Siesta Key Island Chatter

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Staff report

Siesta Key Condominium Council 2019 HOLIDAY LIGHTING CONTEST

The holidays are fast approaching.  Now is the time to register for this year’s Holiday Condominium Lighting Contest!  The contest is open to condominiums who are members in good standing (including dues paid current to date) of the Siesta Key Condominium Council.

The deadline for registering your condominium’s participation is Friday December 6, 2019 at 5:00 PM. Judging will take place on the evening of December 11, 2019.  The judges will depart from the Chamber of Commerce at 6:00 PM. 

A first, second and third place winner will be selected from each of three different categories:

Category I: 101 or more units, Category II: 51-100 units and Category III: 50 or fewer units.

Co-sponsored by: Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Siesta Sand and Siesta Trolley, Inc.

Grand opening

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting for the Grand Opening of Siesta Creamery located at 6675 Midnight Pass Road on the November 22. The group enjoyed freshly made ice cream and Amish donuts.

Membership meeting notice

The Siesta Key Condominium Council will hold a meeting on Tuesday, December 10 at 3:00 PM at the Siesta Key Chapel, 4615 Gleason Ave. on Siesta Key.  

The main speaker will be Mike Angers from Brown and Brown Agency discussing hurricanes past implications and how past hurricanes affect the future association and property owners.

Other topics are the Florida Condo Insurance Legal Update Associations and Property Owners Future Condo and Owner Insurance costs Citizens and Other Firms. Last, how Wind and Floor Policies Respond to Catastrophic events, wrapping with a question and answer session with audience.

County staff working through process for new parking lot

During a Nov. 5 County Commission discussion about transportation priorities for 2020, Commissioner Alan Maio asked County Engineer Spencer Anderson about the status of a parking lot project on South Midnight Pass Road.

Staff has been working at the board’s behest for more than two years to create public spaces on property the county owns at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road.

Anderson replied that county staff conducted a community workshop on Oct. 15 on the Key. The next step will be a Planning Commission hearing, as staff works toward formal County Commission approval of a Special Exception to create the parking lot, Anderson added, as no public parking ever has been allowed on that site.

Anderson indicated that he and his staff hoped to have the necessary Planning Commission and County Commission public hearings scheduled soon.

“Wow. Great,” Maio replied. “Thank you.”

Maio had noted that he frequently gets questions about the timeline for that project.

The Public Works Department staff told SNL on Nov. 12 that the Planning Commission is expected to address the issue in the first quarter of 2020. Generally, it takes a couple of months after the Planning Commission addresses an issue before the matter is placed on a County Commission agenda.

A building at the rear of the property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road houses a 1-million-gallon water tank that was built decades ago — according to historical records, SKA leaders say — to help with fighting fires on the island. The parking lot has been planned for the portion of the parcel closer to the road. Previously, a building the Sheriff’s Office used for training purposes stood on the front of the parcel. After the Sheriff’s Office in 2017 relocated a number of its divisions to a new headquarters on Cattleridge Boulevard in Sarasota, county staff demolished the structure.

The short-term rental saga continues

Having become a seasonal resident himself, SKA Director Joe Volpe stood before members at the November meeting for the first time in months. “I’m back,” he said, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s oft-repeated line from The Shining.

Volpe then reported on what he believed would be a big factor in reducing the short-term rental problems that have agitated many homeowners on the Key over the past few years.

It had become his understanding, Volpe said, that if a house was built after 2003 in a Residential Multi-Family (RMF) zoning district, then that house could not be rented more than once every 30 days.

The 30-day standard applies in all Single-Family Residential (RSF) zoning districts, county staff has pointed out on many occasions.

When SNL checked with county staff to verify that Volpe’s information was correct, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant contacted the county Planning and Development Services Department, which oversees the Code Enforcement Division.

Referring to Volpe’s belief about the rule for homes built in RMF districts after 2003, Grant wrote, “In short that is inaccurate.” She added that Planning and Development Services “confirmed there is not a ‘rule’ regarding RMF to that nature.”

She also attached a fact sheet that outlines the rental process. It appeared to SNL that the fact sheet was similar to one Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development Services, handed out to SKA members during a meeting in January, when the focus was on potential measures to deal with complaints about short-term rentals.

Below is the section of county regulations regarding such rentals in the RMF district on the barrier islands:

“Short-term rentals for periods of less than 30 days are permitted on the barrier islands as follows: (5.3.2.g.)”

“In the RMF Districts, short-term rental of single-family, two-family, townhouse or multifamily dwellings is permitted only on the Barrier Islands in accordance with the … following standards:

“1. Such dwelling units may be rented for periods of less than 30 days.

“2.  The owner or managing agent of real property that is offered for rent or lease shall maintain records, including the names and addresses of the lessees, that are adequate to establish the period for which a unit is rented and the number of family members or unrelated individuals occupying the premises during each rental period.

