Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2011 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers and the Pelican Press. Check back each day for a reprinting — along with any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUG. 4, 2011
Siesta Key groups believe banners at entryways to the island should proclaim Siesta Beach’s status as No. 1 in the country. The question is whether such signage will be allowed under the county zoning code.
Siesta Key beach attendance appears to be up this summer, but members of the Siesta Key Village Association and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce feel banners should go up on both approaches to the island to proclaim it home of the No. 1 beach in America.
Siesta architect Mark Smith broached the idea during the SKVA meeting Tuesday morning at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar.
“That is something we would like to capitalize on … until next May,” he said.
In May 2012, Siesta Public Beach will be retired from the annual list of the top beaches in the country, released each year by “Dr. Beach,” Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research.
Leatherman generally publishes his Top 10 list prior to the start of Memorial Day weekend.
Donna Thompson, assistant county zoning administrator, who was a guest at the meeting, said she was working on signage issues that she hoped to bring before the County Commission in early September.
“We will certainly keep your No. 1 beach in mind as we go forward … and see how we can accommodate that,” she added.
Because of county zoning code restrictions regarding signage, John Lally, the Key’s code enforcement officer, suggested such banners might be permitted under the “community events” allowances in the code.
Lally has reported to the SKVA and the Siesta Key Association on many occasions over the years about his efforts to make Village businesses adhere to code restrictions.
Thompson asked the SKVA members to email her the types of banners they could envision working for the proclamation.
“Why don’t you check on what the city allows?” County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson suggested. “I see banners up at museums quite frequently.”
In an informal discussion with Thompson and Patterson after the meeting, Smith said he felt a statement as simple as “Sarasota County welcomes you to the No. 1 beach in the world” would work for the banner on the north end of the Village. “This only happens once in a lifetime,” he added.
“I actually don’t like overhead banners,” Patterson told him. “I think the ones that are cool are on light posts.”
In a telephone interview with the Pelican Press, John McCarthy, manager of recreational tourism development for the county, said, “The banner idea would seem to be quite nice,” especially for tourists driving into the Village. It would be a means of letting them know they had arrived at the place with the best beach in the country, he added, because many of them will have read about the announcement in newspapers or seen it on TV.
“It just seems we need to find some legal and respectful way to let people know they’ve arrived,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s a pride factor.”
McCarthy also envisions permanent signage about the honor at Siesta Beach, once planned improvements have been completed over the next few years.
“We’ve got 10 months” before Siesta Beach will be retired from Dr. Beach’s list, he pointed out. “Time’s a wastin’ here, folks.”
UPDATE: After county staff organized a stakeholders group comprising Key representatives, a proposed two-sided sign was presented to the County Commission Dec. 14. The commission approved the sign, which was to go up shortly.
County tourism up before No. 1 beach designation
According to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office, tourism tax revenue was up 8% from May 2010 to May 2011, John McCarthy, the county’s manager for recreational tourism development, told the Pelican Press Tuesday.
McCarthy said he previously had learned from the tax collector’s staff that the month-over-month revenue level for May was up 12%. However, upon further investigation, he said he was reminded that the County Commission had raised the so-called “bed tax” from 4.5% to 5%, effective May of this year. Factoring out that increase, he said, gave him the 8% figure.
It will be two more weeks before the tax collector’s staff releases the tourism tax revenue figure for June, which will be the first reflection of Siesta Beach’s designation this year as the No. 1 beach in the country.
In the meantime, anecdotal information from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the county code enforcement officer on the Key indicates a much busier summer beach season.
“We’re seeing the beach lots filling up Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which we have not seen before,” Sgt. Scott Osborne told the Siesta Key Village Association members Tuesday.
SKVA member Mark Smith concurred, saying that before this summer, he was not used to seeing the beach lot full the early part of each week.
Adding to comments he made to the SKVA members last month, John Lally, the Key code enforcement officer, said that although the No. 1 beach designation is good for businesses, “there’s not enough parking, and the overflow has to go into these residential neighborhoods.”
Lally added, “I can’t blame some of these people for what they’re doing. They’re actually helping the tourists by giving them a place that they can park their car and (the tourists) come back and their car will still be there.”
One homeowner on Canal Road, he said, had been parking up to 40 vehicles in her yard at a cost of $20 each. “Was there demand for it? Sure,” he said. “(Drivers) were lined up trying to get into her yard.”
In another case, he said, he had seen a man park his vehicle with New York plates right in the middle of the turn lane on Ocean Boulevard. At first, Lally said, he thought the man had stopped to unload something. When he saw the man start to walk away, Lally said he called to him: “Buddy, when you come back, that car is going to be gone, towed … ”
“I enforce the ordinances the way the ordinances are written,” Lally said. “I don’t change the ordinances. That’s you guys’ job.”