Illegal use of residential property for parking and short-term housing rentals prompted considerable discussion July 19, during the regular meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association.
That illegal parking is one of the biggest headaches he has had recently on Siesta Key, Sarasota County Code Enforcement Officer John Lally told the 15 SKVA members meeting at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar.
“You write ’em up; it goes away. A month later, they’re back doing the same thing,” Lally said of people charging beachgoers $10 to $20 a day to park on residential lots.
“We are working on a citation program that is going to encompass a lot of these little issues that keep getting drawn out,” Lally said. Once that program goes into effect, he said he will be able to give an offender a 15-minute warning to “cease and desist.” If the illegal action continues, then Lally can write a citation.
Asked to elaborate on the parking matter, Lally replied, “There is such an overflow.” He laughed and added, “Siesta Beach is No. 1, if you didn’t hear. There’s an overflow of parking with all the residential neighborhoods over here.”
This year, Lally said, he has written up approximately 25 people for violating the Key’s parking rules.
“Quite often, the tenant is doing it,” he said. “The owner is up North or somewhere, and he has no idea that his tenant is even charging for parking.”
The only legitimate parking areas for overflow beach traffic, Lally said, are the municipal lot behind Village Café and the lot next to the UPS Store on Beach Road, which are both zoned for commercial use.
Yet another problem has been illegal, short-term housing rentals, Lally said. He said people seem unaware that the county ordinance supersedes the new state law that allows daily rentals.
“ … People out here have read what they want to read, and (violations) are kind of rampant here lately,” he said.
He has to build a case against someone he suspects of renting property illegally.
“ … You have to prove that there’s some type of exchange of money or barter,” he said.
In one example, on Avenida de Mayo, Lally said, a property owner “keeps claiming, claiming, claiming that it’s only friends and family he lets stay there. I can’t prove an exchange of money, even though I keep seeing an exchange of people.”
Once he can make a case, he takes it to the special magistrate.
He also has been working in partnership with the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office. If someone rents property for less than six months and one day, the rental agent has to charge the resort tax and pass the money along to the tax collector, Lally said. Forgoing that tax collection has been one way to catch people in violation of the zoning code.
When SKVA President Russell Matthes asked how soon the citation program would go into effect, Lally said he was not sure.
“The ball’s been dropped on it a couple of times,” Lally said.
The draft had been reviewed by county staff and the County Attorney’s Office and by staff once again, he said.
Regarding the beach-redesign issue, Matthes called on Lourdes Ramirez, former president of the Siesta Key Association.
“My little pet peeve is the boardwalk (the county is) planning,” she said, referring to the proposed 15-foot esplanade between the parking area and the beach.
The design released in 2009 called for a 5-foot boardwalk, she said. The 2011 version, she said, would allow not only pedestrians, but people on bicycles and skateboards. However, it will displace about 100 parking spaces. County staff has maintained the new beach-parking plan will add 100 spaces because it includes extra parking on the side next to the Gulf and Bay Club, she pointed out. Yet, because parking is in such demand at the beach, she asked, why any spaces would be eliminated.
“It’s not a boardwalk like South Beach,” Matthes said, drawing laughter.
“Parking, parking, parking is what we hear all the time,” Ramirez said.
“I didn’t know anything about (this) until Lourdes brought it up,” Matthes said. “Even our commissioner (Nora Patterson) wasn’t 100% aware of what was coming up.”
Referring to the plans for the esplanade, SKA member Roz Hyman said, “It is actually combining too many usages in one area.”
Matthes drew more laughter when he said that if the esplanade were built as proposed, the county probably would have to end up banning skateboarders because of accidents with pedestrians.
Ramirez said she planned to attend a July 22 meeting between county staff and stakeholders to discuss various aspects of the beach plan, before the design is brought back to the County Commission July 26. She said she not only would emphasize the need for parking, but the need for the parking area improvements to be a top priority in the project.