Siesta Key Island Chatter

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Siesta Key Chamber hosts 19th annual golf tournament

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, along with presenting sponsor, Conditioned Air, proudly announce the 19th Annual Chamber Golf Tournament, which will be held Monday, May 7, at TPC Prestancia – Stadium Course, located at 4409 Tournament Players Club Drive, Sarasota, 34238.

This private outing presents a unique opportunity for Chamber members and guests to play a round at the TCP Prestancia – Stadium Course.  Onsite check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. with a 9:00 a.m. shotgun start.

Don’t miss the Early Bird Registration (until April 7) which includes $100 discount per foursome.  Registration is also available for single players and award luncheon only guests.  Golf registration includes:  light breakfast, awards luncheon, cart fee, golf balls & tees, team photo, and hole prizes.

Registration and sponsorship is conveniently available online at  For additional information, please call the Chamber at 941-349-3800.  Proceeds support the programs and services of the Chamber.

Fire chief addresses Station 13 action in regard to hurricane; about 85% of Fire Department calls on Key EMS-related

During the Feb. 20 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting — with Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Regnier and County Commissioner Alan Maio as special guests — Mark Smith, immediate past chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, addressed a bit of a different topic during the Q&A session.

Smith first pointed out that Fire Station 13, which stands next to Siesta Key Public Beach, “is an older structure that is vulnerable to storm surge and damage.” During the approach of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Smith asked, “Were the fire engines taken off the island?” He acknowledged that Sarasota County Emergency Management personnel had ordered an evacuation of the Key, with the hurricane’s storm surge predicted to be 8 to 10 feet.

Before Regnier could respond, Smith added that he felt the County Commission should be able to “find some money for that station to be storm-hardened …”

Maio had noted earlier during his remarks that the county has constructed four new fire stations since he joined the board in November 2014, and it has three more planned in the next few years.

“We did take the units off the island,” Regnier told Smith; they were moved to hardened facilities “at the last minute,” after the island evacuation was to have been completed.

Regnier also explained that he and his staff continuously evaluate all the 28 fire stations in the county to determine which should have top priority for rebuilding. In ranking those priorities, he continued, one factor he and his staff have to take into consideration is the potential for impact fees to help cover the costs of new construction in areas where new development is occurring.

Fire Station 13 dates to 1973, Regnier noted. “It is not hardened,” and it is in a hurricane surge zone. “It will be underwater if a storm comes …” In fact, Regnier acknowledged, if Irma had struck with the force forecasters had predicted, the structure most likely would have been destroyed.

“I don’t have an answer for you as to when we are going to rebuild that fire station,” he added.

Maio drew some laughter from audience members when he said, “I would suggest, Chief, that you don’t retire before I get re-elected, because that was a wonderful answer, and I don’t want to be running against you.”

Maio emphasized the need for the county to use impact fees to help pay for new fire stations. And that money, he pointed out, is “not always enough” to cover the full cost.

Still, Maio said, I will never turn down the sheriff or the fire chief for anything they ask for.”

Maio also told the audience of about 35 people that even if a new, storm-hardened station were constructed on Siesta, the equipment still would be moved off the island, he believed, before a hurricane was expected to strike. Regnier confirmed that.

Speaking of the fire station …

Prior to Maio’s “state of the county” address to the Condo Council members, Fire Chief Mike Regnier took a few minutes to talk about the 2017 statistics for Fire Station 13.

“Thank you all for your support for what you do for the Fire Department,” Regnier began.

He spent two years as part of the crew for Fire Station 13 next to the beach, he continued. When he was told he was going to be promoted, but he would have to move to a different station, he not so jokingly added that he had to give that a lot of thought. “It was very difficult to leave,” he told the audience. “People are very, very friendly [on the island].”

As for the work of the department: One of the first questions he gets when he makes public remarks, Regnier pointed out, is why a fire engine rolls with a rescue unit in response to a medical call. “The thing about the Fire Department [in Sarasota County] is you get the best of both [services]. … You get a bang for your buck.”

