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Siesta Beach Plan Gets Green Light

Gulf and Bay condos face an ultimatum: give a little or lose it all.

“I’m here to give you an update on the , and how we’re going to enhance it,” Spencer Anderson told Sarasota County Commissioners late Tuesday afternoon. The only problem — the county won’t have all the money for the project until 2024.

Estimates on the cost vary wildly. Once it was $8 million, zooming to $20 million later. Anderson, with the county’s public works department, gave a $17 million price tag on Tuesday.

“But in the next few years, all we have is six or seven million,” said County Commission Chair Nora Patterson. The funding comes from the voter-approved local-option sales tax. Collections have dropped, due to the economy.

When the plan’s latest iteration debuted in May, a variety of objections were raised by Siesta Key residents. Especially critical were residents of the Gulf and Bay condominium at the eastern edge of the public beach. They were concerned about the proximity of parking, and the placement of a maintenance building.

The county held eight public meeting since May to re-shape the plan. The Gulf and Bay residents offered an alternative placement for a stormwater retention pond, putting it adjacent to their property instead of parking and the maintenance building.

The idea proved attractive to commissioners, especially after Anderson said it appears to be financially neutral. For years, the county struggled with that retention pond, after it was found to be the source of bacteria that periodically shut down “the No. 1 beach in America” for health reasons.

Pond improvements will be among the first elements in the beach enhancement plan. A second priority is more parking, although Commissioner Joe Barbetta said that was ultimately futile. “Bigger parking means more cars, more congestion on two-lane roads. People will have to figure out alternative ways to get there,” he said.

The three elements — pond placement, parking and cost — are ultimately related. If the pond goes adjacent to the condominium, the county will lose parking. But if the condominium association agrees to modify easements with the county, ceding some space that would translate into more parking (on the other side of the pond).

“If we relocate this pond, and Gulf and Bay won’t release their easement, we’ll lose 47 spaces,” said Anderson. “We’ll need to work out something with Gulf and Bay. Can you set a time frame?” he asked the commission.

“By our first meeting in September,” said Patterson.

“You’ve got one shot with Gulf and Bay,” said Barbetta. “Otherwise we go with Alternative A,” which is the staff plan putting the pond on Beach Road.

Commissioners made one other change to the staff plan. Aesthetic improvements to Beach Road were in the final phase, but commissioners agreed to push them to the front. The changes will resemble the beautification efforts recently completed in Siesta Village, with new streetlights, better sidewalks and improved landscaping. “We should put that in Phase One,” said Commissioner Jon Thaxton. “That’s our entrance.”

Commissioners gave Anderson approval to continue working on the preliminary design for the beach project — which includes rehabilitating the historic concession building, a new walkway providing greater pedestrian safety, improved restrooms, an activity center, rehabilitated playground, new picnic areas and other amenities.

He’ll return on Sept. 14 for approval to go beyond conceptual planning, and begin seeking permits for all three phases of the project.

TJ July 27, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Maybe the commission should ask the people what they feel needs improvement. The county has cut so many jobs in the parks and recreation department, is their funding in your plan to add more jobs? Everyone knows the bathrooms are disgusting at Siesta Key. Leave everything else alone, after all, it is the taxpayers money, taxpayers are tired of people in government spending money as if it was their own. Very concerning when studies are done and changes are made at the taxpayers expense (parking meters, benches) and you all go back to the drawing board because you meet resistance. That costs the taxpayers and only escalates the end cost of the projects. Only one with common sense on the board is Nora Patterson who has declared what everyone knows, we do not have the money. As for the aesthetics, it was not that long ago changes were made, leave well enough alone. Why don't you ask the Siesta Key residents and businesses if they really enjoy having the drum circle event every Sunday. Would be nice to see that moved to another location, considering the parking and flow of traffic is a nightmare, and it draws some rather questionable behavior, like drug activity. Here we have one of the nicest beaches in America and those of us who used to enjoy the beach stay away from it. If it is so entertaining, make them rent Robarts Arena, sell tickets and generate some much needed revenue. We need common sense changes, just ask the people who put you there.
Jim Diefenderfer July 27, 2011 at 01:59 PM
A simple solution to the Parking Problem (And never seems to be mentioned), is to have dedicated buses (Or other form of transportation) from pickup points for the South Bridge such as Gulf Gate Bus Terminal (Where there is Parking). Another pickup point for the North Bridge to Siesta could be established, with dedicated shuttle vehicles to the Beach and parking for Beach goers on the mainland. These two pickup points and dedicated transportation , it seems, could be done for far less money than attempting to make more Parking at the Beach. Rules could be established as to how much a person can carry to the Beach, rules which would not affect most Beach Visits. The cost to take this Dedicated Transportation should be a minimum amount, and much better than fighting the traffic to the Beach and trying to find a parking place !!!
vern johnson July 28, 2011 at 01:17 AM
Common sense should prevail, why more parking that will attract more cars, especially when there is no money to beautiful the concessions and bathrooms, which are quite primitive for the no.1 beach in the U.S. Beautify beach Drive and work on the facilities that need updateing, and come up with alternate plans to get more people to the beach.

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