This map indicates the location of the 22 new angled parking spots that may reside on Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Key’s Village.
By Rachel Brown Hackney
With no one having signed up to address the issues, the Sarasota County commissioners took just barely more than a minute on Jan. 26 to approve a $610,000 budget amendment for two controversial Siesta Key projects — the construction of 22 parking spaces in county right-of-way on the northern end of Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village, plus a roundabout planned for the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Beach Road.
With the agenda item listed as a “presentation upon request,”none of the board members asked for staff remarks.
After closing the public hearing, Chairman Alan Maio asked for “a motion and a second.”
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the budget amendment, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.
Then Maio looked down the dais at his colleagues as he asked, “Any comments?” No one responded, so he proceeded with the vote, noting that he was supporting the measure, as well.
A staff memo in the meeting packet noted that on Nov. 17 the commissioners unanimously requested that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis amend the 2021 fiscal year budget to add the parking-space project at an estimated expense of $250,000.
Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, said that if the commissioners approved the budget amendment, construction possibly could begin in the fall or near the end of this year. However, he said “That is a very rough estimate at this stage.”
The staff memo also noted, “The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce provided project proposal information to surrounding community groups about the parking plan. The Siesta Key Association (SKA), the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) and the Whispering Sands Condominium Association have provided written and oral feedback against the new proposed angled parking (spaces),” citing safety concerns.
The right-of-way where the majority of the new parking spots are planned is in front of a section of Whispering Sands.
Funding for both the parking spaces and the design of the roundabout — which is anticipated to cost $360,000 — falls “within the scope of the Operations, Safety and Signalization Program (Capital Improvement Program) project,” the staff memo said. The funds will come out of gas-tax revenue the county receives, the memo added.
On Oct. 6, local architect Mark Smith, a long-time director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, appeared before the commissioners to revive the proposal for the Village parking spots. Smith pointed out that the plan arose out of his discussions in 2015 with Maio on the need to expand public parking in the Village.
Smith then showed the commissioners a concept he had created, with 18 spaces on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, across from the Old Salty Dog restaurant, and four more in front of the former Lofino Building, which is just north of the Old Salty Dog.
“Parking is a premium on Siesta Key,” Smith said, “and this, we believe, is a good solution. … What we’d be removing is palmetto and cabbage palms.”
Five years ago, Maio said “We didn’t have the money for this.” Five years later, he said “We’ll find the money.”
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis tasked Anderson of public works with analyzing Smith’s proposal and coming up with an estimate for the work.
The Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association have been adamant opponents of the plan.
Both nonprofits have stressed that the angled parking spots will create hazards for drivers trying to back out of the spaces as vehicles enter the Village. Not only do vehicles tend to speed entering the area from the north — as SKA members frequently have complained — but large delivery trucks often are parked in the center turn lane so deliveries can be made to area businesses.
Further, SKA president Catherine Luckner has said the affected section of the sidewalk is one of the few wide enough for pedestrians and bicyclists to share with ease, “and we need to keep those wide spaces.”
During the SKA’s Jan. 7 meeting, Luckner and members continued to talk about their opposition to the parking spaces.
Views regarding the roundabout
As for the roundabout, a survey county staff conducted last year regarding residents’ view of the proposal found that 29.89% of respondents preferred improvements to the signalized intersection, while 32.07% wanted no changes at the at all.
Those who favored a roundabout represented 33.15% of the 552 responses, the Jan. 26 county staff memo noted.
During SKA meetings held since the County Commission agreed to move forward with the roundabout, Luckner has noted the survey results, indicating that it was clear to her that the majority of those who provided responses were opposed to the plan.
Nonetheless, Anderson has emphasized the Florida Department of Transportation’s desire to create more roundabouts, as those structures are seen as safer designs for intersections, with crashes typically resulting in less serious injuries because of reduced vehicle speed.
SKA leaders have put their focus on design facets that will increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. They have emphasized the fact that many walkers and bikers use the Midnight Pass Road/Beach Road intersection in heading to Siesta Public Beach, which is in the same vicinity.
Anderson said that when the roundabout design work has been completed, it will be provided to FDOT “for incorporation into [its] larger resurfacing project on Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point Road to Shadow Lawn Way.
“Construction is anticipated to begin as early as late summer 2022,” Anderson added.
The design must be transferred to FDOT by the end of October, Anderson also noted.
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