All county firefighters are cross-trained either as emergency medical technicians or paramedics, Regnier explained. Therefore, when both a fire engine and rescue unit respond, personnel can handle all of the necessary steps to take care of someone quickly. “That does not happen in all departments across the United States,” he stressed.

In fact, he continued, he grew up in Chicago, and his dad was a firefighter. When a car once struck Regnier’s sister, he said, the family had to wait 25 minutes for a rescue unit to arrive, even though a fire engine was a short distance away. When Regnier asked his dad why the firefighters did not respond first, his dad explained to him that the two services were “not affiliated with each other.”

Regnier then noted the Sarasota County Fire Department’s appreciation of the Siesta Key Fire and Rescue Advisory Council’s recent donation of an ATV that can be used for medical emergencies on the beach. Prior to having that equipment available, Regnier said, first responders had no choice but to go to the beach access closest to the location of an incident and then carry equipment onto the beach and bring an injured person back out to a rescue unit via that same beach access.

The Polaris ATV, he said, carries a stretcher and other equipment.

Moving on to the statistics for 2017, Regnier told the audience, “Siesta is supposed to be the quiet, lazy [place],” eliciting laughter. “It is quite busy, for emergency calls.”

In 2017, Siesta was the location of 1,728 incidents out of 65,579 countywide for the Fire Department, he noted. Of those, 1,339 — about 85% — were related to medical emergencies, with 105 involving an ill or unconscious person at the beach and 61 related to motor vehicle crashes.

The sun, he indicated, is the source of many of the medical calls. People unused to the intensity of the sun — especially in the summertime — often get dehydrated, and some end up with heat exhaustion and even heatstroke. As a parent, he added, he reminds his own children about using sunscreen and drinking plenty of fluids, but people on the beach often forget to do that.

On the key, he continued, 389 incidents were fire-related, with 14 structural fires reported. Regnier explained that in some cases, what might be logged as a structural fire by a 911 operator can turn out to be a situation in which someone has dropped a cigarette that has smoldered, producing a lot of smoke in a dwelling unit.

The statistics also showed 57 elevator rescues; 55 water rescues — 38 of which were at beach accesses; 146 fire alarms; and 13 incidents involving hazardous materials. The latter, he noted, often pertain to gas leaks.

Countywide, Regnier pointed out, the total number of calls has been going up 8% to 10% a year, but Siesta has not experienced that much of an increase.

The month in 2017 with the highest number of responses from Fire Station 13 was March, with 229, Regnier’s statistics showed. January was in second place, with 194. The slowest month? October, with 139 responses.

It takes about 6 minutes for the Fire Department to respond to a call on the Key, he continued. “You call 911, the clock starts ticking. … We’re pretty proud of that.”

Immediately after the equipment is sent out, he said, the dispatcher asks questions to glean more information from the caller. For example, in a medical emergency, the dispatcher will ask if the person is breathing. Is the person conscious? Depending upon the answers, additional units may be sent to the location, he added; conversely, some units may return to the station because they will not be needed.

The Fire Department also provides educational sessions and offers fire prevention information to residents and visitors, Regnier noted. “We have a lot of turnover” among residents on Siesta Key, he said, so firefighters “try very hard” to educate the newcomers.

No extended lifeguard hours this summer

As part of its budget reduction process, the Sarasota County Commission agreed earlier this year that it would not extend lifeguard hours as usual between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

That will save $119,323 a year, according to material provided to the board by the county’s Emergency Services Department.

When the commissioners combed through the lists of potential department savings on Jan. 31, Chair Nancy Detert asked Rich Collins, emergency services director, about the lifeguard issue.

In the past, Collins explained, the hours were extended from 5 to 7 p.m. for the approximately 100 days between the holidays that mark the traditional beginning and ending of summer. (Lifeguards begin duty at 10 a.m.)

However, Collins said, the people hired to make that extra summer service possible have been “generally college students.” He added that those positions have proven “very hard … for us to fill.”

A note on the budget sheet provided to the commission said, “There is a national shortage of lifeguards making it difficult to fill positions on an annual basis. The past 3 years we have not been able to hire our budgeted [number] of summer lifeguards.”

