Attorney for south Siesta resident urges county commissioners to consider administrative law judge’s ruling in Siesta hotel case before letting Siesta Promenade construction proceed

Status of proposed parallel parking spaces for mixed-use project expected to be part of Sept. 27 public hearing discussion

This aerial map shows the area where Siesta Promenade is planned, outlined in yellow. Pine Shores Estates borders it to the north and west. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With the issue of parallel parking spaces on two neighborhood streets apparently unresolved, numerous residents of Pine Shores Estates are expected to appear before the Sarasota County Commission on Sept. 27, as the board conducts a public hearing on petitions regarding changes to the 2018 plans for the mixed-use Siesta Promenade project.

Yet, another longstanding issue — bolstered by a recent 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling — also is likely to be aired during that hearing, The Sarasota News Leader has learned. An attorney for a south Siesta Key resident has maintained that Siesta Promenade never should have won County Commission approval on Dec. 12, 2018, because neither the project team nor county staff took into consideration the impacts the development is expected to have on neighboring Siesta Key.

As planned, Siesta Promenade would comprise 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space on approximately 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

In an Aug. 1 letter to county leaders — included in the Siesta Promenade-related correspondence in the Sept. 27 agenda packet — Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes stressed that an early April ruling by a Florida administrative law judge should have bearing on any new action regarding Siesta Promenade.

He was referring to a Final Order issued by Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk in a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case involving the first high-rise hotel that the County Commission majority approved for Siesta Key, on Oct. 27, 2021. Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez had filed a DOAH challenge of that commission vote, contending that it violated a longstanding policy in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 says that residential density and intensity on the county’s barrier islands cannot exceed the level in place as of March 13, 1989.

Before voting 3-2 to approve the plans for an eight-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels located between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, the commissioners approved an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that eliminated the counting of “transient accommodations” — the county term for hotel and motel rooms — for residential purposes. The amendment applied to most of the unincorporated areas of the county.

Originally, the Calle Miramar project team had sought a Comprehensive Plan amendment to achieve the same goal. However, county Planning Division staff agreed later with the project team that national standards called for classifying hotel and motel rooms as a commercial purpose; thus, they should not be counted toward residential density. Therefore, the project team withdrew its proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment and, instead, sought the UDC modification.

In her Final Order, Van Wyk explained that, after analyzing county documents and testimony in the Ramirez case — and holding a hearing in November 2022 — she found that the county’s 1981 Comprehensive Plan “specifically discusses the Barrier Islands as an area of special concern, acknowledging the ‘problems associated with development on the barrier islands,’ including ‘the detrimental effect of building along the active beach areas’ and ‘difficulties of evacuating large numbers of people from the Keys in time of emergency.”

Moreover, she pointed out, that 1981 plan described Siesta Key as “ ‘highly developed’ and ‘contain[ing] some of the County’s most intensive residential development.’ ” That plan “then states that it ‘recognizes the existing development represents the maximum levels of development on the Keys[.]’ (emphasis added).”

Representing south Siesta resident James Wallace, attorney Brookes referenced another portion of Van Wyk’s decision in his letter to the commissioners, Findings of Fact Nos. 14-17, with his emphasis, as shown:

“There are only two bridges — Siesta Drive Bridge and Stickney Point Road Bridge — that provide access and evacuation routes to the mainland from Siesta Key. Both of the bridges are designated as constrained roads by the Comprehensive Plan. A constrained road is defined by the Comprehensive Plan as a road with ‘a level of service lower than the adopted standard.’ The level of service provided by the bridges is classified as ‘D.’ This means that while on the bridges, ‘[s]peed and freedom to maneuver are severely restricted. Small increases in traffic will generally cause operational problems at this level.’ The Comprehensive Plan states that constrained roads are common throughout the County and therefore the County has accepted ‘an additional responsibility . . . in its review and approval of LDRs [land development regulations]. Therefore, the County must base approvals of [land development regulations, such as the approval of the Calle Miramar hotel] on ‘maintaining the existing level of service of [constrained] roadways and to not allow the existing operating conditions to be degraded.’ “

This chart shows the levels of service for roads in the area of the planned Siesta Promenade development. ‘Trips’ refers to the extra vehicles anticipated on those roads after the project has been completed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Brookes pointed out that when the County Commission agreed to the plans for Siesta Promenade as designed, one of the construction stipulations was that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) approve the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of Avenue B and C with Stickney Point Road, between U.S. 41 and the Stickney Point Road drawbridge that FDOT maintains.

Brookes also noted a July 25, 2016 letter from an FDOT official to Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, “warning that development on the [northwest] corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point [Road] would need to not generate traffic that would further exacerbate this intersection’s frequent lockup conditions.”

Brookes added that the letter “stated that possible improvements to this already very heavily used intersection had been maxed out.”

He continued, “Given this FDOT letter, it is hardly surprising that the judge in her DOAH Decision specifically stated that the decision applied not only to the Barrier Island but also specifically stated that the decision applied equally to Stickney Point Rd. Obviously, this access road’s performance is extremely critical to Hurricane evacuation and medical emergency vehicle travel times onto Siesta Key and then to a hospital on the mainland.”

