The segment of vacated road will remain accessible to the public ‘in perpetuity’ and no construction will occur on property seaward of it, Charles Bailey III stresses
As part of almost an hour of public comments and exchanges with the Sarasota County commissioners on Aug. 23, a Sarasota attorney tried to dispel what he called “fantastic lies” being spread by opponents to the board’s May 11 vacation of an approximately 360-foot-long stretch of North Beach Road on Siesta Key.
Charles Bailey III of Sarasota’s Williams Parker firm said he had not planned to address the board that morning during the Open to the Public portion of the meeting. However, he added, comments from 13 residents who had inaccurately characterized the board’s action prompted him to speak.
Bailey represents the three couples who petitioned the commission to vacate the road segment, which has been off limits to vehicular traffic since 1993. On a 4-1 vote, the board agreed to the abandonment of that portion of North Beach Road after Bailey proffered stipulations from his clients that public access to the area “in perpetuity” — including the 60-foot right of way — would be memorialized as part of a resolution of the board’s action.
“The public will continue to have access over the roadway for pedestrians, bicyclists, Segways, electric vehicles, pets,” Bailey stressed on Aug. 23. “If they want to plant a beach chair [in the middle of the road],” he continued, they will be free to do so.
Additionally, Bailey pointed out that the agreement between his clients and the county calls for a 5-foot wide public easement to be granted from the road across the beach to the Gulf of Mexico. That was a request Commissioner Charles Hines made prior to the May 11 vote, and the three couples were willing to comply.
County spokesman Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader via email on Aug. 24, “To date, the easements have not been provided [to county staff]. Due to active litigation, we cannot provide any other information at this time.”
Siesta Key resident Mike Cosentino filed a complaint against the county in June, arguing that the board violated a section of the county’s Comprehensive Plan in its North Beach Road action.
During an Aug. 24 telephone interview with the News Leader, Bailey said, “We are in the process of getting [the easements] recorded.” The delay, he added, is “not unusual” for that type of legal process.
As he had on May 11, Bailey told the commissioners on Aug. 23 that bollards will be erected at either end of the 360-foot segment of North Beach Road to prevent motorized vehicles from using it.
“I am sorry for the mistruths that are being spread,” Bailey continued. “I don’t know if [people are] consciously and strategically twisting the truth, but it is very regrettable. We are going to work to tamp that out.”
Pleas and assertions
As he has numerous times since the board took the May action, Cosentino pleaded with the commissioners again on Aug. 23 to reverse their decision. He has praised Commissioner Christine Robinson for casting the only “No” vote.
“Obviously, you are going to keep seeing me until we get this thing straightened out,” Cosentino said this week. “I think I’ve bent over backwards being nice and calling this a mistake on your part.”
Seeking redress of the road vacation, he continued, “has been my full-time job since the middle of May, seven days a week, 16 hours a day. I’ve been through thousands of pages of county documents …”
North Beach Road has been a county road since 1921, Cosentino said. “I have been nice … You need to change your votes. … This shouldn’t be a confrontational issue.”
“The board’s action is final,” County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh explained at one point. The board cannot “undo its previous vote.”
Referencing Cosentino’s lawsuit, DeMarsh added that it had been filed but, thus far, has not been served on the county.
Last week, Cosentino told the News Leader that the law allows 120 days for such service.
Adding their voices
Twelve supporters of Cosentino followed him to the podium, a number of them saying they had lived on Siesta Key for decades. Several told the board the road segment should be repaired so vehicles can access it.
David Patton, a Siesta resident since 1958 and a former restaurant owner on the island, said, “I am so disappointed in the fact that we have not adequately maintained that stretch of road.” He added that he and his family members own eight houses in Sarasota and, therefore, are taxpayers. “That’s what you use my taxes for, right? … Adequately maintain county property? This is going to get really ugly, folks.”
Linda Valley, another Siesta resident, said she fears that the vacation will lead to condominiums being built on the shoreline, because once the property “is in private hands,” no guarantee exists that the landowners will refrain from such construction.
In response to a question from Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo, Bailey explained that the May 11 vote “ensures that no condos will ever be constructed” on parcels his three clients own that are seaward of the roadway.
At that point, Chair Al Maio chastised audience members for their reactions to Bailey’s remarks. Maio pointed out that the board members had “listened patiently” as other speakers had talked from 1 to 3 minutes. “The way these things spiral out of control is when there is the laughing, the jeering or anything else from the audience. I would ask you to have the manners that everybody else had when you or your friends were up here speaking.”
Maio added, “We know how intense this is. … If it’s handled calmly, there isn’t anything that breaks our protocol.”
As one speaker earlier pointed out, Maio continued, “This is the difference between us and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.” If people in Russia were to say things to the government that they had told the County Commission that morning, Maio pointed out, “somebody [would visit] you at your house at midnight. That doesn’t happen here.”
Beginning again, Bailey said that comments he has heard about condominiums being planned on those Gulf-side parcels and “security guards telling the public to stay out of that area are fantastic lies.”
Hines suggested to Bailey that he obtain more recent aerial views of that seaward property. Bailey’s photo showed partially submerged lots, when that is not the present situation, Hines said. “I think that was part of [the reason for the] snickers [in the audience].”
Bailey also pointed out that “vacation” is a legal term, referencing Chapter 177 of the Florida Statutes. Section 101(3) of that chapter says, “The governing bodies of the counties of the state may adopt resolutions vacating plats in whole or in part of subdivisions in said counties, returning the property covered by such plats either in whole or in part into acreage. Before such resolution of vacating any plat either in whole or in part shall be entered by the governing body of a county, it must be shown that the persons making application for said vacation own the fee simple title to the whole or that part of the tract covered by the plat sought to be vacated, and it must be further shown that the vacation by the governing body of the county will not affect the ownership or right of convenient access of persons owning other parts of the subdivision.”
Yet another speaker supporting Cosentino — Tim Crowley —complained to the County Commission that over the July Fourth holiday weekend, one of the adjacent landowners put up a sign at one end of the road that said, “Private property. No public access.” He showed the commissioners a photo he had taken of it.
Maio responded that the board members received emails about that situation and made certain county staff had the sign taken down quickly.
Hines asked Bailey to ensure that none of his clients would put up such signs — if, in fact, one of them was responsible for that July action.
“Yes, sir,” Bailey replied.