66% of all ballots mailed must be returned, showing support for measures, or no traffic-calming will be provided, staff says
It is urgent for residents who live near the planned Siesta Promenade site to return, as soon as possible, the ballots they have received about proposed traffic-calming measures on their streets, an advocate for those homeowners has stressed in emails, on Facebook and in a telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader.
Sura Kochman, a leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, recently learned of a change in how the ballots will be counted, she told the News Leader.
During a July 27 workshop conducted about the traffic-calming process, Kelly Fearon, a transportation engineer with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, conveyed to the participants her understanding that traffic-calming structures and signage would be put in place if at least 67% of the ballots that residents returned supported those measures.
However, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, recently clarified that no traffic-calming steps can be implemented unless 66% of all ballots mailed out are returned, showing support for the measures.
The ballots are due Nov. 30.
Kimley-Horn has worked with Benderson Development on plans for Siesta Promenade over the years. Benderson Development owns the Siesta Promenade site and is the project developer.
“Considering that there are so many property owners in our neighborhood that are seasonal, use their homes as either long term rentals or [properties hosted through Airbnb],” Kochman wrote in an email to residents, “the likelihood of those folks receiving their ballots and returning them by the deadline on 11/30 is low.”
Kochman then stressed, “PLEASE, if you have received a ballot, answer in the affirmative and send it in immediately. Talk to your neighbors, as well. As long as the property owner is in the green x’ed out portion of the [attached] map, they should have received a ballot. Remember, this is an all or nothing proposition — the time for comment and suggestions passed …”
With the latter statement, Kochman was referring to the July 27 workshop, which was conducted via Zoom.
Then Kochman wrote, “If anyone has not received a ballot, please let me know immediately and I will email you a blank one. The ballots ONLY will be counted and included if the property fits the parameters of the map.”
In a Nov. 10 email to Paula Wiggins, manager of Sarasota County’s Transportation Planning Division, a copy of which the News Leader obtained through a public records request, Kochman elaborated on her note to her neighbors: “[T]here are quite a number of property owners in this neighborhood that rent, or are seasonal. By the time these ballots are forwarded and make their way to the owners’ hands, the deadline may well have passed.
“It is also possible that the renters or Airbnb tenants will just throw away the ballot, not being familiar with what it is.”
Kochman has emphasized the need for the traffic-calming measures in the area around the Siesta Promenade site. During a July 29 Neighborhood Workshop on a separate Siesta Promenade issue, she sought clarification that no steps would be taken if Kimley-Horn did not get enough ballots back from residents. (Kochman and the Kimley-Horn staff still were working on the assumption that 67% of all the respondents voting would have to mark the box showing support for traffic calming.) As Kochman put it then, “It’s either this way or the highway?”
A Kimley-Horn principal, Christopher Hatton, responded that that was the correct assessment of the situation.
Pine Shores streets and those to the east of the neighborhood, close to U.S. 41, long have been used by drivers seeking a way around the congested intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, residents have pointed out. During the Dec. 12, 2018 County Commission hearing on the Siesta Promenade application, speakers presented photos and talked at length about how common it is for vehicles to back up into that intersection at the height of tourist season.
In fact, when Kimley-Horn staff members conducted the July 29 Neighborhood Workshop, Kirk Winters, who lives in the Castel Del Mare condominium complex on Stickney Point Road, said, “It takes two or three red lights to get through the intersection of Stickney and Tamiami [Trail]” during tourist season.
Kochman also told the News Leader that she had requested that county staff provide her information about where the 66% provision is found in county regulations, but she had received no response.
When the News Leader asked county staff for a citation to the County Code section with the 66% stipulation, the Public Works Department staff replied in a Nov. 15 email: “There is no UDC [Unified Development Code requirement] for how a developer goes about conducting traffic calming. Staff examined processes in place and ones already established for other projects, and worked with Kimley Horn staff to provide the framework of a procedure to move forward.”
The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
That email did acknowledge that county staff initially had indicated that traffic-calming measures would be implemented in the neighborhoods around the Siesta Promenade site if two-thirds of the returned ballots indicated a preference for the work to be undertaken.
Determining the affected residential streets
The traffic-calming steps were a stipulation of the County Commission’s approval of Siesta Promenade. With 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space, the project is planned in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. The approximately 24-acre site is adjacent to Pine Shores Estates.
During the July 27 Neighborhood Workshop, Fearon of Kimley-Horn told everyone that the study area for the traffic-calming initiative included Constitution Boulevard, Brentwood Avenue, Crestwood Avenue, Upper Beachwood Avenue, Upper Glencoe Avenue, Glencoe Avenue, Beechwood Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.
During a Nov. 12 telephone interview with the News Leader, Kochman reiterated her comment in her email to residents that the traffic-calming ballots, which were dated Oct. 8, included a map with the area shown where homeowners should have received the correspondence.
“Unfortunately,” Kochman wrote in her email to her neighbors, that map “eliminates a good portion of those in Pine Shores as well as Aqualane Estates who are just as impacted by the increased traffic as the rest of the area. I have tried to appeal to [county] Transportation [Planning staff], but have received no response.”
