Close to 600 members have responded to SKA’s second survey this year
Launched at midnight on June 1, the latest survey sent to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members had garnered answers from more than half of them who received it — almost 600 people — by June 28, SKA directors said this week.
“The response … was phenomenal,” SKA President Harold Ashby said in a press release. “[I]n all cases, we received overwhelming support for SKA’s positions on the important issues we’re managing for our members. It shows that our members are engaged and interested in the work of SKA.”
The SKA’s website says the survey will close at the end of June. Ashby told the audience at the SKA’s June 1 meeting that the nonprofit did not have valid email addresses for about 200 members, so he encouraged anyone who did not get the survey to contact the directors at email@example.com.
Along with all the responses, Ashby noted, the nonprofit received 710 comments and suggestions from members, “many of whom said that our survey helped them better understand the issues and they appreciated being kept informed.”
The question that prompted the biggest show of support for an SKA position focused on Benderson Development’s plans for the mixed-use Siesta Promenade project at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. By a ratio of 23-to-1, SKA members agreed with the nonprofit’s “push for no increase in density or intensity” and its opposition to “any plan that will exacerbate traffic congestion,” as the news release put it.
The SKA survey question pointed to the potential for 150 hotel rooms, 140,000 square feet of retail space and up to 506 residential units on the approximately 24-acre site just east of the Stickney Point Road bridge. It also noted that the SKA “has not taken a position with respect to the specific project,” because Benderson has not finalized details of its plans.
Just this week, Benderson submitted a revised proposal to Sarasota County staff, The Sarasota News Leader learned. It calls for 415 dwelling units and a hotel with 130 rooms, along with 140,000 square feet of retail and office space. (See the related story in this issue.)
The second biggest show of support was for the SKA’s efforts to prevent the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from obtaining a state permit to dredge about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key. The ratio of people affirming that stance was 22-to-1, the survey showed.
The SKA survey question pointed to the nonprofit’s efforts to “ensure no harm comes to Siesta Key.”
SKA directors have remained focused for the past three years on finding an alternative solution to dealing with the severe erosion on Lido Key. However, they have been unsuccessful in attempts to persuade the City of Sarasota to press the USACE for a plan other than removing sand from Big Pass.
The SKA is one of three nonprofits that will participate in an administrative hearing over the last two weeks of August, during which they will present expert testimony to try to persuade a state administrative law judge that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) should not issue the dredging permit. In January, the SKA and the other two nonprofits — Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) — challenged the FDEP’s Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent to allow the Lido project to proceed.
Additionally, the SKA has filed a verified complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota in an effort to stop the project. Judge Lon Arend ruled in late April that the complaint would be held in abeyance until after Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter issues his decision following the August hearing.
The upcoming administrative hearing will be the focus of the SKA’s next meeting, set for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 6, at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.
North Beach Road vacation views
The issue that garnered the lowest level of support from members was the SKA’s decision to take no position on two Sarasota County Charter amendments Siesta resident Mike Cosentino has proposed to reverse a May 2016 County Commission decision to vacate a 357-foot-long portion of North Beach Road and to make it impossible for a future board to vacate road segments on county waterways. For every two people who agreed with the SKA’s stance, one did not, the results showed.
Cosentino began a petition drive last year to win the necessary number of voter signatures to put the amendments on a ballot. The staff of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office has told the News Leader that he would need 13,866 valid signatures on petitions for an amendment to be placed before county voters.
The SKA press release notes that the SKA also asked its members if they would support the nonprofit’s hosting a presentation on the proposed charter amendments during one of its monthly meetings. “Six out of ten members supported such a presentation while four out of ten members did not or had no opinion,” the release adds.
“The Beach Road issue has received much publicity over the last year,” Ashby said in the release. “We’re pleased to accommodate our members’ wishes by hosting a presentation that will explain the Petitions that are intended to get the Charter Amendments on the ballot in a future election while, at the same time, avoid commentary on the ongoing litigation related to the County’s Commission’s decision,” he added. “Petitions for ballot initiatives are part of our democratic process, which SKA supports,” Ashby continued. “If the Petitions receive the necessary number of signatures to be placed on a future ballot, SKA will consider taking a position on the issues at that time.”
On a related question, the survey noted that the SKA board has decided to take no further action regarding the May 11, 2016 County Commission vote on North Beach Road. The response was 3-to-1 to support that SKA’s position.
The survey pointed out that six of the nonprofit’s directors submitted a letter to the County Commission prior to the May 11, 2016 public hearing, stating their objections to the request for the road vacation on the grounds that it might be in violation of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. However, only then-Commissioner Christine Robinson voted against the request of three couples who own property on North Beach Road. Robinson cited the same Comprehensive Plan policy as the SKA members; that also has been part of the focus of a complaint Cosentino filed against the county last year in 12th Judicial Circuit Court. That case is still pending, though two of the property owners — Wendy and Dennis Madden — won a partial summary judgment in mid-April on one of its counts.
The SKA survey explained, “Because the matter is now in the hands of the courts and will be decided based on the facts and the law, SKA has determined that any further position it may take would have no effect on the ultimate outcome of the matter.”
Additionally, the survey question pointed out, in granting the property owners’ petition for the road vacation, the County Commission also approved a plan to maintain public access to the road except by use of a motor vehicle. The road section had been closed since 1993 because of repeated storm damage.
Responses to three other survey questions made clear members’ strong support for other SKA positions.
By a ratio of 18-to-1, members said they oppose any increase in intensity or density, beyond what the county’s Comprehensive Plan allows, in regard to proposals linked to a new hotel on the island.
Siesta Acquisitions LLC — whose principal is Siesta chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras — initiated an endeavor in late 2016 to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow the construction of hotels on property zoned Commercial General on the Key, but that effort subsequently was put on hold, based on the News Leader’s recent check with county staff. A later effort was pursued to win a county zoning determination that new buildings taller than 35 feet in a Commercial General zone on the Key would need no greater street setback than 2 feet. The county Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 on June 12 to concur with Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson that the setbacks for structures higher than 35 feet would be required. Charles Bailey III, attorney for Siesta Acquisitions, has not responded to News Leader requests for information about whether Kompothecras plans to appeal that decision to Circuit Court.
Regarding the SKA’s initiative to improve safety for bicyclists on Siesta Key and the nonprofit’s efforts to gain national Bicycle Friendly Community Status for the island, the support level was 16-to-1.
Finally, by a ratio of 15-to-1, members agreed with the SKA’s support of a County Commission initiative to develop a parking lot and trolley stop on South Midnight Pass Road property the county owns. (See Siesta Seen in this issue.)
The first survey the SKA undertook — earlier this year — sought members’ views on the free Breeze open-air trolley operated by Sarasota County Area Transit.
“We are very pleased that our members value our surveys as a way to have their voices heard by decision makers,” SKA President Ashby said in the news release. “We’re committed to listening to our members and we invite all who would like their voices heard to join SKA and speak out for Siesta Key. Our website, SiestaKeyAssociation.com, describes the issues we are following in more depth and we invite the public to share their thoughts with us through email at info@SiestaKeyAssociation.com,” he added.