Removal of thick vegetation between fire station site and condominium complex had raised concerns
The budget for the construction of the new Fire Station 13 on Siesta Key has grown by $69,000, thanks to two donations the Sarasota County Commission has received.
The board members voted unanimously on Feb. 24 to accept $16,000 from the Siesta Key Fire Rescue Advisory Council (SKFRAC) and to approve an agreement with the Gulf & Bay Condominium Association for $53,000.
The advisory council’s contribution will pay for gym equipment for the new fire station, a Feb. 24 staff memo notes.
Almost exactly three years ago, SKFRAC donated a Polaris Beach Rescue vehicle and a Stryker Power Loading system to the Sarasota County Fire Department in recognition of a “job well done” by the Fire Station 13 crew members.
A late resident of Siesta Key left part of her estate to the nonprofit council so it could buy items to donate to Station No. 13, a county news release explained at that time.
While SKFRAC has a long history of contributing funds to the Sarasota County Fire Department for use by Siesta firefighters/paramedics, the Gulf & Bay funding grew out of a problem that arose in May 2020, according to the Feb. 24 staff memo.
When employees of Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. of Lakewood Ranch began the site work for the new fire station last spring, the memo explains, they not only demolished the decades-old structure on the property next to Siesta Public Beach, but they also began clearing out vegetation. The latter work was necessary, the memo continued, so they could raise the elevation of the site.
That vegetation, including thick underbrush and non-native Brazilian pepper trees, effectively had created a wall between the fire station and the Gulf & Bay condominium property, the memo added. After the vegetation was gone, the memo said, “[I]t became apparent some sort of barrier would be necessary to maintain site security, limit trespassing and improve aesthetics.”
Based on emails The Sarasota News Leader obtained through a public records request, meetings began last summer between county staff members and Gulf & Bay representatives to discuss how best to resolve the issues.
Arriving at acceptable terms
On Aug. 5, 2020, Susan Lee Sherwood, office operations manager for Gulf & Bay, wrote an email to Kim Humphrey, manager of the fire station project for the county’s Capital Projects Department. Sherwood thanked Humphrey and two other county staff members for talking with Gulf & Bay representatives that morning.
“We really appreciate the time you all spent with us to help us understand the current situation and options for a wall or other property line demarcation that will work for both the county & G&BC,” Sherwood wrote.
The Gulf & Bay group looked forward to meeting with county staff again in about a month, Sherwood added.
By the end of September 2020, another email showed, Humphrey had estimated that it would cost “roughly $70,000” to erect a wall between the fire station site and the Gulf & Bay property.
Another meeting was planned for late October, Humphrey noted.
On Dec. 2, 2020 Gulf & Bay Club Condominium Association Director Darrel Peters corresponded with Humphrey to report that a meeting was held that morning about a proposed “Agreement for Donation” with the county.
“Gulf & Bay is very interested in [that],” Peters wrote. However, he added, the association representatives had “some issues with the draft Agreement that need clarification or amendment.”
In a later email exchange, Peters reported that the Gulf & Bay group was “satisfied with the financial terms proposed and have the necessary internal approvals to promptly enter into an agreement.” Nonetheless, he proposed some changes to the draft that county staff had prepared.
For example, Peters asked “that the description be more specific and read ‘the erection of 375 linear feet of 8 foot high precast wall (hereinafter referred to as the ‘site wall).’”
He further requested that a site diagram be included, showing the location and the length of the structure.
The final concern Peters expressed pertained to upkeep of the wall. “While a concrete wall is relatively maintenance free,” he noted, “there is still the need for periodic painting and possible degradation of the concrete over time. Since the site wall is entirely on county property Gulf & Bay would not legally be allowed to paint or do any patching or repairs on our side of the wall unless that right is provided in the Agreement and excepted from the Termination provision. We understand that the county would presumably maintain both sides of the wall. However, Gulf & Bay requests that the Agreement be modified to give us the legal right to paint our side of the site wall if that becomes necessary.”
Assistant Sarasota County Fire Chief Jim Lowery Jr. responded late in the morning of Dec. 3, 2020, letting Peters know that he believed Humphrey had “captured your proposed changes [and] added a time frame for the painting.”
Lowery did caution Peters that the Office of the County Attorney would have to approve the agreement before it went to the County Commission for final approval.
The document that the County Commission voted on during its Feb. 24 meeting says Gulf & Bay “shall donate $53,000.00 for improvements to the Fire Station No. 13 (Siesta) site wall, including installation, and the County agrees to use the donation for that purpose.”
Further, the document calls for the county to maintain the wall for as long as it is in place, “or for as long as the property serves as a fire station [location].”
The county also agreed to paint the wall “in its entirety” every seven years, “presuming [Gulf & Bay] maintains access to the site wall,” and the county will replace the wall, or portions of it, “if it becomes damaged in the future.”
Laura S. Hass, president of the Gulf & Bay Condominium Association, signed the document.
The Feb. 24 staff memo in the commissioners’ meeting packet noted that the county would contribute the cost of the design and permitting of the wall.
The county’s Capital Projects Department’s One Week Look Ahead construction update for the week of Feb. 22-28 noted that the construction of the new fire station is expected to be completed this summer. The 10,500-square-foot facility will be able to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds, that report added.
The Fire Station 13 crew members are operating out of temporary headquarters in the building just to the south of the construction site, on Midnight Pass Road.