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WELCOME BACK: What you missed

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 10, 2011
Catch up on what you missed while you were away.
Catch up on what you missed while you were away.
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+ ‘Tenacity’ garners a win
After four years of wrangling and two previous denials, the owners of two Gulf-side lots along Beach Road received their variances and plan on building two triplex condominiums.

Seaward of Beach Road is another “road” called Tenacity Lane. It was platted in the 1920s, existing only in the minds of old surveyors, planners and lawyers. But lots seaward of Tenacity Lane remained marketable, except no one could build on them.

The owners, Gulf Shore LLC and Siesta Key LLC, finally won County Commission approval for their project. They plan to build on lots along Beach Road and give the county a perpetual conservation easement for adjoining lots along Tenacity Lane.

First, the developers planned to demolish two existing quadplexes at 610 and 614 Beach Road. In their stead, the developers plan on six units in two, 50-foot-tall buildings, with a pool in the rear, on four platted lots.

In 2007, the Siesta Key Association expressed concerns about the owners’ plans to build a pair of 50-foot-tall, single-family homes between Tenacity Lane and the Gulf of Mexico, more than 260 feet on the seaward side of the coastal construction setback line. The association also raised issues about previous transfers of density from the Tenacity lots to the Beach Road property, arguing the development rights were used up in 1979 when the original quadplexes were built.

The two owners paid $3 million for the property in 2006. As of May, the lots were valued at $800,000 for tax purposes.

+ The more parking, the better
County plans for improvements at Siesta Public Beach continued to raise questions. During the May 5 Siesta Key Association meeting, the top concern was whether the project would eliminate parking spaces.
County Project Manager Curtis Smith assured the audience and board the plan would provide for a net increase of 103 spaces. Other concerns were raised about the design of a 15-foot-wide esplanade proposed to enable people to move safely from one end of the beach park to the other. Audience members questioned whether it would be preferable to use some of that space for additional parking.

+ Paving the way for traffic disruptions
Florida Department of Transportation officials announced they would begin renovations of the north Siesta bridge at night, starting June 5, 2012.

One lane of traffic would remain open at all times, they said. The work would be undertaken from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., excluding a break for the July Fourth holiday, from June 29 through the daytime of July 8; and Labor Day weekend, with work stopped from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3.

If all goes well, FDOT officials said, the project should be completed by mid-October. The cost of the project was estimated at $3.49 million.

+ Looking at expense reports
In response to Village property owner Chris Brown’s second lawsuit against Sarasota County — this one over parking assessments as well as the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp.’s handling of Village upkeep — discussions were continuing among Maintenance Corp. board member Mark Smith and county officials over documentation of expenses.

The general consensus among Maintenance Corp. board members and Morgan Bentley, Brown’s attorney, was that county staff was the crux of the problems. Parties told the Pelican Press off the record that it was easy to see how the county had become mired in the scandal emanating from mishandling of contracts by Procurement Department staff.

+ Pedestrian island plan
A subject county commissioners thought was gone popped back up on the Florida Department of Transportation radar.

With concerns about so many pedestrians trying to cross Midnight Pass Road between the Beach Road and Stickney Point Road intersections, especially during season, the County Commission in 2007, at the request of condo managers along that stretch, had sought some sort of island refuges in the center of the road.

The idea ultimately died because of a lack of funding. However, FDOT suddenly found money for the concept and revived it. State officials were all ready to proceed when Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson won their agreement to hold off until they could hold a public meeting with condo residents to learn what the current consensus was about the plan.

+ Lizards in smaller numbers
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner reported during the organization’s June 2 meeting that a combination of two cold winters and county-financed trapping had reduced the numbers of iguanas on the Key to the point of their being almost eradicated.

However, intrepid wildlife photographer Tatiana Staats, who lives on the south end of the island, was quick to produce evidence that the critters still are plentiful enough to be observed at ease in trees.

+ Trained and ready
The Sarasota County Junior Lifeguard Program celebrated another successful summer, with the conclusion of its final camp on Siesta Key.

The group of 28 junior lifeguards, who spent a week at Turtle Beach, learned all about life-saving techniques, how to identify marine life and the importance of fitness.

Observer group acquires the Pelican Press
The Observer Group Inc. closed June 8 on the purchase of the 40-year-old Pelican Press, acquiring it from Journal Community Publishing Group Inc. of Milwaukee, Wis.

