Smith keeps tabs on SK issues

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Bathrooms, extended trolley, beach smoking ban all brought back to light

By John Morton


Late last summer, after three businessmen in the Siesta Key Village gave the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners a presentation on the need for a public bathroom facility in the island’s business district, soon-to-be outgoing Chairman Alan Maio told them to “be patient” as the issue was already being addressed.
At the Feb. 22 commission meeting, newly elected board member Mark Smith reminded his colleagues of the importance of this issue. It was one of a few “housekeeping” issues previously addressed by the board that impact Siesta Key, where Smith resides, upon which he provided follow-up.
“There’s a tremendous need for these toilets,” Smith said, noting that management at Beach Bazaar had volunteered to earmark land the business owners have between one of the store’s main doors and the Village gazebo in order to facilitate the project.

Space near the Village gazebo has been offered for a public restroom. (photo by John Morton)

Part of the push last summer was backed by a Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce poll that showed 87% of the respondents favored a public bathroom. The chamber, which also contacted the commissioners, further reported that approximately eight people per day ask about where to go to the bathroom when visiting its Visitor Center in Davidson Plaza. That number represents 40% of the annual inquires received from walk-up visitors.
As of now, the closest public restroom to the Village can be found at Siesta Beach.
Meanwhile, the Siesta Breeze trolley, which stops as its final Village destination between Morton’s Market and the Beach Bazaar, results in a constant flow of bathroom seekers entering the two businesses, representatives told the commission.
Smith asked the board to move the issue to county for as a “board assignment,” which will result in a report for consideration as the notion of moving ahead is discussed. The other commissioners agreed.

The Siesta Key Breeze trolley currently stops at Ocean Boulevard and Canal Road. There is discussion about extending its route a few blocks. (submitted photo)

Next, at the March 7 meeting and speaking of the trolley, Smith asked the board to agree to have county staff look into the idea of expanding the trolley’s travel path by a few blocks, deeper into the Village. Instead of stopping at Canal Road and Ocean Boulevard before turning around and heading back south, a recent addition of a stop sign at Calle Milano and Whispering Sands Way set in place the possibility for another stop and space for a turnaround. That intersection is just shy of the Circle K.
The new route will likely come in the form of a pilot program. Jonathan Lewis, the county administrator, said some boulders placed in the area to probably deter illegal parking would have to be moved, and Smith noted that some right-of-way modifications would need to be addressed.
Finally, on the heels of a scheduled presentation to address a possible smoking ban in Sarasota County parks and on its beaches last fall being eliminated by Commissioner Nancy Detert, Smith asked that the topic return to the commission’s debate table. Last spring, state Sen. Joe Gruters, who represents Siesta Key, finally after several tries got backing on a smoking ban for cigarettes and cigars with plastic tips. Litter, more than concerns over second-hand smoke, was the deal maker this time around, Gruters reported. Beginning July 1, individual counties and municipalities in Florida had the choice whether or not to impose the ban.
However, Detert had subsequently said that more public education and information needed to disbursed before a possible vote should go down. Both Longboat Key and the city of Sarasota enacted the ban last fall.
Now, Sarasota County will address the topic in an upcoming commission meeting. Such a ban locally was indeed in place for six years until 2013, when it was ruled unconstitutional.
The topic resurfaced, coincidentally, shortly after Dr. Stephen Leatherman, known as “Dr. Beach” in relation to his well-publicized best-of-beach rankings, was nominated in February for a World Health Organization Award thanks to his ongoing quest to see smoking banned on public beaches.
Leatherman, who has twice named Siesta Beach No. 1 in America, has worked closely with both Gruters and leaders of the Siesta Key Association regarding a potential ban. He gives extra points to beaches that have one in place.
With tourism dollars no-doubt linked to high-profile beach rankings, Smith has said the time is right to revisit the subject matter.
“I think it would be a step in the right direction,” he said, with Detert adding her support.


John Morton
Author: John Morton

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