One person who commented on her recent Facebook post noted that the Baywood neighborhood south of Stickney Point Road was not included, either. “We are also facing a major traffic impact from [Siesta Promenade],” Nicole Cernigliaro wrote.
In copies of correspondence that the News Leader received through a public records request, it found that Kochman emailed Wiggins of Transportation Planning on Nov. 8, pointing out that, in 2016, when Kochman was working with county staff on a proposal for a reduction in the Pine Shores Estates speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, a county staffer asked Kochman whether residents on other nearby streets would support the change. The county employee, Shannon Rodden, listed Stanford Lane, Shelburne Lane, Ridgewood Lane, Baywinds Lane and Bay Harbor Lane as those other streets. All are in Aqualane Estates, Kochman told Wiggins.
The News Leader could find no response from Wiggins to Kochman in the public records. However, on Oct. 19, the batch of emails showed, Wiggins pointed out to Fearon of Kimley-Horn, “Since there isn’t any proposed traffic calming on Constitution Boulevard, the [ballot] boundary can be reduced to only those parcels west of US 41.”
“I think this whole thing is backwards,” Kochman said of the traffic-calming process during the Nov. 12 telephone interview with the News Leader. “There are a lot of people that are very upset. … They have no voice.”
When the News Leader asked county staff how the ballot area was determined, representatives of the Public Works Department responded in the Nov. 15 email, writing, “Ballots were sent out to those within the boundaries of the original neighborhood workshop. Those on the East side of US 41 were excluded as no project components are planned for that area.”
The News Leader also asked county staff whether any appeal process exists in regard to the decision on the boundaries. “In other words,” the News Leader inquired, “could someone in Transportation Planning agree to adjust the affected areas and call for more ballots to be sent out?”
This is the response from Public Works to that question: “Boundaries are set for the neighborhood workshop, and the same boundaries were used for ballots. The county may assist Benderson Development and Kimley-Horn Associates with neighborhood initiatives or mailings.”
A months-long process to send out the ballots
During the July 29 Neighborhood Workshop, which involved the proposed addition of two Pine Shores single-family home parcels to the Siesta Promenade site, the timeline for mailing out the traffic-calming ballots arose.
In response to a question from Kochman, Christopher Hatton, a registered professional traffic engineer who is a principal of Kimley-Horn, indicated that the ballots likely would not be sent out until September.
Kochman responded that many residents of her neighborhood are seasonal; therefore, the longer Kimley-Horn could wait, the better the chance that all of the affected residents would get their ballots. September would be better than August, she added.
Although the ballots ultimately were dated Oct. 8, Kochman told the News Leader on Nov. 12, she did not receive hers until the end of October. “That [Oct. 8] date was bogus.”
Her next-door neighbor, she added, did not receive the ballot until Nov. 1 or 2.
In the batch of documents the News Leader received as a result of its public records request, the News Leader learned that, on Sept. 17, Fearon of Kimley-Horn sent Douglas Sines, a county Transportation Planning technical specialist, copies of the traffic-calming ballots that the firm had composed. She asked Sines to review them to determine if they would be acceptable.
Apparently, after hearing nothing from Sines, Philip DiMaria, planning project manager of Kimley-Horn, followed up with another email on Sept. 24.
Sines then responded on Sept. 24, writing, “[T]he letter for the ballots seems extensive for citizens. Some of the prose can be condensed into a bullet list that summarizes each [zone’s] improvements, e.g., Zone 1 consists of adding speed bumps along Hollywood Boulevard at the locations shown on the map.”
On Sept. 30, Fearon wrote Sines again, letting him know, “We have simplified the letters …”
Fearon attached four different proposed ballots, one for each of the four traffic-calming zones.
For example, the traffic-calming ballot for residents in the Upper Beechwood Zone noted that plans called for installation of one speed feedback sign between Crestwood Avenue and South Tamiami Trail, in the vicinity of 1914 Beechwood Ave.
The proposed ballot for residents in the Crestwood Avenue Zone said Kimley-Horn has recommended installation of a raised crosswalk in the vicinity of 6210 Crestwood Ave. and a mini roundabout at the intersection of Crestwood Avenue and Upper Glencoe Avenue.
However, in another email exchange on Sept. 30, Transportation Planning Manager Wiggins wrote Fearon, asking her if the four separate ballots could be combined into one.
Fearon replied about 75 minutes later: “Sure, please see attached as one ballot.”
That document also called for residents to return their ballots by Oct. 31.
On Oct. 11, Wiggins emailed Fearon again: “You may want to extend the deadline to return the ballots since [we are] at the midpoint of the month.”
Less than 30 minutes later, Fearon replied, “We will update the deadline.”
On Oct. 25, the News Leader found, DiMaria of Kimley-Horn had written an email saying that the firm was preparing to send out more than 7,000 ballots. At that point, he added, Kimley-Horn staff anticipated putting them in the mail “in approximately 2 weeks’ time.”