The Siesta Key Village Association held a forum Tuesday night seeking input from Siesta residents and business owners about potential changes to a county ordinance banning the outdoor display of merchandise.
The group discussed modifying the ordinance to allow Siesta Key businesses to display their merchandise outdoors — a move that some Siesta businesses claim is a matter of life and death for their bottom lines.
“For me, outdoor displays are a matter of survival,” said James Ritter, owner of Siesta Key Outfitters, who was one of about 25 Siesta residents and business owners in attendance. “If this change doesn’t go through, you can be sure there will be a for-lease sign outside my door.”
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Cooper led Tuesday’s meeting. Business owners attending the event expressed concern about the impact stepped-up enforcement of the longstanding county ordinance could potentially have on their earnings going into the winter months — a period of the year essential to many Siesta businesses due to an influx of seasonal residents that more than doubles the island’s population.
Rick Lizotte, owner of Comfort Shoes in the Siesta Key Village, reported that his sales dropped by about 40% after he gave up his outdoor displays at the beginning of the summer.
Siesta Key Village Association President Cheryl Gaddie, who joined Cooper in moderating Tuesday’s debate, explained that outdoor merchandise displays are not permitted anywhere in Sarasota County due to a county ordinance, but special-exception permits are available.
“To my knowledge, no one on the Key has ever applied for the temporary-use permit,” Gaddie said.
The county ordinance banning outdoor displays has been in effect for decades, but zoning inspectors often overlooked it on Siesta Key. The issue stepped into the spotlight when a new leadership cadre took over the SKVA earlier this year and decided to crack down on zoning code enforcement to ensure the rules were being uniformly enforced. Beginning in May, SKVA led a series of zoning code workshops to ensure all Siesta business and property owners were familiar with the restrictions. Businesses in violation of the ordinance were notified, however, due to a lack of county enforcement, many continued to ignore the rule.
“Follow the rules and help us amend what needs to be amended,” Gaddie said Tuesday.
Following the May workshops, a group of Siesta Key business pushed back against the move, prompting Cooper to draft a compromise ordinance, which proposed allowing displays as long as they met certain size and aesthetic requirements. The Sarasota County Commission rejected Cooper’s ordinance, saying that a broader survey of opinion was needed from Siesta Key residents and businesses.
Tuesday’s discussion focused on what metrics would be used to determine which displays should be allowed, with the group generally agreeing that the displays would need to be restricted by square footage.
Cooper said that an amended ordinance would have to be enforceable and maintain the aesthetic character of the Key to receive a nod from county commissioners.
Siesta Key zoning rules are set by the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD). SKOD zoning codes do not specifically address outdoor displays, but refer to the countywide regulation banning them.
Siesta Key’s special zoning district means that exceptions to certain countywide rules, such as the outdoor display ban, can be made in recognition of the Key’s unique needs as a tourist destination.
Zoning officials reported that enforcement of the existing law would be scaled back while potential amendments to the ban were under review.
“I was told to back off of this temporarily,” Siesta Key Code Enforcement Officer John Lally said. “Commissioners told me that something was being done to amend the ordinance.”
When some business owners attending Tuesday’s meeting questioned the merit of amending an ordinance the county was not enforcing, Gaddie warned against taking advantage of the lax enforcement of the law.
“That’s not going to last forever by any means,” Gaddie said. “We need to follow the law; we need to do this the right way.”
“I think we went laterally today. I don’t think any changes will happen quickly. But, if I’m not allowed to have anything outside, I’m doomed. My customers keep telling me, ‘Now that I know you’re here, I’ll keep coming back.’ But you know what brought them in in the first place? Outdoor displays.”
— James Ritter, Siesta Key Outfitters
“I’m very pleased with how the meeting went. Now that we have more information we can move forward on a solution. Everyone agrees some sort of compromise is a good idea — just as long as the displays are tasteful.”
— Martha Smith, Le Grand Bisou
“I think it’s urgent to get to a solution and for those of us on the Key to have a little bit of control over our destiny. We can do this in a tasteful way.”
— Lorry Eible, Foxy Lady
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]