Smith wins colleagues’ agreement for Public Works staff presentation at upcoming meeting
Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith has won consensus from his colleagues for a presentation by the director and other staff members of the county’s Public Works Department regarding Smith’s proposal for the creation of a comprehensive traffic model for Siesta Key.
As Smith reminded his fellow commissioners on May 24, he brought up the issue of the analysis during their regular meeting on April 11.
A south Siesta resident, James P. Wallace III, and Bill Oliver of Tampa, a transportation consultant, have created a model that could provide details about traffic conditions and traffic flow on the Key, Smith said during that April meeting. It incorporates factors related to pedestrians and bicyclists, he added.
On May 24, when Smith requested the staff presentation, which would be led by Spencer Anderson, director of Public Works, Smith cited a couple of sections of the May 16 report that Anderson and the department staff had completed for the board members.
Among those sections, Smith read, “The stakeholders assert that incorporating a micro-model specific to Siesta Key will provide a more complete and accurate evaluation of a proposed development’s impact on the public roadway system and should be used as a basis for regulatory review on Siesta Key.”
The report identified the stakeholders as Wallace, Oliver and Robert Luckner, who is the treasurer of the nonprofit Siesta Key Association (SKA).
Following his citation of comments in the report, Smith formally asked for the staff presentation.
The report likened the stakeholders’ proposal to the county’s regulatory process for stormwater permitting for new construction.
Proposed projects exceeding a certain area or imperviousness threshold “must use the County’s standard stormwater modeling software to evaluate the project’s impact on the overall drainage basin,” the report explains. “If the stormwater model indicates the proposed project will increase flood stages by more than 0.01 [feet] at any offsite location or ‘node’ in the stormwater model,” the report adds, “then the proposed project must be redesigned to eliminate that increase. Although the development community often considers it excessive, the County’s stormwater permitting process is an objective, specific, consistent and effective tool resulting in a community with an excellent level of flood protection.”
That process “is performed during Site and Development permitting,” the report points out. “Site and Development” refers to the exchanges between representatives of a developer who has won project approval and county staff members charged with ensuring that every detail of the final design and engineering work complies with county regulations and policies. That process must be completed before construction can begin.
On May 24, when Chair Ron Cutsinger asked for consensus for the discussion item to be placed on an upcoming board agenda, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis noted that Anderson and other county staff members should be the only ones to address the commissioners during the formal presentation. He cited state procurement law as the reason.
However, Lewis said, any potential vendor would be able to address the commissioners during an Open to the Public period of a County Commission meeting.
Commissioner Michael Moran responded that he had wanted to be certain the commission did not flout the legalities of the procurement process.
Following those remarks, Cutsinger again looked at his colleagues and then told Lewis that consensus existed for the scheduling of the staff presentation.
Anderson told The Sarasota News Leader on June 6 that the agenda item has been scheduled for a September commission meeting.
Standards and protests
The May 16 Public Works report explains, “Transportation Level of Service (LOS) is an industry-wide qualitative measure used to relate the quality of motor vehicle traffic service. This LOS is used to analyze roadways and intersections,” partly by assigning quality levels on the basis of performance measures such as speed, density and congestion, the report continues.
“The County’s adopted LOS is D, which is based on the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM) and ASSHTO Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (‘Green Book’) using letters A through F, with A being the best and F being the worst, similar to academic grading,” the report adds.
Entities proposing new developments “are required to provide a Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA),” in accord with a 2019 County Commission resolution, whenever the project is expected to generate 100 or more peak-hour trips, the report explains. The applicant’s transportation engineer prepares the report, providing a traffic model that analyzes the effects of the proposed development on the public roadway system’s LOS, the report continues.
Transportation models may vary, the report points out, but all of them have been well established by the engineering profession.
The results of the transportation study are included in the development application packet provided to the County Commission for a final vote, the report adds.
Before 2011, the report continues, if a development’s Transportation Impact Analysis indicated that a project would make the existing LOS for the affected roadway worse, “or if there were [transportation] deficiencies in [the] study area, the County could require the development to mitigate the impacts or deficiencies projected to be caused” by the proposed development by calling for the applicant to pay for transportation improvements. Among the latter, the report notes, were road widening projects or intersection modifications. That commonly was known as Transportation Concurrency, the report says.
Then, in 2011, the Florida Legislature approved a new law that eliminated local governments’ ability to utilize Transportation Concurrency, the report points out. As a result, “[L]ocal governments can no longer deny development applications based on their transportation impacts for rezones, special exceptions, or site and development reviews.”
Nonetheless, the report says, the county still has the ability to consider the effects of a development “on the multi-modal transportation system [including bicycles and pedestrians], the adopted LOS, and any need for facility improvements that are caused or exacerbated by a proposed development application requiring a Comprehensive Plan Amendment or Critical Area Plan,” the report explains.
A Critical Area Plan typically encompasses not only a project site but also areas around it that will be affected by the construction; thus, a wide variety of details can be considered in the planning for the development.
Public protests lead to proposal
The report further points out that it is not uncommon for public opposition to arise in regard to proposed developments on the basis of the projects’ perceived impacts on the public roadway system. “Commonly,” the report adds, “the public’s perceived impacts are not validated in the applicant’s [Transportation Impact Analysis]. This was the case with one or more recent [Special Exception applications involving Siesta Key].”