Noting that, since the 2018 commission vote on Siesta Promenade, the Stickney Point Road had been transferred to county ownership, Brookes stressed, “[I]t would be illegal for Sarasota County … to approve the new intersection and, more importantly make functional a new traffic signal that stands ready for such action. … All changes made to Stickney Point Road and the neighborhood must be reversed … because the County must base approvals on ‘maintaining the existing level of service of [constrained] roadways and to not allow the existing operating conditions to be degraded.’ ”

Further, Brookes contended that the county commissioners had not received a proper briefing by the staff of the Office of the County Attorney “on these critical legal matters …”

Pointing out that the traffic signal had been installed but not put into operation at Avenue B and C, Brookes wrote, “We call for an immediate and the complete cessation of all building permits associated with Siesta Promenade …”

As of Sept. 20, county staff reported that the stoplight still has not become operational. In response to a News Leader inquiry, the Public Works staff wrote in an email, “It is expected to be put into operation once the development for which it was required (Siesta Promenade) is constructed.”

If that signal becomes operational, Brookes maintained, it will stop east-west traffic “dead in its [tracks] every 85 seconds. This will further degrade, not improve, the level of service [on Stickney Point Road].”

The parallel parking questions

This is the version of the Siesta Promenade Binding Development Concept Plan shown to the Planning Commission, with the parallel parking spaces. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In regard to the parallel parking spaces: When Benderson Development Co. of University Park, the developer of Siesta Promenade, submitted the revised plans for the project to county staff earlier this year, the materials showed parallel parking spaces along Glencoe and Crestwood avenues, adjacent to the Siesta Promenade perimeter. Residents of Pine Shores Estates, which borders the development, were taken aback by that change, they told members of the county’s Planning Commission in late July.

Sura Kochman, leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, which had spent years fighting the proposed residential density and intensity of Siesta Promenade, explained to the planning commissioners during a July 20 hearing on proposed changes to the Siesta Promenade layout that she had worked with Donald DeBerry, senior manager in the Public Works Department’s Transportation Division, on traffic-calming measures for Pine Shores. That effort began, she said, after too few residents approved specific traffic-calming proposals on a ballot sent to them.

Many of the neighborhood’s residences are owned by people who use them as second homes or rent them through online platforms such as Airbnb, Kochman added, a point that she had conveyed to county transportation staff. Thus, Spencer Anderson, director of Public Works, suggested she and DeBerry collaborate, she told the planning commissioner.

She and DeBerry agreed to send new ballots to property owners in specific quadrants of Pine Shores, with a proposed traffic-calming measure for each quadrant. That proved to be a successful undertaking, Kochman said.

Yet, during the July 20 Planning Commission hearing, Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, stressed that parallel parking spaces have proven to be a traffic-calming measure nationwide. The company came up with that idea, he indicated, following the difficulty of gaining Pine Shores residents’ support for other ideas that employees of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota had suggested during two virtual workshops with residents in 2021. The workshops were conducted on Benderson’s behalf.

Pine Shores residents who joined Kochman in remarks to the planning commissioners on July 20 voiced strong opposition to the proposed parallel parking spaces, stressing that they would result in accidents, including possible injuries and deaths.

DeBerry of Public Works told the planning commissioners that research he had undertaken showed that parallel parking spaces are “less safe than no parallel parking.”

Ultimately, all but one member of the Planning Commission voted in favor of recommending that the County Commission approve the revised Siesta Promenade plans, but without the parallel parking spaces.

This is the 2018 Binding Development Concept Plan for Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the August Development Concept Plan for Siesta Promenade, with other details. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The rest of the changes are related to Benderson’s purchase of two single-family home parcels in Pine Shores, next to the project area, comprising 0.78 acres. The inclusion of that land allowed the project team to “smooth out” the development’s perimeter adjacent to Pine Shores and adjust the locations of planned structures.

In response to the Planning Commission vote, county Planning Division staff wrote in an Executive Summary for the Sept. 27 hearing that the parallel parking spaces had been omitted from the Binding Development Concept Plan for Siesta Promenade.

As the News Leader had not seen such action in the past, the News Leaderinquired of county staff why the Executive Summary was written in that manner. The Planning Division response, received via email on Sept. 6, explained: “The staff report brings forward the Planning Commission’s recommendations which included no paved parallel parking; materials were updated accordingly to reflect the recommendation.”

The Sept. 27 County Commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center standing at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. It had been planned for Aug. 30. However, out of concern about potential impacts from Hurricane Idalia, the hearing was rescheduled to Sept. 27. It is the next-to-last item on that agenda.

Because the commission no longer has staff organize meetings into morning and afternoon sessions — and items can be moved up or delayed on an agenda, based on circumstances that arise during the meetings — the News Leadercannot predict when the Siesta Promenade hearing will begin.

1 thought on “Attorney for south Siesta resident urges county commissioners to consider administrative law judge’s ruling in Siesta hotel case before letting Siesta Promenade construction proceed”

  1. This Benderson development has always been a monstrous mistake, for which the commissioners who voted to approve should be remembered at election time. Their failure to address traffic impacts on Siesta Key is unconscionable and, until those impacts are quantified, any development should be suspended.

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