By Roger Drouin
Construction is wrapping up on the $21.5-million Siesta Public Beach makeover, and work is expected to end in January.
During the last few months of construction work, some additional enhancements will be coming to the park, as Sarasota County extends improvements to the far western end of the park.
The first of two improvements on the west end of the public beach is a pavilion informally called the wedding pavilion, or west pavilion. The pavilion, which is under construction, will have a modern architectural air, similar to the 18 pre-cast concrete picnic structures engineered and constructed for the Siesta Public Beach project. The new pavilion will utilize the footprint of an existing dune walkover platform and will include up to five picnic tables under a roof.
Cost savings netted during the 24-month, $21.5 million makeover at Sarasota’s crown jewel on the beach made the addition of the west pavilion to the overall construction project possible.
In addition, the County Commission will hear a variance request Nov. 10 for a project to install eight more of the picnic structures on the west end (also commonly referred to as the north end) of the park. If this project is approved, eight current wood “two-pole” structures will be replaced with the new, pre-cast concrete picnic structures recently installed throughout the park. The concrete shelters — inspired by the Sarasota School of Architecture — were recognized by the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects as the winner of the Merit Award for an Object design, and once placed on the beach, came out “nicer” than expected, noted Gaubatz, Sarasota County Public Works Project Manager. “Those pre-cast shelter are really signature pieces,” said Gaubatz.
County officials say plans for the west pavilion has been in the works for two years, and it was selected as a priority aspect of the public beach makeover by the County Commission in August, 2013, at a cost of $241,697. The pavilion will replace a boardwalk overlook that has proven over time to become a popular site for weddings. The new pavilion can be rented, and will be open to the public when it is not reserved by renters.
“It’s a rental structure, so the park can generate some revenue, which is good for taxpayers,” Gaubatz told Siesta Sand.
But the way some condominium unit owners at nearby Crescent Royale and Sunset Royale see it: The pavilion is a wedding party they would like to crash.
Unit owners at Sunset Royale are already grappling with problems ranging from beachgoers using a patio hose as a shower and more disturbingly, people utilizing landscaping as a bathroom. Bob D’Orsi, president of the Sunset Royale Condo Board of Directors, says he thinks the new west pavilion looks beautiful — architecturally.
The problem, however, is that adding another amenity in that part of the beach’s public park will only “exacerbate the problem,” especially since the county has no plans to add bathrooms near the pavilion.
“Bath facilities are needed if they are going to bring that many more people in there,” D’Orsi said.
Gaubatz confirmed that restrooms are not in the current plans for the west pavilion, but said the county plans to install signs that direct beachgoers and those attending weddings at the pavilion to the main public restrooms at the “historic pavilion” under renovation. The number of restrooms there is doubling.
“A regular problem”
D’Orsi told Siesta Sand about a separate issue has arisen because unit owners and residents have called the sheriff’s office about noise at night. “Residents are asked [by the sheriff’s office] would you like to meet a deputy?’” Many of his neighbors don’t want to meet with a deputy, yet there has been a sense that anonymous complaints about loud noises won’t be addressed.
D’Orsi believes the pavilion can worsen noise issues.
D’Orsi said the board even discussed the possibility of hiring an attorney and trying to get a judge to block construction of the pavilion, until some of the concerns — mainly the lack of close-by restrooms — are addressed. As of press time, the board president believed the topic would come up again at the board’s meeting at the end of October.
“But I believe the county is going to do what they want to do,” D’Orsi said.
Paul Parr, who rents a Sunset Royale unit he owns that overlooks the western tip of Siesta Public Beach park, brought the county’s pavilion plans to the attention of others in the condo complex on Beach Road.
Parr believes a facility that can accommodate more people, yet does not come with restroom facilities, will bring more problems. Parr notes that each eight-foot-long table planned for the pavilion can hold four to eight people, and he is concerned that more than four or five tables might be placed there.
Parr said of current conditions: “People will use landscaping and our grounds to urinate and defecate and it’s a regular problem we have to live with,” Parr said. “We’ve even had some knocking on doors of condos trying to get in or ask where a bathroom is.”
“If the pavilion goes in, Sunset Royale will probably have to do what Crescent Royale did and fence in the property,” Parr said.
Parr, who has a background in crime prevention, is also worried that the new concrete picnic structures and some planned landscaping could pose a safety concern because criminals can hide behind the plants or behind part of the new picnic structures.
Sunset Royale owners have voiced concerns about how the “wedding pavilion” became an aspect of the beach project with what they describe as little public notification, and no public discussion. The condo’s board wrote to County Commissioners on Sept. 28: “The Directors of the Sunset Royale Association, Inc., have closely followed the county’s plans for the expansion of Siesta Key Beach and were taken by surprise when we learned that a “pavilion" with a capacity of 80 persons, has already been approved and is under construction, directly across the street from our complex.”
This confusion was due in part to the fact to how the county had labeled the project on plans shown at public meetings, which many owners attended. The structure was noted in plans going back as far as 2009, but the location of the structure moved slightly west — and closer to Sunet Royale. It was never called a “pavilion” on plans.
“We feel that the county was purposely vague about the project, calling it ‘ENHANCE EXISTING MULTI-PURPOSE OVERLOOK’ in the Draft Conceptual Plan and ‘MULTI-PURPOSE OVERLOOK/SHELTER’ in the Master Plan dated February, 2011. Nowhere in this description is the word ‘Pavilion’ used, which would have alerted us to the fact that a large number of people could be using this facility,” the letter continues. “The existing overlook is seldom used, and from the names given on the plan, it was our understanding, that ‘ENHANCE EXISTING MULTI-PURPOSE OVERLOOK’ and ‘MULTI-PURPOSE OVERLOOK/SHELTER’ meant possibly enhancing the present overlook with the addition of a roof or benches.”
Bathrooms, that way …
Gaubatz said the county can add more signs pointing beachgoers to bathrooms, if it will help. “We can obviously add more [signs],” Gaubatz said.
The number of restrooms in the “historic pavilion” towards the center of the public area is doubling during construction — a factor that should help address concerns. “That is one of the main reasons this project is being done, to add more restrooms,” Gaubatz said of the overall Siesta Public Beach Improvements makeover.
A paver, pedestrian esplanade that stretches through the park will also help make it easier for people on the west end of the park to get to the bathrooms. It will traverse the “entire length of the park,” Gaubatz said.
Adding a bathroom at the west pavilion — which would be a decision for the County Commission to make — could be costly because they would have to be built raised up, similar to the just-constructed concession building (built 16 feet above the sand). The restrooms would then also likely block views from some condo units.
Gaubatz also said the county can work with Sunset Royale and Crescent Royale owners to modify landscaping plans, but any changes would have to figured out soon since the pavilion is under construction currently.
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