The owners of a nine-unit resort a block from Ocean Boulevard have proposed selling it to Sarasota County for the creation of new parking spaces.
Although two county commissioners say the funding can’t be found for the purchase, one commissioner has suggested the owners work with Village commercial property owners on a venture that would lead to an expansion of Key parking.
Paul Kepes emailed all five county commissioners Aug. 5, regarding his plans for Sunsets on the Key at 5203 Avenida Navarra. Since he and his wife, Monica, bought the property in 1997, Kepes wrote, they had “worked very hard over the years to distinguish Sunsets as a first-rate accommodation.” However, he wrote, “Many new eateries and drinking establishments have emerged in close proximity to our resort” over the past several years. “Among other things, this has brought about live music, late hours, late-night inappropriate behavior, illegal parking, etc. And just like that, what was once the best location a resort could ask for became a critical impediment to our business.”
This spring, Sunsets Manager Prudie Varro complained to Siesta Code Enforcement Officer John Lally during a Siesta Key Association meeting that people were camping out on the roof of a building across the street from the resort. Lally told her he could not issue any citation without solid evidence people were spending the night in the tent that Varro said she and some of her guests had seen.
Because of Village incidents, Kepes wrote in the email, too many of his guests have become unhappy and unwilling to return. “Sadly, we have no choice but to sell Sunsets. Please know that I don’t mean to complain, nor am I asking for anything from the county. We are sad and frustrated, but realize that our vision for the community is different from others.”
Because “parking on Siesta Key is the Achilles heel of what is otherwise arguably the jewel of Sarasota,” Kepes wrote, he wondered whether the county would be interested in “having a conversation about the possibility of purchasing the resort from me and converting it into a parking facility.”
Kepes pointed out that Sunsets on the Key rests on three contiguous parcels, encompassing 11,562 square feet. All of it is zoned commercial general in the Siesta Key Overlay District. “It seems that the location could not be more perfect for (a parking facility),” Kepes wrote. It is in the heart of the Village, he pointed out, adjacent to a footpath to Ocean Boulevard to the south and Columbus Boulevard to the north, with road access from both Ocean and Columbus as well as Beach Road.
In a telephone interview Tuesday with the Pelican Press, Kepes said, “That sugar-sand beach is actually 6 miles in length. The north portion of that is arguably underutilized,” he said, and it is only about 200 steps from Sunsets on the Key. People who park at the far end of the lot at Siesta Key Public Beach probably walk further than that to reach the sand, he said.
“As another idea,” Kepes wrote in the email, “perhaps the local restaurants and businesses could fund or help fund … the project, and in turn enjoy certain parking privileges and increased patronage.”
“I don’t see that we have the dollars to buy the property,” Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson told the Pelican Aug. 8. “The county just doesn’t have a few million to spare … It’s too bad … Actually, I would love to be able to do that.”
Commissioner Jon Thaxton had responded to Kepes by email Aug. 5, concurring with Patterson.
“The county has no dedicated or budgeted source for such an enterprise,” he wrote. “The commission could reallocate monies from another project, but the list is pretty slim already.”
Thaxton told the Pelican Aug. 8 he felt the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands fund normally would be the appropriate funding source for purchasing the Sunsets property. However, he pointed out, because of that fund’s recent bond rating downgrade, the county had had to buy down some of the principal to try to raise the bond rating and preserve the county’s overall AAA bond rating.
Still, Thaxton said, the commission could look at other ways to work with Kepes on the sale.
“It’s not that I have high hopes,” he added, but “you never know; you just never know.”
Patterson said she suggested Kepes talk with the commercial property owners in the Village to see if he could work out a deal with them.
Kepes said he felt the county should explore the option of charging drivers to park in a new facility on the site, with the income paying for the project. However, he said, “That’s really a question for others down the road.”
Both Kevin Cooper, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, and Catherine Luckner, president of the SKA, said they were sad to hear of Kepes’ reasons for wanting to sell the property.
“However, the concept presented is interesting, given that parking is one of the more problematic issues here on the Key,” Cooper responded in an email. “Because of the overwhelming need for more parking, I would trust that the county would exhaustively consider any opportunity that would potentially aid in fulfilling this need. Of course, my preference would be to retain business owners, such as Paul and his wife, who have long since maintained a local gem.”
“What an idea!” Luckner said. With its access to both the beach and the Village, she said, “(the property) would certainly be a prime location” for a parking lot.