With little public beach property on Siesta Key, and increase in ‘No Trespassing’ signs on private beaches, public asks where guests of high-rise hotels will go

Siesta could become ‘No. 1 Most Unfriendly Beach in U.S.,’ one speaker tells County Commission during public hearing on Kompothecras’ planned hotel and parking garage

A graphic shows the planned locations of the parking garage and hotel on south Siesta Key. Image courtesy Genesis Planning & Development

Approximately 11 months ago, during the Sarasota County-mandated Neighborhood Workshop on Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ proposal for a hotel and parking garage on south Siesta Key, concerns arose about beach access for those hotel guests — if the project were to be approved.

Frank Jurenka, president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, and that organization’s then-vice president, Diane Erna, both asked questions related to that issue.

“There’s ongoing conflict with many of the condos on the Key,” Erne said, because of what she described as the county’s “very narrow beach access points.”

Jurenka pointed out that the hotel plans called for 120 rooms, while the garage had been designed with 103 public spaces, as well as the slots for hotel guests and patrons of retail space planned on the ground floor. “Why else would [people] come to Siesta Key?” he asked, if not to go to the beach.

Yet, Jurenka continued, “Where are they going to go to the beach?”

The issue arose once more during the County Commission’s Nov. 2 public hearing on Kompothecras’ proposals.

First, Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), pointed out that 90% of the beaches on the barrier island are private property.

Turtle Beach Park, accessible from South Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key, is a smaller public section of the island’s shoreline than the county park on Beach Road. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

As The Sarasota News Leader reported in December 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Siesta Key comprises 2,240 acres, or 3.5 square miles. Yet, the total county park property on the island adds up to 78.5 acres, or approximately 3% of the land, based on a county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department document that the News Leader obtained through a public records request.

That acreage figure includes facilities such as Glebe Park that are not on the beach.

The document noted that Siesta Public Beach comprises 40 acres; Turtle Beach, 16 acres; and Turtle Beach Campground, which is on the Gulf of Mexico, 2 acres.

During the Nov. 5, 2020 Siesta Key Association meeting, Luckner had explained to members that the land on either side of county beach accesses is privately owned.

Another speaker during the Nov. 2 hearing on Kompothecras’ petitions underscored the issues that hotel guests and members of the public using the parking garage spaces would face.

This is the public parking area at Beach Access 12 on Siesta Key. Photo courtesy of Mark Spiegel of the Siesta Key Coalition

Amy Spiegel, an island resident, stressed that Beach Access 12 is the closest to the hotel and parking garage sites, in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area” of Siesta, south of Stickney Point Road. (The hotel is planned on Old Stickney Point Road; the parking garage would stand between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road.)

Access 12 has only 22 public parking spaces, Spiegel told the commissioners.

At that location, she continued, “The beach to the right and left is already roped off.” Surveillance cameras have been put up by the owners of the condominiums on either side, she said, along with signs warning, “Trespassers will be prosecuted.”

In fact, when public hearings were conducted in 2020 on county plans for a public parking lot now under construction on county land located at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road, residents of condominiums near Access 12 complained about members of the public damaging private property. Those condominium residents were opposed to the potential of 43 parking spaces in the county lot, which — they said — would result in even more people trespassing on their territory.

Among those who addressed the county Planning Commission in May 2020, Lori Allison of Sarasea Circle talked of people routinely walking down that condominium’s private road to reach the beach. More would do so if the parking lot were constructed, she said.

“Unless you’re going to patrol that, you’re probably going to be getting a hundred calls a day from all the residents [in the area], ’cause we already have an overflow of people,” Allison told the Planning Commission.

A county graphic shows the location of the parcel at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road where the new parking lot is under construction. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“I totally object to this [plan], wholeheartedly,” Joseph Anderson, also of Sarasea Circle, added. “We feel this will abuse our private access beach and also our private access street. … This could also bring more criminal disturbances, which I’m afraid of …”

In early September, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, told Siesta Key Association members that it appeared that county staff would reach an agreement to lease the parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road to the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, instead of opening it up for public use.

When the News Leader this week asked for an update on the status of those negotiations, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported that Anderson said work on the agreement is continuing. He hopes to have the final document in front of the County Commission within “the next few meetings” for its consideration, Grant added.

The new private beach signage ordinance

Amy Spiegel reads her statement to the County Commission on Nov. 2. News Leader image

Amy Spiegel also reminded the county commissioners during her Nov. 2 comments that, on Sept. 28, they approved a new ordinance that allows private property owners on the beach to install multiple signs and 8-foot-high flags to mark their portions of the beach, “without a permit.”

During the most recent Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, held on Nov. 4, a member asked Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s substation on the island, whether he and his officers get many calls about trespassing on private beach property.