Hugh McGarry, general manager of Journal Community Publishing Group, said the company sold the Pelican Press because of a strategic decision to concentrate on its cluster of newspapers in Wisconsin.
“The acquisition should give The Observer an expanded footprint in the Sarasota market,” McGarry said.
Journal acquired the Pelican Press in June 1998 from Sarasota entrepreneur John Davidson, who had founded the newspaper in 1971 as a way to help promote his startup drug store.

For the first 20 years of its existence, the Pelican Press primarily served Siesta Key. Over the past two decades, however, it had broadened its coverage and focused more on Sarasota city and county government and downtown Sarasota.

“We’re thrilled to become the new stewards of the Pelican,” said Matt Walsh, CEO of The Observer Group Inc. “Although we have been direct competitors for the past seven years in Sarasota and on Siesta Key, the Pelican is a great fit for our company. We focus on the same thing — helping local businesses with their advertising and providing the Sarasota market with hyper-local community news and information.”

+ He was right after all
Siesta Key Association board member Joe Volpe had been complaining for months about two grooves that had developed on both sides of Siesta Drive, where the city of Sarasota completed a drainage and resurfacing project in the fall of 2010.

Finally, after getting the attention of Florida Department of Transportation representatives, news came that the contractors who handled the project had been in a dispute over money. The city had been withholding the final payment on the work until the dispute was resolved.

The section of road with the grooves was going to be resurfaced July 25, city staff said.

+ All the news that can fit
New modular news racks made their debut on the Key, thanks to a County Commission modification of the Siesta Key Overlay District. 

The St. Petersburg Times had taken the responsibility of buying, installing and maintaining the racks. The first one appeared in front of SunTrust Bank on Ocean Boulevard.

+ ‘Promises to keep’
Florida Department of Transportation representatives appeared during the July 7 Siesta Key Association meeting to answer questions about the state plans for renovations of the north bridge. Jon Sands, the FDOT construction engineer for District 1, said he expected the project to be bid out in December.

The goal remained for work to start June 5, 2012, he said, with no complete closure of the bridge. Work will proceed only at night. In fact, Sands said, FDOT was providing a $7,500-per-day incentive for early completion. County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson cautioned that the contractor would have to keep traffic moving or face serious public backlash.

+ A refund for Brown
In settling part of a lawsuit Village property owner Chris Brown filed Jan. 31, the county refunded him about $2,500 for overcharges on his 2010 parking assessments related to The Hub Baja Grill.

The County Commission agreed that annual reviews of the assessments were necessary to make sure property owner were charged appropriately.

+ Project threatened
Complaints from residents of the Gulf & Bay Club could delay the start of construction of a new stormwater management system at Siesta Key Public Beach, county staff said. Officials worried the delay could cause the project to lose a $1 million Southwest Florida Water Management District grant, which would cover about half the cost of the work.

If the project could not get under way before the end of the year, county staff was uncertain SWFWMD would extend the grant. Staff was continuing negotiations with the condo management and board to keep the project on track.

+ Controlling interests
After Sarasota County staff suggested to the County Commission that it may be better for the county to take over full control of the Village upkeep, members of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. cried foul, saying if they were going to continue to pay a special assessment for the maintenance, they wanted to be able to keep oversight of it.

+ Let’s make this clear
At the outset of another County Commission discussion about Village upkeep, Chairwoman Nora Patterson let it be known that the board already had voted June 8 to make sure the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. would keep oversight of all the work necessary for the Village to continue looking good. Moreover, improved record keeping and a revision of the ordinance that set up the SKVMC would be designed to make sure no future questions arose about maintenance expenses, county staff reported.
Those stipulations satisfied Morgan Bentley, attorney for Village property owner Chris Brown, whose Jan. 31 lawsuit against the county had contended the Maintenance Corp. was not adhering to the ordinance in its management of the vendor handling the Village upkeep.

+ No banner for a banner year
Although the Key appeared to be having a banner summer, Village property owners and merchants bumped into county zoning regulations in their proposal to put up banners at both entries to the island to proclaim Siesta Public Beach’s status as the No. 1 beach in the county. However, Assistant Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson told the Siesta Key Village Association she was working on revised zoning language that might facilitate the effort.

+ Help the pedestrians
Members of the Siesta Key Condominium Association launched an effort to help pedestrians get across Beach Road between the Midnight Pass Road intersection and the Village. Their first step was a letter to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council seeking the lowering of the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph on that stretch of road.