“3.  All of the additional requirements of the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD), Section 4.10.4, shall apply.”

Blasé Bistro opens in Southside Village

Cindy Breslin and Kevin Skiest opened the second Blasé Bistro & Martini Bar, at 1920 Hillview St. in the Southside Village November 14. The restaurant offers a romantic French-Mediterranean feel, with art décor similar to the longtime Siesta Key location. The original, marble curved bar from The Don CeSar hotel on St. Pete Beach, from the Siesta Key location has been moved to the Southside Village restaurant.

Blasé Bistro & Martini Bar is open Monday-Saturday from 5 p.m. until midnight. For more information, visit or call 941-312-6850.

Questions about the barge off Turtle Beach

SNL learned in mid-November that a barge was anchored off Turtle Beach for several days. Readers, of course, were curious about why it was there, so SNL contacted Sarasota County staff and public information officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

On Nov. 15, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant wrote in an email that she had checked with Siesta and Waterway Access staff, but no one was sure about the status of the vessel. However, she continued, staff who had gone out with a Sea Tow employee heard from that person that the barge and an accompanying tug were seeking safe harbor because of the rougher seas produced by the elements of the cold front that had reached Florida.

SNL was unable to learn more from FWC public information officers before the Siesta Sand deadline for this month’s publication.

A misstatement about Sperling Park

One Lido Key resident who addressed the County Commission on a couple of recent occasions — urging the board to allow Lido Key Renourishment Project staging in the county’s Ted Sperling Park — pointed out that the county’s own contractor for the renourishment of Turtle Beach used the park for staging.

Therefore, Scott Ashby indicated, the County Commission should have no qualms about allowing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) contractor to do the same thing Weeks Marine of Covington, La., did on the county’s behalf several years ago.

SNL  asked county staff to verify that Ashby was correct in his assertion.

In a Nov. 12 email, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant wrote, “When Sarasota County performed the second South Siesta Key Beach Nourishment in 2016, the staging area was at Turtle Beach (the shell parking lot next to Turtle Beach Campground). The city used the Lido Pool site for staging when Lido Key Beach/Tropical Storm Debby repairs were done in 2015.”

Thus, Ashby was misinformed when he made his remarks to the County Commission.

Laughing gull necropsies so far have failed to determine source of illness

Save Our Seabirds has not treated any more sick laughing gulls since late October, Jonathan Hande, senior hospital technician for the nonprofit rescue organization, told The Sarasota News Leader in mid-November.

That is the good news, Hande pointed out. However, necropsies that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) conducted on two of the deceased birds so far had not yielded a definitive cause for the illness that was striking gulls on Siesta and Lido keys, as well as on an area near Anna Maria Island, in late September and early October.

In an early October interview, Hande suspected botulism as the source of the illness, as it is naturally occurring in the soil. He noted that laughing gulls are scavengers that will eat practically anything, and botulism spreads quickly from one sick bird to another.

During a Nov. 13 telephone interview, Hande explained that he understood that the birds on which FWC staff had performed necropsies “tested positive for aspergillosis,” which is a fungal infection of the respiratory system.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says aspergillosis is “caused by Aspergillus, a common mold … that lives indoors and outdoors. Most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick.”

“It usually doesn’t kill things,” Hande said of the infection. However, he added, it can contribute to the death of a bird that already is immune-compromised.

The CDC points out that people with weakened immune systems or lung diseases “are at higher risk of developing health problems due to Aspergillus.”

Rachel Pettit, avian hospital technician at Save Our Seabirds, reported in early October that the ill birds brought to the nonprofit’s facilities on City Island, near Mote Marine Laboratory, were severely dehydrated and lethargic, and they had difficulty eating.

His understanding, Hande continued on Nov. 13, is that FWC is going to undertake more research to try to make a determination about the primary cause of death in the laughing gulls.

Although he said he had no idea when he might be able to learn the results of those additional tests, he is eager for more information. “I would always rather have an answer.”

In fact, he continued, “I have three other birds to send them” if FWC wants to undertake more necropsies.

If FWC can pinpoint a cause, Hande pointed out, then he and the other Save Our Seabirds staff members would know how to treat birds in the future if any were brought in with the same symptoms seen earlier. Even more important, he said, the staff would be better prepared to try to prevent other gulls from getting sick.

Happy 70th birthday to the SKA

On Nov. 12, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) marked its 70th birthday. In light of that milestone, President Catherine Luckner reported to members attending the Nov. 7 meeting that the focus for the SKA’s annual meeting in March will be the nonprofit’s history.

Still, she shared some tidbits of those early days with the approximately 40 people who were present on Nov. 7.

For example: “Do you know when the bridges were built [to the Key]?” she teased.

Looking into “historic notes of people from long before my time,” she said, she had learned that the primary reason for the incorporation of the SKA was to create zoning protection for property owners on the island. “We’re known for that.”

