Oral arguments in Avenue B and C case delayed until Jan. 17, 2023

Two attorneys for Benderson Development affiliate cite serious family issues

Oral arguments in the appeals court litigation related to the planned installation of a stoplight at the Avenue B and C intersection on Stickney Point Road have been postponed until Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

They originally were set for Nov. 2 in-person before a three-judge panel of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal.

An Oct. 13 motion filed by an attorney representing Siesta 41 Associates LLP — which formally is the developer of the Siesta Promenade mixed-use project in the northwest quadrant of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection — sought the continuance.

Siesta 41 is an affiliate of Benderson Development Co., whose offices are located in University Park, just north of University Parkway.

The motion pointed out that none of the parties opposed the request for the delay. The reason cited for the continuance, the motion said, was the “unexpected death of an immediate family member” of Siesta 41’s attorney Susan L. Stephens. Moreover, the motion continued, “[A]n immediate family member of [Siesta 41] co-counsel, Steve L. Brannock, is in failing health and is in hospice.”

The motion sought a continuance “until the first available date following January 1, 2023.”

Attorney Felicia L. Kitzmiller of the Tallahassee firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson filed the motion on behalf of Stephens and Brannock. The document notes that Brannock is an attorney with the Tampa firm of Brannock Humphries & Berman.

On Nov. 7, the Second District Court of Appeal announced that it had provisionally rescheduled the oral arguments for 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2023 before Judges Morris Silberman, Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim and Suzanne Labrit. That panel is different from the one originally announced; it included Chief Judge Robert J. Morris Jr. instead of Rothstein-Youakim.

Appointed to the court in May 2016, Rothstein-Youakim is a Sarasota native and a Pine View School graduate, her court biography notes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Labrit to the court in July 2020, while Silberman has served on the appeals court bench since January 2001.

The oral arguments will be conducted in the courtroom on the Tampa campus of the Stetson University College of Law, the court docket points out. The address is 1700 N. Tampa St.

In early 2021, south Siesta Key resident James P. Wallace III initiated an administrative challenge over the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) decision, in December 2020, to issue the necessary permits for the erection of the stoplight at Avenue B and C. The traffic signal must be in place before Siesta Promenade can be constructed; that is a stipulation included in the Sarasota County Commission’s approval of the development on a split vote in December 2018.

Siesta Promenade was designed to encompass 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space, as shown in the Binding Development Concept Plan that the commissioners agreed to with their 3-2 vote.

Wallace has maintained since that action that the commissioners should have ensured that traffic studies undertaken in regard to the Siesta Promenade design included Siesta Key. Stickney Point Road, he stresses, is the southern point of access to the Key.

During the height of tourist season, Wallace further emphasizes, he and other south Siesta residents essentially are marooned in their homes for most of each day, given the level of congestion on the barrier island’s roads. Adding in trips on Stickney Point Road that would be generated by Siesta Promenade residents and patrons would exacerbate the situation, he argues.

Wallace also has pointed to the regular openings of the FDOT drawbridge on Stickney Point Road as another impediment to smooth traffic flow to and from the southern part of the Key.

In past years, residents of the island and others have posted photos on Facebook that show traffic backed up well east of the Stickney Point Road/U.S. 41 intersection, as drivers try to reach Siesta Public Beach during the primary tourist months. Siesta Key Association directors and members have complained, as well, of long waits to reach their homes if they travel off-island during the height of tourist season.

More recently, Siesta homeowners have complained that traffic congestion is worse year-round because of the island’s popularity.

FDOT maintains that Wallace lacks “standing” to pursue any legal challenge to the permits it issued for the Avenue B and C stoplight. “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.

Initially, Wallace filed a legal challenge of FDOT’s action with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). In June 2021, in the aftermath of the DOAH proceedings, Wallace filed an appeal with the Second District Court of Appeal.

He has indicated to the News Leader that he remains optimistic that the appeals court will rule in his favor.

Other Siesta Promenade transportation stipulations

In the meantime, Benderson Development has pursued a number of traffic-related projects in the vicinity of the approximately 25-acre Siesta Promenade site, in accord with the plans the County Commission approved.

Along with the stipulation for the traffic signal, the County Commission approved the following:

  • The closing of the median opening at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Glencoe Avenue. Glencoe is one of the roads leading into and out of the Pine Shores Estates neighborhood, which is adjacent to the development site.
  • The extension of the westbound merge lane along Stickney Point Road to create a continuous westbound right-turn lane along Stickney Point Road from U.S. 41 to Avenue B and C.

The Dec. 12, 2018 county Planning Division report on the Siesta Promenade plans also pointed out, “The [transportation] improvements shall be included in the first construction plans for the development.” Yet, it did note, “The improvements are subject to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) approval.”

Further traffic requirements for Benderson Development that the commissioners approved were to be completed “[p]rior to or concurrent with any development of the [Siesta Promenade property],” the county Planning Division materials pointed out:

  • Construction of an eastbound to northbound left-turn lane on Stickney Point Road at Avenue B and C.
  • Construction of a southbound to westbound right-turn lane on U.S. 41 at Crestwood Avenue.