Case Status Update: Siesta Promenade Court Hearing
On Monday, October 14, 2019, beginning at 10:30 AM, the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court heard oral arguments regarding the County Commission-approved Siesta Promenade project. The project location, on the NW corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, is of critical concern to residents and visitors using that intersection every day. Sarasota County and developer, Benderson Corporation, restated their previous arguments that this project was appropriate simply because it is consistent with what currently exists on the other three corners of the intersection. Both the County and Benderson argued that this corner should be treated like any other on US 41.
This argument ignores pertinent and critical facts which Attorney Ralf Brookes emphasized to the court:
- The parcel has been vacant for over a decade generating no incremental traffic at the primary access to Siesta Key.
- This 23.8-acre property is primarily zoned residential —totally consistent with the physically adjoining neighborhoods to the North and West.
- As currently configured, the relevant roadways permit easy entry to this NW corner property from North and South-bound U.S. 41 or from West-bound on Stickney Point/Clark Road.
- However, the only way to get such future Siesta Promenade patrons back from whence they came is to install a new, already County Commissioner-approved, traffic light on Stickney Point at Avenue B&C—which is between U.S. 41 and the South bridge.
- Without this new light, Siesta Promenade would be Sarasota’s version of the struggle in the song “Hotel California,” – you can get in but you cannot get out.
A reasonable way to think about the impact of this new traffic light is that, when attempting to enter or exit Siesta Key, using its Stickney Point Road 4-lane primary access, drivers would face a new light turning red/amber and lasting roughly one minute out of every 3 or so minutes. The actual impact of such a new traffic light during tourist season on both ingress and egress to Siesta Key is really almost unimaginable—but in effect, totally ignored by both the County Commissioners and Benderson.
Clearly, this new traffic light would cause even more Siesta Key residents and visitors to feel marooned on the Key particularly between 10 am-2 pm in tourist season. Moreover, some traffic onto and off of Siesta Key, without doubt, would be diverted to the North bridge by the introduction of this new light. The obvious significant negative impact on emergency vehicle performance is very disturbing. This planned new light would cause longer periods of time when all four lanes of traffic are stopped on Stickney Point so that drivers have nowhere to go to get out of the way of emergency vehicles. Residents, especially on the South end of the Key, would be at even greater risk.
In effect, the County’s and Benderson’s attorneys argued before the Court that they could totally ignore such negative ramifications. They claimed before the Court that the so-called CAP Boundary they set from the outset, and did not change throughout the entire, very lengthy Board review and approval process, was appropriate. However, the Boundary they set was literally the boundary of the physical project area itself. Then, totally consistent with their view that this corner should be treated like any other on U.S. 41, out of the 16 intersections they studied, only one was on Siesta Key at Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road.
The above-mentioned adverse impacts on Siesta Key were not ever mentioned. Rather than discuss such matters, the County and Benderson attempted to convince the Court that because they set an (incorrect) Boundary at the outset and never changed it, the Court should be happy with their Transportation Impact Analysis which for all of Siesta Key involved only one intersection. In fact, the CAP Boundary should have included all of Siesta Key as well as the roads from the North bridge back East to U.S. 41.
Then there are the numerous zoning special exceptions granted (changing from primarily residential) with Board approval at the “eleventh hour.”
The County and Benderson continued to argue in Court that it is appropriate to treat this NW corner like any other on U.S. 41, rather than as the primary Gateway to Siesta Key. We argued this is reversible legal error, including Transportation Impact Analysis error, and hopefully, the Court will see it as such.
James P. Wallace III Ph D
Longtime Siesta Key Resident