“We do get a lot of calls for that,” Smith replied. “It’s quite an educational process [for the public],” he added, as many visitors are from out of state and have no understanding of Florida’s law, which says that the area seaward of the Mean High Water Line (MHWL) is the public portion of any beach. Sandy areas landward of that line are considered private property.

Smith indicated that after he became the substation leader, he had to learn about calculations to determine the location of the Mean High Water Line in a given area.

“We do our best to protect [private property],” he told the SKA member.

On Nov. 2, Spiegel asked the county commissioners, “So now that you’ve voted for high-density hotels on the Key, all access points that lead to private property will be littered with ‘No
Trespassing’ signs. We just became the No. 1 Most Unfriendly Beach in the United States.”

She was referring to the fact that, just a week earlier, the board members had voted 3-2 to allow an 80-foot-tall, 170-room hotel to be constructed on four parcels on the edge of Siesta Village, between Calle Miramar and Beach Road.

This graphic shows an area, shaded in red, that is part of the Gulf & Bay Club property, which owners have been allowing the public to use. The Gulf & Bay Club is just south of Siesta Public Beach Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

County staff report expresses concerns, too

Spiegel also pointed to details in the county’s Planning Division report on Kompothecras’ proposals.

Among “General Considerations” related to the Parks, Preserves and Recreation Chapter of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the report said the following:

  • “No new beach access areas provided for transient guests.”
  • “No new public amenities, such as bathrooms, will be provided at beach accesses to support additional guests generated by the proposed hotel.”
  • “Guests venturing beyond designated public beach property may negatively impact the private property rights of adjacent Siesta Key property owners.”

That section of the staff report also noted the potential for harm to wildlife and marine life, such as nesting sea turtles and shorebirds, because of the increase in the number of beach users at public beach areas.

This aerial view shows the proposed new hotel on Old Stickney Point Road and the parking garage on Stickney Point Road, with the Gulf of Mexico west of the sites. Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ project team showed this image to the county commissioners on Nov. 2. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Another section of the staff report says that the Planning Division analysis of Kompothecras’ proposals shows “that the proposed hotel is not located on the beachfront and has no specifically designated beach area for guests. Beachgoing guests will likely use the closest beach access if possible, but it is also likely that visitors will utilize other public beaches on the Key. To help with parking issues, whether to go to the beach or otherwise, the proposed hotel is proposing up to 103 paid public parking spaces in the garage. No other improvements related to beach recreation are proposed in association with this project.”

‘Unintended consequences’

During her comments, Spiegel pointed out that, at the minimum, Kompothecras’ hotel would be expected to have 240 guests, if all the rooms were full. Further, each of the vehicles parked in the 103 public spaces in the garage likely would bring at least two people to south Siesta Key. Thus, she said, that could mean 446 people trying to use Beach Access 12.

She indicated that when hotel guests find insufficient space to on Access 12’s public shoreline, they likely will head to Siesta Beach Park. Yet, she continued, that is about 1.5 miles from the hotel, which would necessitate a 45-minute walk or 15-minute bike ride for the average person.

“Turtle Beach is even farther away” from the hotel, she noted.

Yet, Kompothecras’ project team stressed that hotel guests would walk, bike or use public transportation to the beaches. Spiegel disputed that, saying the expectation should be that the guests will drive to the public beach when they find frustrations at Access 12. That would lead to their taking up a good number of the public parking spots at the county park.

A Harvard economist, she noted, has told students that a problem with many government actions is “political leaders’ failure to consider the unintended consequences.”

Point of Rocks is at the southern end of Crescent Beach on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

During the Dec. 15 Neighborhood Workshop that Kompothecras’ team conducted on the hotel and parking garage proposals, attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota told speakers that hotel guests could use the Siesta Key Breeze trolley to reach Siesta Public Beach, or they might even end up at Beach Access 13, which actually is located near Kompothecras’ home at Point of Rocks.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler. File image

During the team’s rebuttal as part of the Nov. 2 public hearing, none of the project team members addressed the public beach/private beach issue.

Before the county commissioners voted 4-1 on Nov. 2 to approve Kompothecras’ plans, Commissioner Christian Ziegler talked of the fact that Bob Spencer, vice chair of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport Authority, was one of the other speakers during the hearing that day. Spencer said that the airport could see as many as 4 million passengers in 2022, based on the total thus far in 2021.

“They’re looking to stay here,” Ziegler said of those travelers, not to go to Orlando, for example. Sarasota County has the No. 1 Beach, Ziegler added, referring to the honor that Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami — Dr. Beach — accorded Siesta Public Beach twice in the past decade.

Although another speaker during the hearing that day had listed hotel accommodations on Siesta, Ziegler continued, “The number of units actually are very limited …”

Therefore, he said, “There’s a big need” for a new hotel on the island.

The week before, he voted against the Calle Miramar hotel. On Nov. 2, Commissioner Nancy Detert was the only board member to oppose Kompothecras’ petitions.