+ Safe manatee crossings
Residents along the Grand Canal have discovered a pod of manatees moving daily through the waterway, in the search for seagrass on the other end.

However, with boaters regularly speeding through the canal and manatees naturally inclined to move to deeper water when they feel threatened, the residents said they feared for the safety of the creatures.
New SKA Environmental Committee member Dave Thomas, who lives on the Grand Canal, has been following the manatees in his kayak.

Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner urged her members to report to law enforcement personnel report any boaters they observed going faster than the posted “no wake” speed.

+ Good-bye to Sunsets?
The owners of the nine-unit Sunsets on the Key resort, just a block over, proposed selling the property to the county so it could be used for an expansion of island parking. Commissioners Jon Thaxton and Nora Patterson said no matter how attractive the idea, the county just didn’t have the funds to pursue the project.

+ Wanted: a sturdier fence
After repeated attacks by vandals, including an incident in late July, the fence along the boardwalk by the Treasure Boat Way/Ocean Boulevard intersection had fallen into such a state of disrepair that Key residents feared for pedestrian safety.

County officials began work on finding a new type of fencing that would better withstand wear — and vandals.

+ No 1 beach = big business
Just as predicted, the ranking of Siesta Public Beach as No. 1 in the United States had translated into a much busier summer on the Key. Merchants and restaurants said they were seeing far more tourists than they had in years. A couple previous of businesses reported 20% more revenue in 2011 compared to 2010 for June, July and August.

+ Short-term rentals raise ire
John Lally, the Key’s zoning code enforcement officer, reported the lively tourist season also had translated into far more issues of people violating the county ordinance regarding short-term rentals. He had tried not to come down too hard on visitors, he told the Siesta Key Association, because he didn’t want them going back home with a figurative bad taste in their mouths.

However, Key homeowners said enforcement was necessary for them to maintain a good quality of life — free of people partying into the wee hours of the morning.

+ Fewer permanent folks on Key
The 2010 U.S. Census showed Siesta’s population had declined by 8.18% from 2000, with a population of 6,565 reported last year. 

The female residents barely outnumbered the males, 3,404 to 3,161. However, the female population had declined 9.32% from 2000 to 2010, compared to a smaller drop for the men, 6.92%.

+ Help on the way
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office personnel promised members of the Siesta Key Association Sept. 1 that they would patrol the Grand Canal more regularly, thereby serving as a deterrent to boaters inclined to speed.

FWC and county officials also pointed said no boater in the canal should be traveling faster than idle speed, a speed just fast enough to make sure a vessel has forward momentum. SKA members said the enforcement would help protect the pod of manatees seen regularly in the canal.

+ How fast can we do that?
After the Sarasota County Commission in mid-September heard an update on the improvement plans for Siesta Key Public Beach, Commissioner Joe Barbetta proposed staff look at options for getting all the work done in as short a timeframe as 18 months.

With construction costs low and the county’s strong bond rating, he said, it would be wise to proceed. Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson warned that parking could not be disrupted, regardless of what option the board pursued.

+ Ho-hum response to beach signs
Although county staff members were able to create and erect simple signs that met county code in proclaiming Siesta as the No. 1 beach in the country, the signs did not win an overwhelmingly positive response. Even County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson, who lives on the Key, said she thought the signs “could be much improved upon.”

The signs were modeled after those already used by the county’s Parks and Recreation Department; they were attached to Sarasota County Area Transit signs near the Key.

+ Next phase for Access 12
Just in time for Labor Day weekend, most of the improvements that had closed Beach Access 12 at Crescent Beach were complete, so the parking area could be reopened.

The work, which began Aug. 1, entailed a realignment of the parking and the construction of a turnaround area on the west end of the access. The next phase of planned work, for which county staff still was pursuing permits, would allow county trucks to use Access 12 to reach the beach for removal of seaweed, during times the amount of seaweed on the beach proved problematic.

Because of the size of the trucks and other factors, the only access the county has for seaweed removal is at Siesta Public Beach.

+ Fire code standards clarified
With the topic broached at two Siesta Key Association meetings, it appeared many condo residents on the Key were unaware that if a fire alarm sounded on one floor of a high-rise building, it did not sound on every floor.

