James Wallace has contended that the stoplight would lead to even worse traffic congestion on south approach to barrier island
Siesta Key resident James P. Wallace has appealed to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal a Final Order of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in which the department rejected his efforts to prevent the installation of a stoplight at Avenue B and C on Stickney Point Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
The June 11 filing by attorney David Smolker of the Tampa firm Smolker, Bartlett, Loeb, Hinds & Thompson follows earlier steps Wallace had taken to try to prevent the traffic signal from being erected.
In a formal notice that also was issued on June 11, the Second District Court of Appeal accepted the case and assigned it a number, as per court protocol.
Wallace’s objective is to halt the construction of Siesta Promenade, a mixed-use development planned on approximately 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. (See the related articles in this issue.)
When the County Commission voted on Dec. 12, 2018 to approve the Benderson Development project, the commission agreed that the stoplight had to be in place before construction could get underway.
Wallace, who lives on south Siesta Key, has been adamant that traffic analyses undertaken as part of the Siesta Promenade application process did not take into account the effect that the development would have on drivers heading to and from Siesta Key via the south access on Stickney Point Road.
However, county staff has pointed to constraints in Florida law in terms of what it could require those analyses to encompass.
On Jan. 4, Wallace filed a Petition for Formal Administrative Proceeding with FDOT, challenging the department’s issuance of a driveway connection permit to Siesta 41 Associates LLP, the Benderson Development affiliate that formally is the developer of Siesta Promenade.
On Jan. 28, FDOT dismissed his petition, without prejudice, so Wallace could “explain how his substantial interests” would be affected by its decision on the stoplight.
As a result of initiating that process, Wallace ended up seeking a Florida Division of Administrative Proceedings (DOAH) hearing on what FDOT identified as the issue needing to be addressed: “Whether Dr. James P. Wallace III has standing to challenge the Department’s decision to issue a permit that includes the planning level decision to install a traffic control device on Stickney Point Road at the Avenue B & C intersection for the Siesta Promenade Development.”
Siesta 41 Associates, which had been allowed to intervene in the FDOT case, argued that Wallace was unable to prove standing.
As Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute defines it, a person has “standing” in a case if the person can show that he or she has “sustained or will sustain direct injury or harm” from a specific action and that the harm can be remedied by a court.
Siesta 41 requested that the administrative law judge assigned to the DOAH case dismiss Wallace’s petition. On March 26, the judge did so and relinquished jurisdiction to FDOT.
Among the formal Findings of Fact in its final order on Wallace’s petition — issued on May 13 — FDOT explained that, on the basis of a 2006 decision of the Florida First District Court of Appeal, it had to accept as true “the factual allegations” in Wallace’s petition.
Among those, it noted the following:
- No intersection exists at Avenue B and C and Stickney Point Road.
- Wallace uses the affected segment of Stickney Point Road “‘daily and sometimes multiple times per day’” and has done so for the past 20 years.
- “The proposed traffic signal and intersection will cause Dr. Wallace ‘to become stuck in additional traffic congestion and during season maroon [Dr. Wallace] and his family making it more difficult for him to leave and return to Siesta Key to access medical care, goods and services he needs and utilizes on the mainland. These services are beyond the proposed intersection and traffic signal and [Dr. Wallace] will have to go through the proposed new traffic signalized intersection to access these mainland services.’”
- Because the stoplight will be located between the U.S. 41 intersection and the drawbridge on Stickney Point Road, “‘the light will adversely affect the operating conditions on the roadway and road network that provides access to [Wallace’s] home on Siesta Key …’”
FDOT further pointed out, with emphasis, that Sections 335.18 through 335.188 of the Florida Statutes, known as the State Highway System Access Management Act, “provide that it is the policy of the Legislature that an ‘owner of property which abuts a road on the State Highway System has a right of reasonable access to the abutting state highway …’”
Moreover, FDOT noted in its order, the administrative law judge in the DOAH case cited a 1994 Florida Supreme Court decision, Department of Transportation v. Gefen, which said, “No person has a vested right in the maintenance of a [particular traffic pattern on a] public highway.”
“Consistent with Gefen,” FDOT pointed out in its order, “is the fact that there are no provisions in the State Highway System Management Act which extend the scope of the Act to members of the general public who have complaints about possible traffic congestion resulting from the planned installation of a traffic light. The Administrative Law Judge found that [Wallace’s] purported injury of being ‘stuck in additional traffic congestion’ is not the ‘type or nature’ that chapter 335 is designed to address.”
Further, FDOT added, a 1982 Florida Supreme Court decision said the department’s “‘decisions relating to the installation of appropriate traffic control methods and devices … are discretionary decisions which implement the entity’s police power and are judgmental, planning level-functions.’”
One more try before appealing
On June 29, the Siesta Key Association (SKA), which has supported Wallace in his efforts, noted on its website that Wallace and an expert traffic engineer whom Wallace had hired — Bill Oliver — met with FDOT staff. During that session, the SKA continued, Wallace and Oliver provided FDOT with the results of computer modeling, “showing the very severe traffic backups that would result from a new traffic signal and intersection on Siesta Key’s Primary Access Road.”
“While FDOT staff seemed very interested in the model results and sincere during the meeting and even asked for copies of the modeling performed by [the] transportation engineer, the FDOT Secretary decided that [Wallace] did not have standing to contest FDOT’s decision to approve the new intersection and traffic light [at Avenue B and C],” the SKA pointed out.
“Dr. Wallace has appealed FDOT’s position that no one on Siesta Key has any due process rights associated with major traffic safety-related changes to Siesta Key’s Primary Access Road,” the SKA added, with emphasis.
“This case is particularly important to Siesta Key,” the SKA continued, because a new signal at Avenue B and C would stop east-west traffic “dead in its tracks every 75 seconds on Stickney Point Road between the drawbridge and [U.S. 41].”