Moreover, Collins pointed out, regular lifeguards have had to be pulled away from their duties to train the people hired for those temporary positions, which has resulted in reduced staff at the beaches where lifeguards work. Given the amount of staff time devoted to training, he added, “It makes sense” to keep the closing hour at 5 p.m. year-round.

Yet another consideration, Collins said, is that staff has noted that the number of swimmers at the beach begins to decline after 4 p.m. People do come back after dinnertime to watch the sunset, but not usually to swim, he indicated.

“We don’t want to put people at risk,” Detert replied, “but, for the main part of the day, when little kids are there, we have lifeguard coverage.”

Then Detert asked about whether signage on the lifeguard-protected beaches includes the hours of service.

Collins told her he was not certain whether signs are posted that tell the public the hours lifeguards operate.

If such signs exist, Detert suggested they make clear that 5 p.m. will be the year-round closing time.

“Yes,” Collins replied.

Along with Siesta, lifeguards are stationed on Lido, Nokomis, the North Jetty, Venice and Manasota beaches.

Latest SKA survey

The Siesta Key Association (SKA) once more has sent a survey to its members, following up on its success last year in polling them on a variety of issues. The latest survey regards the private initiative to amend the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations governing street setbacks for commercial buildings.

The County Commission was scheduled to take up that issue again on April 11, after continuing a hearing that began on Jan. 30.

“The Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) was created to tailor Sarasota County building ordinances to the special character of Siesta Key,” the SKA survey explains. “Current SKOD ordinances state that a building up to 35 feet high can be built 2 feet from the sidewalk to create a walkable storefront environment in Siesta Key Village and other Commercial General areas on Siesta Key. A building taller than 35 feet, up to a maximum of 85 feet, must be set back a minimum of 25 feet, or half the height of the building, whichever is greater, to ensure that tall buildings are built on larger lots to maintain an open feel in the area,” the survey adds.

“In flood zones such as Siesta Key, building height is measured from a Base Flood Elevation (BFE) above sea level. BFE varies by site as determined by the [federal government],” the release notes, but BFE generally ranges between 10 and 12 feet on Siesta Key. “This means that a 35 foot building could actually be 47 feet above grade level, and an 85 foot building could approach 100 feet above grade level.”

(Eighty-five feet is the maximum height allowed for any structure on a barrier island in the county.)

“As permitted by Sarasota County laws, a private entity has proposed an amendment to current SKOD ordinances that would reduce the minimum setback of a building greater than 35 feet above BFE to less than 25 feet, potentially to as little as 2 feet. Other groups have informally proposed options that follow a variable height-setback formula, e.g., (x) feet back per (y) feet above 35 feet, but the details of the final proposed amendment are not yet known,” the survey points out

“The final proposed amendment will be brought before the County Commission at a meeting on April 11, 2018,” the survey continues. “SKA intends to submit a position on the proposed change prior to this meeting, and we need the help of all current SKA members to draft this position statement.”

The survey stresses, “It is important that we get as many responses as possible to compile our final position statement.” The notice also encouraged all SKA members to attend the County Commission meeting on April 11, “to show your support for the SKA position.”

The survey offers members just one question: “What is your position on the proposed amendment to SKOD ordinances?” The choice of responses follows:

  • “Keep the current SKOD ordinances as they are.
  • “Change the SKOD ordinances to adopt a variable height-setback formula.
  • “Allow more flexibility in building setback exceptions on a case by case basis.”

The note accompanying the survey gave members an absolute deadline of March 23 to respond to it.

The new county administrator

During the SKA’s Annual Breakfast Meeting, many members had their first opportunity to meet new County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.

Commissioner Alan Maio — who introduced Lewis — explained that the former North Port city manager became the interim county administrator on Dec. 8, 2017 and, “in short order, we asked him to negotiate a contract.”

The County Commission unanimously approved the contract on Jan. 16.

Maio added that he met Lewis on Lewis’ first day in the North Port position, about seven years ago. “He is a great addition to the county administration.”

