Extensions to downtown Sarasota and North Port could open in late 2024, county staff says
Sarasota County voters made it very clear during the Nov. 6 General Election that they are fans of The Legacy Trail.
Of the 197,581 votes cast in a referendum, 70.57% supported the county’s issuance of $65 million in bonds to fund the North Extension of the Trail and connections through Venice to North Port, based on the unofficial results from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.
On May 30, 2019, the county is scheduled to make a $30.1-million payment to the Trust for Public Land for the final 6.3-mile section of the North Extension. On Dec. 20, 2017, the county bought about 2.7 miles of former railroad right of way that the Trust had acquired from CSX Transportation and CSX’s lessee, Seminole Gulf Railway. That land for the Phase 1 segment of the North Extension runs from Culverhouse Nature Park in Palmer Ranch to Ashton Road. The final section will continue to Fruitville Road.
The referendum was necessary because, under the guidelines of Section 5.2(D) of the Sarasota County Charter, the county has to seek voter approval to issue bonds above a certain limit, Ashley Lusby, the county’s Emergency Services media relations officer, explained in response to a Sarasota News Leader question. As of Oct. 1, the bond limit is $23,712,978, Lusby noted. The figure is updated annually, she added, based on the language in the Charter.
Altogether, as Nicole Rissler, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department director, pointed out in a Nov. 7 video news release, after the property has been bought and all the improvements made, the Trail will run from North Port, through the Venice Train Depot, and then to downtown Sarasota.
To pay off the bonds, county staff has estimated that the owner of a $200,000 home in Sarasota County will pay an extra $9 on the November 2019 tax bill, an additional $16 from 2021 through 2039, and then $7 more in 2040.
On Nov. 7, during his final County Commission meeting, Commissioner Paul Caragiulo called the passage of the bond referendum “probably the most significant thing to happen in this county, probably ever … I hope that the plan is well executed,” he added. “I have every confidence that it will be.”
The next step, Rissler said in the video, is for the county to conduct the necessary due diligence — including a survey and environmental assessments. The design work would follow that, she added, and then construction. “We would anticipate the opening of the entire extension in late 2024.”
In a Nov. 7 email, Steve Martin, who headed up a Friends of The Legacy Trail fundraising initiative to advocate for the Trail extension and improvements, told the News Leader, “We are all thrilled with the passage of the referendum. Although we had heard a lot of positive comments at the polling stations yesterday,” he continued, “we knew that this was not a very scientific poll, so we were all pretty unsure about the outcome. When the results started coming in last night showing a more than two to one margin of victory we could hardly believe the level of community support we were getting. We want to thank the voters of Sarasota County for overwhelmingly approving this quality-of-life project.”
Martin added, “We sincerely believe, as stated in the final sentence of the Feasibility Study for the trail extension, that ‘it will become another jewel in the community’s environmental and recreational crown’ that will last for many generations to come.”
As a member of the board of directors of the Friends, Andrea Seager has appeared before the County Commission on a number of occasions to advocate for the Trail. In a Nov. 7 email to the News Leader she wrote, “The Friends of The Legacy Trail are ecstatic that Sarasota County voters approved the bond measure. We are extremely grateful the County Commissioners placed this on our ballot, and that the Trust for Public Land, Conservation Foundation [of the Gulf Coast], Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota, along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers and donors helped us get this referendum passed. We are looking forward to riding 30 miles of safe, continuous trail from North Port to Venice to Sarasota in the very near future!”
The Friends of The Legacy Trail had raised $57,407 by Nov. 7, from 537 donations, through its Square Foot Campaign, which allowed people to “purchase” one square foot of the Phase 1 section of the North Extension.
The last campaign finance report for the political committee Vote Yes For the Sarasota Legacy Trail Extension shows that group raised a total of $84,572.50 as of Nov. 1. It had spent $76,323.49 as of that date, the document says.
The three contributions listed in that report — all in-kind — included work of staff of the Trust for Public Land valued at $4,837.41.