“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.