Big show of support critical at town hall for incorporation to be considered during 2022 legislative session, nonprofit’s leaders say
On both Sunday, Dec. 5, and Sunday, Dec. 12, leaders of Save Siesta Key, the nonprofit established early this year to try to achieve incorporation of the island, will host a community walk and rally, they have announced.
Even more important, they point out, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, and other members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation will conduct a town hall meeting at Siesta Key Chapel, which is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on the Key.
A copy of a formal notice from Gruters’ office says the event has been planned “to discuss potential legislation related to the incorporation of Siesta Key.”
Save Siesta Key leaders are urging supporters of the incorporation effort to attend that Dec. 8 meeting. The more people present, they say, the greater the likelihood that the Delegation members will be willing to endorse incorporation by filing the necessary local bills in the 2022 legislative session, which will begin in January 2022.
A Dec. 2 Siesta Key Condominium Council alert to its members also underscored the need for a big turnout at the town hall: “Attendance is urged by all to show the legislators that [Siesta Key] property owners want the right to vote on Incorporation.”
The goal of the walks, Save Siesta Key’s leaders say, is to put the focus on the work the nonprofit has undertaken in the effort to achieve incorporation. They hope those events will spur supporters to turn out in force, too, for the next meeting of the Legislative Delegation in Sarasota. That tentatively has been set for Monday, Dec. 13, Save Siesta Key has reported.
When The Sarasota News Leader checked on Nov. 30 with the staff of state Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, chair of the Delegation, a spokesman said that the date likely will be firmed up next week. Legislators are in Tallahassee this week for committee meetings, the spokesman added.
During the Nov. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Save Siesta Key Director Harry Anand reported that the Delegation members had let him know that they would discuss the incorporation proposal once more this month and vote on whether to file the necessary local bills in the 2022 legislative session.
However, in a Dec. 1 email blast to supporters, Save Siesta Key leaders wrote that they are uncertain whether incorporation will be on the agenda after all for the Delegation meeting. “If we miss this opportunity, it will be 2 years before we can attempt this effort again,” the email blast added.
All the Delegation members must support plans for the local bill, Anand has stressed. Otherwise, the nonprofit’s work over the past months will be for naught.
The Dec. 1 email also urged supporters of incorporation to contact the legislators: “Write, email or call the members of the local delegation. Contact information can be found at https://www.savesiestakey.org/
On Sept. 30, during a Delegation meeting in the County Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, Save Siesta Key was invited to make a presentation about the incorporation initiative. Anand presented a statement and answered questions.
During that session, Robinson voiced hesitancy about allowing the effort to go forward.
“It seems like at some level, the Legislature’s getting asked to mediate a couple of zoning issues that are going on between Sarasota County and the area of Siesta Key,” he said.
Robinson was referring to island residents’ opposition to high-rise hotels that had been proposed for the island. Almost exactly a month later — on Oct. 27 — the Sarasota County Commission approved an eight-story, 170-room hotel planned on slightly less than 1 acre between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village. Then, the following week — on Nov. 2 — the commissioners approved a seven-story, 120-room hotel on about 1.17 acres on Old Stickney Point Road.
Opponents had stressed a wide array of concerns about the projects, which needed board approval because the structures would exceed the 35-foot height limit for developments on parcels zoned Commercial General on the island.
Further, residents have pointed out that, since 1989, the county’s Comprehensive Plan has limited density and intensity of development on the Key because of concerns about hurricane evacuations. During the Oct. 27 hearing, the majority of the county commissioners also approved a new zoning regulation that eliminates any count of hotel rooms for residential density purposes countywide, including on the unincorporated barrier islands.
Previously, “transient accommodations” — the county staff term for hotel and motel rooms — had been limited to 26 per acre, without kitchens, on Commercial General property. (See the related articles in this issue.)
Additionally, during the Sept. 30 Delegation meeting, Rep. Robinson described incorporation as “a pretty big step” and noted, “It’s not done often in the Legislature.”
Save Siesta Key leaders have pointed to the commission votes of approval for the hotels — with two more hotel proposals yet to be heard — as all the more reason that incorporation needs to take place. That is the only way, they emphasize, that island residents will be able to control development.
Thus, the more support Save Siesta Key can show from people who live on the Key and those who own businesses on the island, the better the chance that the county Delegation members will agree to file the necessary local bill for incorporation, Save Siesta Key representatives have emphasized.
A draft of that bill has been provided to state Re. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, Anand told the SKA members on Nov. 4.
If the bill wins approval in the Legislature, and then Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it, Siesta voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots in a referendum to decide whether a Town of Siesta Key should be established, Anand and other Save Siesta Key directors have explained during a variety of meetings over the past several months.
The flyer about the walks notes that the first one will start at 11 a.m. on Dec. 5 at the parking lot of Siesta Public Beach, where plenty of spaces should be available for participants. The group will head south to Stickney Point Road and then return to the beach parking lot at noon, the flyer adds. The total distance is 3 miles.
On Dec. 12, the walk again will begin at 11 a.m. at the beach parking lot, but the group will head north to Davidson Drugs in Siesta Village. Once more, plans call for everyone to be back at the beach parking lot by noon. That distance also is 3 miles, the flyer points out.
Save Siesta Key will have signs and T-shirts available “to show that the Siesta Key community wants the chance to vote on incorporation!” the flyer says. “After each walk, there will be a short info session.”
In the meantime, Save Siesta Key is continuing to raise funds to cover its expenses for its incorporation work, which included the preparation of a feasibility study. As of a Sarasota News Leader check of the website on Nov. 29, the total from 260 donations was $116,539. That was up slightly from the figure the News Leader found in early November: $114,467, from 224 donations.
Just a day later, Nov. 30, the total had jumped to $120,089, from 402 contributions.
The goal the nonprofit set was $125,000.