The Sarasota County Fire Department’s chief inspector in its Fire Prevention Division explained that alarms sound only on the two floors above and the floor below the original alarm. That national fire regulation was designed to keep residents from impeding the progress of firefighters trying to use stairwells in those high-rise buildings, Don Damron said. If a fire spread, however, alarms would sound on other floors as needed.

+ New beach sign, please
In response to the negative comments on the county’s brown-and-white No. 1 beach signs at Sarasota County Area Transit stops near the Key, county staff decided to assemble a stakeholders group to work on new signage.

The County Commission Sept. 13 asked Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis to coordinate that redesign with the Florida Department of Transportation, the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and other major organizations representing businesses.

+ Dock construction
Putting in the past a legal fight over who owns right of way between Avenida Del Norte and property between the road and the Grand Canal, the County Commission Sept. 27 approved requests for two single-family docks. The commission also said it no longer needed staff to spend time presenting details on future requests for docks in that area of the Key.

+ Plovers see Siesta success again
Although not as many this summer made it to the fledgling stage — the point of flying on their own, — volunteers with Sarasota Audubon and a paid manager oversaw another summer of success with beach-nesting birds.

Six snowy plovers survived to fly on their own, just one fewer than in 2010. Still, volunteers were sad to report they had continued problems with people as well as animals disturbing nests, despite their best efforts to protect the tiny words.

+ Third time’s the charm?
Village property owner Chris Brown Oct. 4 filed his third lawsuit against Sarasota County, this one also dealing with parking assessment issues. The new complaint says the county didn’t even wait four months after paying him $2,500 to settle a Jan. 31 lawsuit over excessive parking fees before it sent him a TRIM notice with big spikes in assessments for three of his properties in 2011. 

Brown alleged in the suit that the latest action, on top of problems going back to 2007, shows a pattern of discrimination against him.

+ His, theirs and ours
A dispute over beach property rights involving parcels on North Beach Road led the County Attorney’s Office to reaffirm that any land above the Mean High Water Line is private property.

Only land on the water side of that line is public property. Therefore, a person who had posted “For Sale” and “No Trespassing” signs above the Mean High Water Line was within his rights, contrary to views of some of his neighbors.

+ Some help from FDOT
Although a contractor began working Aug. 1 to clean up Palmer Point Park on the north end of Casey Key, the contractor ran into problems with two different neighborhoods opposing his plan to truck out materials being dredged up from Roberts Bay in the restoration of the park.

County officials obtained a permit from the Florida Department of Transportation that would allow the contractor to use its right of way on the mainland side of the north Siesta bridge, to offload the material from barges and truck it away to the contractor’s property in Palmetto.

As of Oct. 31, the county still was awaiting a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to proceed with that plan. County officials nonetheless were excited about the project, as it would be the first in the county to restore an island created by spoil material from the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway.

+ Fence finagling
County officials and Key representatives, along with Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson, finally settled on a wrought-iron fence to replace the damaged wooden fence at the Treasure Boat Way intersection on Ocean Boulevard.

However, a contractor’s supply problems prevented the new fence from going in before Halloween, as Siesta Key Village Association members had requested, to protect children during the Safe Treats event. The contractor erected a temporary wooden fence for safety measures until the new fence materials were available. At last report, county staff hoped that wrought-iron fence would go in before the end of November.

+ Tennis anyone, any time?
Contrary to rumors, county officials affirmed that tennis courts will be available at all times once construction of Siesta Public Beach improvements begin. A county staff member said the old courts would not be demolished until after new ones were built.

A person or persons had posted a sign on the courts to indicate the county was closing them once the construction began. Project Manager Curtis Smith went to the Key to talk with residents and reassure them about the inaccuracy of the information on the sign.

+ Beach Road traffic
The Sarasota County Commission Oct. 25 voted unanimously to lower the speed limit on Beach Road between the Village and Midnight Pass Road from 35 mph to 30 mph, at the request of the Siesta Key Condominium Association.

New signs were expected before the end of the year.

No amateurs here
Thirty-four contestants turned out at Siesta Public Beach May 7, for the 39th annual Sand Sculpture Contest sponsored by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation and the Pelican Press.

Ken Shields, a returning sculptor, took the Judges’ Choice Award with a creation called “Mountain Villa.” Jim Unger won the People’s Choice Awards for adults with “Forgotten Empire,” while Cheyenne Perling won the People’s Choice Award for children and youth with her entry, “Garden Castle.”


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