable interest “from various radio stations and the head of public relations of a multinational company is wiling to support it,” Heras added.

Heras asked for Patterson’s thoughts — and those of any other county officials.

In early 2011, Siesta residents raised the alarm when a promoter named Mark Rush wanted to hold a large-scale music event with DJs on Siesta Public Beach during season. The event ultimately didn’t happen, but lots of folks commented on the impossibility of accommodating event-goers as well as tourists during the height of season, given the beach’s popularity.

With that in mind, no doubt, Patterson wrote back to Heras on Aug. 25, telling him, “I would need a lot more information before I could share any logical thoughts.”

She suggested he contact her at her office or perhaps set up an appointment to meet with her in person.

Heras wrote back, thanking her for her willingness to discuss his plans. “All I wish is for an ongoing communication meant to neatly fill the gaps on both sides. If there are any comments at this point you think could guide me, please let me know.”

Heras also advised Patterson that he lives in Miami.

Patterson then responded that, because the Siesta Public Beach “is a huge asset, the community tries to be careful what is allowed there. Further, people live in fairly close proximity to the beach and so the nature of what happens there is a concern to the neighbors as well.”

She thanked Heras for his interest in the area, adding, “We do like events that encourage tourism.”

Patterson also pointed out that she did not have the power to approve or disapprove his plans on her own, but she still would like to know more details about the event.

That was the last of the email chain as of this writing.

Holes on the beach?

A Siesta resident recently contacted the county commissioners’ office to report that people were “digging huge holes on the beach from Access 5 to Access 10.” The caller was worried that that activity would imperil baby turtles in nests along that stretch of the beach.

I contacted Carolyn Brown, the general manager of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, to ask what was going on. She said no one on her staff had voiced any concerns about holes anywhere on the beach.

If a reader has any information about someone other than children digging holes at the beach — as children are inclined to do as they play — I’d love to hear it. Please give me a call at 227-1080 or email me at