That section was a reference to applications for hotels on the barrier island, three of which the commissioners have approved since the latter part of 2021.
“Subsequently,” the report notes, “interested Siesta Key stakeholders solicited input from Public Works staff on their desire to have the County incorporate a detailed transportation ‘micro’ model as part of [the county’s] regulatory review process for proposed development projects on Siesta Key.”
As a result, the report says, Public Works staff met with south Siesta resident Wallace, transportation consultant Oliver and Luckner of the Siesta Key Association. Those sessions were conducted on May 12, 2022; Nov. 17, 2022; and Jan. 20 of this year, the report adds. Then, following Commissioner Smith’s April 11 request for the board report, Public Works staff and representatives of County Administration met with the stakeholders on April 26.
The stakeholders believe that “a regulatory transportation threshold or test should be incorporated into the County [Code],” providing that, if a development application cannot meet specific standards, then the application would be unable to proceed through the relevant county process to try to win approval, the report points out.
“The stakeholders’ preferred traffic model software for this effort is called TransModeler,” the report notes.
“TransModeler staff have informed Public Works staff that they are not aware of any regulatory jurisdiction using their model in the way proposed by the stakeholders,” the report continues. “Public Works is also unable to identify any of our Comparable Counties that use a model as proposed.”
Nonetheless, the report says, “The Stakeholders’ proposed effort is not without merit. A modeling tool as proposed could provide the basis for a detailed analysis of a development’s impact on the public transportation system IF it can provide the desired information AND an objective and consistent regulatory measure can be identified,” the report points out.
Seeking direction for the next steps
The report then seeks direction from the commission about how to proceed. Staff would like “to affirm the [commissioners’] intent that this additional level of information is required for their consideration of development applications, beyond existing [Transportation Impact Analysis] policy requirements” and whether staff should develop recommendations for new policy-level regulatory purposes on Siesta Key, the report continues.
“While staff understands the stakeholders’ intent and agrees this effort could provide more detailed traffic-related information on Siesta Key,” the report says, staff is “uncertain how it can be applied for a specific, objective and measurable regulatory purpose within the confines of other superseding state statutes. If this cannot be determined, the resulting model, while informative, may not be useful for the desired regulatory effect but could be used to estimate the effectiveness of County proposed mobility improvement projects.”
Then the report explains, “Ultimately, the [County Commission] will need to adopt new policy(ies) to determine what specific measurable(s) this model will evaluate as the transportation threshold or test for new development and for what type of development application.”
The report also notes, “The stakeholders suggest the measurable be tied to emergency response travel times. That is seemingly a difficult measure, since emergency vehicles, equipped with sirens and flashing lights, require the right of passage to be given by other drivers and pedestrians. At that point, emergency vehicles would not be subject to the traffic conditions developed in a model; therefore, it may be an undefinable condition.”
The report adds, “Another threshold element may be LOS …” However, the report points out, most of the major roads on Siesta “are already LOS F, so it would be difficult to determine how the development would worsen traffic based on standardized LOS. The development of new LOS criteria specific to Siesta Key could be considered. Other considerations include road segment travel time, intersection capacity, intersection delay, and other related variables,” the report notes.
Moreover, the report says, given the elimination of Transportation Concurrency in 2011, “We are not certain the stakeholders’ objective of regulating Special Exceptions would be achievable.”
The report adds, “These topics would require further review with [the county’s] Planning and Development Services [staff] and the Office of the County Attorney to develop specific policy recommendations for the Board’s consideration.” That work likely would take six months, the report says.
Yet another concern, the report notes, is that the stakeholders have suggested that the county use transportation consultant Oliver and his modeling program for the Siesta Key undertaking. The consultant team’s “lump-sum price to deliver the traffic model for Siesta Key is $200,000,” the report says. Yet, because of all the factors that staff has considered for the initiative, the report adds, the overall expense more likely would be in the range of $400,000 to $600,000.
Further, “Given State and County procurement requirements,” the report explains, “the County would need to independently solicit for, evaluate and make recommendations to the Board for selecting the specific modeling software and engineering consultant to be used for this effort. There are only a few software platforms that can provide a transportation micro-model with all the preferred input variables and constraints,” the report points out. “For the purposes of this memo, it is assumed that a selected model and engineering consultant will provide all information and data necessary for the desired decision-making process.” The estimate for advertising a bid and selecting a consultant is six to 12 months, the report says.
As for the study area: The report notes that the stakeholders discussed the fact that the characteristics of Siesta Key, as a barrier island, make it different from areas on the mainland. Therefore, the report explains, the standard Trip Generation Manual provided by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) would not be applicable to a traffic model for a project proposed on the island. As a result, the county’s consultant “would need to conduct a specific study to generate multiple land use characteristics, travel times, traffic volumes and trip counts to tailor the model to actual conditions on Siesta Key. This is an expensive and long-term endeavor that would require on- and off-season studies to develop conditions specific to seasonal traffic,” the report points out. That work would be expected to take 12 to 18 months, it adds.