Lewis opened his remarks on a humorous note, explaining that somehow, “without my being asked,” the SKA was told that he would not be able to attend the March meeting, as his predecessor, Tom Harmer, had done for several years. When Maio mentioned that to him, Lewis responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Somehow, someone had RSVP’d “No” for him without even consulting him, Lewis added. Fortunately, he was able to resolve the issue pretty quickly, he indicated, so he could be present.

Then Lewis explained that he has two school-age children, and his wife is a teacher, “so my weekends are entirely dependent on them,” most of the time.

As he prepared to delve into county issues, Lewis said: “I have been your county administrator for 45 days, so, clearly, I know every answer to every question that has to do with Sarasota County.” That prompted laughter from the approximately 150 people in the audience.

He repeated, “Forty-five days” at various intervals during his remarks, drawing more laughter.

As for becoming county administrator: Lewis noted that the “clever former county administrator [Harmer] strong-armed me out of North Port, and about half a minute later, he decided he was leaving.”

Lewis began working as an assistant county administrator in April 2017. In early July, Harmer announced to the County Commission that he planned to accept an offer from the Town of Longboat Key to become its new manager, succeeding the retiring Dave Bullock.

“I still, every once in a while, want to kick him,” Lewis added of Harmer, eliciting yet more laughter.

Then Lewis explained that he has been familiarizing himself with issues that are highly important to Siesta Key. Among them is Benderson Development’s proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use project at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. “I know a little about [that],” he said. However, guidelines pertaining to the quasi-judicial hearings the County Commission holds — such as one expected on a rezoning petition for part of the Siesta Promenade site — prevent him from commenting, he pointed out.

He has had had the opportunity to talk with SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner about the fight to prevent the proposed dredging of Big Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach, he continued. “We’re also monitoring and paying attention to what the county’s role will or won’t be” on that topic, he told the audience.

Lewis mostly focused on the county’s budget, which, he assured the audience, “is structurally balanced and in good shape.”

In prefacing remarks on that topic, he joked that he knew it was what “everybody loves to hear about on a Saturday morning after a nice breakfast, when the temperature is like it is and the sun is like it is outside right now.”

Lewis also explained that one of his top priorities is “how [county employees] treat people, how responsive they are” and how timely and knowledgeable they are in those responses. Referencing the 2017 Citizen Opinion Survey, in which county staff won record marks for responsiveness to the public, Lewis emphasized, “I really need to know” if a resident is not satisfied with how a county employee handles a concern.

However, he cautioned, staff members “will get things wrong occasionally. They’re humans, not robots.”

He and Maio both pointed out that anyone who needs help with a problem should call the county Contact Center at 861-5000; the person who answers the call will make certain that the information is directed to the appropriate staff, they added.

Speaking of Siesta Promenade …

During the question-and-answer session following the remarks of Commissioner Alan Maio and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis during the March SKA Annual Breakfast Meeting, one attendee asked about the potential of the county to purchase the property slated for the Siesta Promenade project.

“What is the process for us to perhaps get something on a ballot?” Margaret Jean Cannon inquired. “I know that Siesta Key would be very eager to help support that,” she said, and residents perhaps would assist with raising money if the county would try to buy the property from Benderson Development.

Other people in the past have suggested the area could be transformed into a park, she noted, or a site where people could leave vehicles and then take a shuttle onto the Key, making the location a park-and-ride facility.

Lewis responded that he would give her a copy of the guidelines he had brought with him regarding how to seek a citizen-initiated amendment to the Sarasota County Charter.

Of course, he added, if people want to buy property from a landowner, “they can always do that.”

In the 45 days he had been county administrator, Lewis continued, many people had offered suggestions about how the county should spend its money. If county staff were to pursue all of those, he joked, it would need every penny of the $1,131,424,334 in the current fiscal year budget, instead of just the $665,723,169 the County Commission controls, which is part of the General Fund.

As soon as the meeting ended, Lewis brought the charter amendment material to Cannon, as promised.

Cosentino Special Magistrate hearing postponed

As it turned out, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino did not end up appearing before the Code Enforcement Special Magistrate on March 9. His hearing was delayed until April 13, the first available date after March 9, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported.

Asked the reason for the delay, Winchester stated that Cosentino had a conflict with his schedule on the morning of March 9.

