Oral arguments in Avenue B and C appeal scheduled for Nov. 2, in-person, in Tampa

South Siesta resident hoping Second District Court of Appeal action will halt construction of Siesta Promenade

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, a three-judge panel of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal will conduct in-person oral arguments in the case launched by a south Siesta Key resident to try to prevent the installation of a traffic signal at the Avenue B and C intersection on Stickney Point Road.

On Sept. 9, the court docket showed that announcement.

The arguments will take place at the court’s Tampa Branch Headquarters, in the first-floor courtroom of the Stetson University College Of Law on the Tampa campus, the notice says. The address is 1700 Tampa St.

As usual, the notice adds that the schedule is provisional. “Should the assigned panel of judges decide that the court will not benefit from oral argument in this proceeding, the attorneys or parties will be notified by order no less than two weeks before the scheduled date,” it points out.

On Dec. 12, 2018, when the majority of the Sarasota County commissioners approved the mixed-use Siesta Promenade development for the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, they included a stipulation that a traffic signal had to be erected at the Avenue B and C intersection before construction could begin.

Their decision was based on documentation about the need to try to ameliorate traffic congestion on the south access to Siesta Key. As residents routinely point out, Stickney Point Road traffic often backs up east of the U.S. 41 intersection during the height of tourist season, as drivers use that approach to reach Siesta’s beaches. The location of a drawbridge on Stickney Point Road, which can open every 30 minutes for boaters, exacerbates that situation, county residents stress.

Siesta Promenade, as designed, will have 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of commercial space and 7,000 square feet of office space. The developer is Benderson Development Co., working through an affiliate called Siesta 41 Associates LLP.

However, south Siesta resident James P. Wallace III has contended that county staff and the commissioners failed to ensure that the traffic analysis undertaken for Siesta Promenade considered the development’s impact on Siesta homeowners and visitors.

Wallace has stressed during public meetings — and in court documents — that he essentially is marooned in his home near the southern end of the Key during tourist season, with bumper-to-bumper traffic common on South Midnight Pass Road. That hinders him and his neighbors in their efforts to drive back and forth to the mainland for doctors’ appointments and other aspects of daily life, Wallace has pointed out.

In December 2020, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) issued the necessary permits for the installation of the stoplight at Avenue B and C. Following The Sarasota News Leader’s report of that action, Wallace challenged it through a filing with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).

FDOT has maintained that Wallace does not have “standing” to pursue such a complaint. “Standing” is a legal term indicating that a person has suffered or will suffer more harm from a specific undertaking than others and that such harm “is redressable,” as Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains.

In the aftermath of DOAH action in the case, Wallace ended up filing an appeal with Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal.

Among the materials filed most recently with the Appeal Court, FDOT has provided documentation of its transfer of the affected roadway to Sarasota County. That deal gave the state jurisdiction over North River Road, whose widening and other improvements the county commissioners had been seeking for decades.

As long as River Road remained under county authority, FDOT leaders told county leaders, the state could not justify making those improvements a priority, even though River Road is a hurricane evacuation route for South County residents and even people in part of Charlotte County.

In exchange for the state’s taking control of River Road, the county assumed jurisdiction of Stickney Point Road west of the U.S. 41 intersection, along with Midnight Pass Road, Higel Avenue and parts of Siesta Drive. FDOT did maintain control of the two drawbridges that connect Siesta Key to the mainland.

The tentative three-judge panel for the oral arguments comprises Chief Judge Robert. J. Morris Jr., Judge Morris Silberman and Judge Suzanne Labrit, the Second District Court docket says.

Morris has been a member of the court since 2009, his biography notes. Before that, it adds, he was chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which covers Pinellas and Pasco counties. Prior to becoming a judge, the biography says, Morris, who is a Jacksonville native, practiced law for 17 years.

Silberman was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in January 2001, his biography notes. He was chief judge from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013. Silberman worked with law firms in Sarasota and Clearwater early in his career, it adds, before he established his own firm in Clearwater.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Labrit to the Second District Court in July 2020, her biography says. For two decades prior to that, it adds, she was a partner with the firm of Shutts & Bowen, “where she founded and chaired the firm’s appellate practice group.” She is a native of Nashville, Tenn.

Although the Avenue B and C stoplight has been the focus of litigation over the past two-and-a-half years, Benderson Development has continued to work on other transportation initiatives related to building Siesta Promenade.

The county’s Construction — One Week Look Ahead report for Sept. 12 through Sept. 18 lists work on Stickney Point Road from west of U.S. 41 to Glencoe Avenue, noting, “Crews will be installing traffic signals and motorists can expect nighttime flagging operations with intermittent lane closures through November, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.”