By Rachel Brown Hackney
On a unanimous Nov. 17 vote, the Sarasota County Commission directed county staff to find the $250,000 staff estimates it will cost to construct 22 parking spaces in right of way on Ocean Boulevard in the northern part of Siesta Village.
Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents part of the Key, brought up the issue, referencing an analysis the board directed staff to undertake after Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce representatives discussed the parking proposal during the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 6.
On Nov. 17, Maio noted that county revenue sources had declined only 2% or 3% this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of the double-digit drops county financial management staff had anticipated. Therefore, Maio indicated, if his colleagues agreed, the funds likely could be found for the project.
No commissioner voiced opposition to the proposal, so Maio made a motion for staff to add the project to the county budget for this year.
Five years ago, Maio said on Oct. 6, when the parking concept first was raised, “We didn’t have the money for this.” He added on Oct. 6, “We’ll find the money.”
Maio originally represented all of Siesta Key as part of his District 4 territory. After the redrawing of the commission district lines in November 2019, the island was split between Districts 2 and 4.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents District 2, also voiced his support for the parking proposal on Oct. 6.
The Nov. 3 staff report did point out that the proposal originated several years ago, but no action was taken because it was not made a county priority “or due to public opposition.”
“If directed to move forward with this project,” the report added, “staff will prepare a funding plan …”
Among sources of funding, the report continued, are the county’s General Fund, which is made up largely of property tax revenue; gas tax revenue; mobility fees; the county’s 1-cent infrastructure sales tax, or “surtax”; Tourist Development, or “bed tax,” revenue; and private contributions.
On Oct. 6, Siesta architect Mark Smith, a long-time leader of the Siesta Chamber, and Chamber Chair Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, requested that the commissioners consider the revived parking proposal.
“Parking is a premium on Siesta Key,” Smith said, “and this, we believe, is a good solution.”
Smith had created a potential design, which he showed the commissioners that day. In the right of way on the western side of Ocean Boulevard — across from the Old Salty Dog restaurant — he indicated room is available for 18 diagonal spaces. Then, in the right of way on the eastern side of the street, in front of the building located at 5011 Ocean Blvd., next to the Old Salty Dog, pace is available for another four diagonal parking spots, Smith added.
The Nov. 3 staff report did note, “One suggestion received was to mark these new spaces with a stated time limit or hours they could be used. Without an effective enforcement means, this is not a recommended measure.”
The Nov. 3 report also pointed to continuing opposition on Siesta to the parking proposal.
On Oct. 20, during the commission’s regular meeting, Bernette B. Hoyt, a resident of the Whispering Sands condominium complex — in front of which 18 of the spaces are proposed — protested the plan. She and two other representatives of Whispering Sands had met with Commissioner Ziegler, she said, to voice their concerns.
Referring to Ocean Boulevard, Hoyt said, “This well-traveled roadway … is the northern entry to the Village, with incoming traffic from the north bridge, delivery trucks, municipal buses, bicyclists and pedestrians, all heading south from Ocean. This stretch of road is already congested.”
Hoyt continued, “Adding 22 pull-in parking places will increase the hazards along this roadway [and] alter the lush welcome to our Village to one of a strip mall.”
The center lane on Ocean Boulevard, she pointed out, is used routinely by delivery trucks, including 18-wheelers. “How well can a sober driver, let alone someone who’s had a few, back out into oncoming traffic, avoiding the center [turn lane] with left-turners in it and then maneuver around the bus or a driver exiting Whispering Sands Drive?” she asked.
Members of the community would like to work with the commission to come up with parking solutions, Hoyt told the board members. “We can do this without a piecemeal approach of 20 spaces here, there, sprinkled throughout the Village.”
Opposing views expressed in correspondence
The Nov. 3 staff report did include a letter of support for the parking proposal from Tush, chair of the Siesta Chamber. “This is a rare opportunity for the County to add public parking that is located within a business district,” Tush pointed out. With the creation of the new spaces, he added, 22 fewer vehicles will be “driving up and down the street searching for a place to park or illegally parking down a side street in a residential neighborhood.”
A second attachment to the staff report was a letter to the commissioners and County Engineer Spencer Anderson, signed by Frank Jurenka, president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council. Noting that the Council’s members represent approximately 100 condominium complexes on the island, Jurenka also decried the parking proposal. He expressed safety concerns similar to those Hoyt voiced on Oct. 20.
A third attachment was a letter from Tony Arena, president of the Whispering Sands Condominium Association. That letter said, “We ask that you study and consider these significant issues thoroughly before proceeding any further with plans to irretrievably alter our landscape with more traffic, more cars, more asphalt, more parking,” the letter said.
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner told the News Leader in October that that nonprofit opposes the plan, primarily out of concern for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.