In 1950, Luckner continued, the SKA leaders took on the initiative of going to the Florida Legislature to seek approval of zoning regulations for Siesta Key. Sarasota County Government then followed that lead, working on a zoning code for the rest of the unincorporated areas of the county, Luckner added.

“Our partnership with the county has also been close,” she said.

Turning to the topic of bridges, Luckner continued, “The first president we had was so mad” because he could not seem to get anywhere in his call for a new Stickney Point Road Bridge.

He finally quit his position with the SKA, Luckner noted. Then, about six years later, the new, wider bridge was constructed.

“We have a long history of working with the state on things like this.”

Another big issue for the SKA decades ago was fire and rescue service on the island, Luckner pointed out. “We actually funded one of the first fire/rescue trucks here,” raising $48,000 for “a complete modern ambulance” for the fire station. That was in May 1975, she added. “Doesn’t seem that long ago, does it?”

The SKA also worked to establish what became the Siesta Key Utility Authority (SKUA), which provided water and sewer service for island residents.

People who lived on the Key when the SKUA was in existence “swear it was the best water anyone ever had,” Luckner noted. She had heard that from acquaintances who handled water sampling around the state, she added.

Long-time Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce leader Mark Smith — who also served many years ago on the SKA board — concurred with Luckner about the quality of the SKUA drinking water.

As the water kept winning numerous awards for its taste, Luckner said with a laugh, she began to wonder, “What is in that water? … Those were the good ol’ days.”

Proposal to punish the county over Sperling Park issue

During the public remarks period at the start of the Nov. 4 Sarasota City Commission meeting, two Lido Key residents brought up the issue of the city board’s request of the County Commission for use of the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as a staging area for the Lido Renourishment Project.

On Oct. 7, the City Commission approved a formal letter, making that request, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has estimated would save $1 million on the overall expense of the Lido initiative.

The first speaker on Nov. 4, Scott Ashby, referred to remarks that Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown had made during the Nov. 2 meeting of the City Council of Neighborhood Associations (CCNA). During the Nov. 18 City Commission meeting, Ashby said, the county is going to make a formal request to use city right of way as the county constructs a new cooling plant for the Judicial Center, the Sarasota County jails and other county offices.

Brown had described the request as a standard matter of cooperation between the two local governments.

However, Ashby continued, the situation between the city and the county in regard to the proposed staging in Sperling Park “hasn’t been easy at all.”

Ashby indicated that if the county wanted city permission to use that right of way in downtown Sarasota for the “chiller,” then “perhaps the county could reciprocate and give the city a little slack on the Lido project.”

The next speaker was blunter.

Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), said he had not known that Ashby planned to address the city commissioners that day. Shoffstall then noted that he, too, had heard Deputy City Manager Brown’s remarks at the CCNA meeting.

“Not wanting to be very adversarial or confrontational with the county,” Shoffstall continued, he found it “absolutely ridiculous or absurd that [the county commissioners] will not let the Corps use [a portion of Sperling Park] to save a million dollars.”

Shoffstall told the city board members, “I would think about that long and hard, that I would let ’em use that right of way [for the chiller].”

He concluded his remarks by saying, “I don’t like to be like that, except I’m flustered.”

In his long-time capacity as leader of the LKRA, Shoffstall has been one of the most vocal advocates for the long-term Lido Renourishment Project.

Later during the Nov. 4 City Commission meeting, City Manager Tom Barwin pointed out that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis planned to seek direction from the County Commission about how to proceed on the staging issue. Barwin added that he knew USACE representatives had spoken with Lewis and had been “quite candid” about the prospective cost savings.

Then Barwin said, “Nobody has volunteered to pay that [1-million-dollar] difference just yet. No surprise.”

The following day, the County Commission voted 4-1 to ask county staff to work with city staff on an agreement that would give the county recourse if two groins planned for construction on South Lido, as part of the renourishment initiative, end up causing damage to the park or Siesta Key. Commissioner Alan Maio cast the “No” vote, citing the refusal of the USACE to undertake an in-depth environmental analysis of the proposed project.

In February, the city commissioners split 3-2 in agreeing to allow its staff to take $2.1 million out of what Barwin had called an “insurance policy” to use in mitigating any unforeseen ramifications of what the USACE officially calls the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project. The $2.1 million was needed partly for an emergency renourishment initiative on Lido and partly for the long-range USACE project, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw explained at the time.

That action left $400,000 in the fund, which the city created in February 2017 to try to assuage Siesta Key residents and organizations that long have been worried about the potential for harm to Big Pass and Siesta’s shoreline as a result of the design of the USACE project.

On Nov. 5, County Administrator Lewis did not offer a timeline for completion of the draft agreement for County Commission review. It was not included on the board’s agenda for its regular meeting on Nov. 19.

The last set of County Commission meetings before Christmas was planned for Dec. 10 and Dec. 11.

Siesta Sand
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