The county’s Environmental Permitting Division staff had served Cosentino with an Affidavit of Violation, saying he must remove the portable toilet and Reopen Beach Road sign from property he owns at 10 Beach Road, near Beach Access 2 on Siesta Key. Those structures are violations of the county’s Coastal Setback Code, according to the original Notice of Violation county staff issued in January in the case.

The Code Enforcement Special Magistrate hearings begin at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.

More Code Enforcement officers?

During the Q&A part of the Condo Council meeting, Margaret Jean Cannon asked County Commissioner Alan Maio, “Are we going to get more Code Enforcement [officers on the island]?”

She told him what she has pointed out during Siesta Key Association (SKA) meetings: The two new, multi-story, multi-family units across Beach Road from her condominium have a lot of turnover in guests, which leads to garbage piling up for days before Waste Management makes its weekly rounds for collections.

“I send Code Enforcement a note probably at least once a week,” Cannon said, referring to that situation.

Maio asked her to send him an email, which he then would direct to the appropriate county staff for a response. That way, he said, he would get to see the answer, just as she would.

That might seem like a curt response to her, he added, but that is the best way to make sure she sees the correct answer.

“I do that 20 times a week,” Maio said of his referral of constituent questions to county staff.

During the Feb. 1 SKA meeting, Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer assigned to the Key, talked of her constant efforts to prevent illegal home rentals in areas designated for single-family homes. However, Stahley asked members of that organization to let her know about any problems, saying she would do her best to respond to them.

It all adds up

Regular readers may have seen the March article about the legal fees the parties have incurred in the fight over whether Big Sarasota Pass can be dredged to renourish South Lido Key Beach.

In that report, Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier’s comment that the city had agreed to cover some of the expenses of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), as that organization was allowed to intervene in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case involving the Siesta Key Association, Save Our Siesta Sand 2, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the city.

In February Fournier stated that city staff had not had the opportunity to determine how much of the December 2017 statement the city would pay to the Bradenton firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker, which is representing the LKRA.

On Feb. 20, Fournier was able to provide a follow-up on that last bill. It turns out the city agreed to pay $72,926.55. That reflected $70,596.50 in approved attorneys’ fees and $2,330.05 in associated costs, Fournier wrote in his email.

The December 2017 statement included $139,087.49 for attorneys’ fees. Fournier said the firm charges an hourly rate of $425 for its senior counsel.

The figure the city paid for the associated costs was what Lewis, Longman & Walker had billed.

Those latest figures put the total expenses for the legal challenges close to the $1 million mark.

A permanent generator for Siesta lift station

Under the terms of a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Sarasota will be installing permanent generators at five of its sewer lift stations.

One of those sites is near the intersection of Norsota Way and Siesta Drive, just west of the city’s portion of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park.

The consent order resulted from the spillage of an unknown quantity of untreated wastewater as a result of the rain from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Make Siesta Drive Safer making progress

People who drive regularly on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue may have taken note of the restriping the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has completed in the bad curve on that stretch of road.

In response to questions regarding that work and other improvements on the road, FDOT Government Affairs and Communications Manager Zachary Burch wrote in a Feb. 14 email that the new striping [was undertaken] to better define the Higel [Avenue]/Siesta [Drive] intersection.” However, he continued, the department does not plan to install flexible Qwick Kurb posts as another means of keeping drivers in their lanes as they move through that curve.

“We will continue to monitor the intersection to ensure the effectiveness of the changes” FDOT has made, Burch added in his email.

Among other improvements are new signs to alert drivers to the curve and radar signs stressing that motorists should slow to 25 mph before entering the curve, if they are moving faster than that speed.

During a January Make Siesta Drive Safer presentation to Siesta Key Association members, Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association noted that the installation of the Qwick Kurb posts was a measure FDOT also was considering.

The Make Siesta Drive Safer committee of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association was organized almost exactly 11 months ago to push for improvements to make State Road 758 safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians between South Osprey Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. Members especially have been focused on the Higel/Siesta curve.

Siesta Sand
Author: Siesta Sand

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