A Siesta Key property owner placed a chain link fence near Siesta Key Beach Access 2, but county staff says it's not allowed.
A stretch of sand has caused some controversy on Siesta Key after a resident installed several 150-foot fences in an effort to keep people off the sand.
As Sarasota County schools let out for spring break, Michael Holderness, founder and CEO of Beachside Management LLC, noticed what he called hundreds of students gathering near Siesta Key Beach Access 2.
After the county closed all its public beaches on March 21, the crowds got larger.
“There was thousands of kids day in and day out,” Holderness said. “There’s zero social distancing and it’s not safe.”
So, Holderness placed signs around parts of his private beach property south of Access 2 to try to deter groups from gathering. The signs read, “This area requires registered guests to wear wristbands.”
However, a county code enforcement officer cited Holderness for the signs. The notice of violation said that off-site advertising signs are not allowed, so Holderness removed them.
He then erected two chain-link fences more than 150-feet long bordering Mira Mar Beach. The new fence starts just south of Patriots Pier.
Sarasota County Development Services and Permitting and Inspection Services staff then issued a stop work order for the fencing, stating the fence was built on a coastal setback, which is not allowed under county code.
However, Holderness told The Sarasota Observer that the fences will not come down.
“My only reason for putting the fence up is keeping our community safe,” Holderness said. “I grew up here, I’m a native, and it’s our duty, it’s everyone’s duty right now, to stay apart and keep each other safe.”
Meanwhile, Michael Cosentino, the president of Reopen Beach Road, has been outspoken about the fences, stating that they are an attempt to try to privatize the beach.
“We have a private property owner fencing off state-sovereign lands, doing work without permits and without the proper permission and authority to do so,” Cosentino said in a video posted to Facebook. “It’s just blatant disregard for the rules that were put in place to protect the public interest.”
Cosentino owns property at 10 Beach Road, which includes Patriots Pier. Every morning and evening Cosentino conducts ceremonies with the American flag he flies on the pier to honor those who have served or are currently serving in the military.
At a March 25 County Commission meeting Cosentino said he will continue to let the public use his land for these ceremonies but will follow all directives set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also has placed a sign by the pier urging the public to follow the directives.
“You now have Mr. Holderness and others fencing off what they agreed to keep open to the public,” Cosentino said.
Although Holderness acknowledged much of the beach population was gathering near Cosentino’s property, he said the issue is not “Mike vs. Mike.”
“What I care about is keeping the community safe,” Holderness said. “When that many people gather here, they’re just like petri dishes, spreading it throughout our community. I’m trying to help prevent that.”