The four candidates for the two seats available on the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners were asked these five questions by the Siesta Sand as the Nov. 8 general election approaches.
What three Siesta Key issues do you consider top priority?
Has the county misguided and/or neglected Siesta Key?
Do you support the new high-rise hotels on Siesta Key?
Do you support the Siesta Key incorporation effort?
What do you envision as Siesta Key’s ideal future?
District 2 represents the northern half of Siesta Key, District 4 the southern half.
Fredd Atkins, Democrat, District 2
Public access to beaches, overdevelopment (including high-rise hotels), and traffic alleviation are three major issues facing Siesta Key. All of these issues are fueling the larger issue of incorporation.
The county commission members have become so arrogant that they believe they know what is best for Siesta Key, even though Siesta Key vehemently opposes the county commission’s policy decisions.
I oppose high-rise hotels being built on Siesta Key. Not only does it threaten the character of the Key, it exacerbates the traffic concerns on the island.
Siesta Key has every right to move for incorporation, whether that is creating its own city or joining the city of Sarasota. However, with incorporation, it would still rely on the county for services. Siesta Key provides around 30% of the county’s taxable income. Incorporation would mean potentially deep cuts to the county budget.
Siesta Key residents faces a real crossroads. They can vote to continue to be disrespected, which forces them to make moves towards incorporation, or the Key can vote for a commissioner who will be fighting on the behalf of residents to stop the building high-rise hotels and who will be working with FDOT and SCAT to find solutions to the Key’s traffic problems.
Mark Smith, Republican, District 2
- Traffic. The Critical Area Plan (CAP) submitted for the Siesta Promenade project didn’t require the traffic study be the same area as the admitted impact area. Until we change the requirements of traffic studies to encompass the entire impact area, we will never lessen our traffic problems.
- Overdevelopment. The Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) was created to protect the character of Siesta Key. The County Commission’s vote to approve the mega hotels is in direct violation with the intent of SKOD. This is why we need strong Siesta Key leadership on the Board of County Commissioners.
- Water quality. Too many failures in the sewer stations and pipes that end up discharging into our bay. The bacteria count at our beaches is causing warnings and closures. We need to open Midnight Pass and flush Sarasota Bay.
Sarasota County has improved Siesta Key over the years with the following projects:
• Remodeling and new buildings and grounds at Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach parks
• South Siesta Key beach restoration
• Siesta Key master pump station and water main projects
• New Fire Station No. 13
• Siesta Breeze trolley
With new Siesta Key leadership on the BCC misguided decisions will be avoided.
No. As a member of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee, I wrote a text amendment to the Unified Development Code that would allow boutique hotels at 52 units per acre and be no taller than neighboring Residential Multiple Family properties. The mega hotel in Siesta Village will have 170 rooms, 175 units per acre, and will be 95 feet tall. Under our text amendment the boutique hotel would have 50 rooms on that site.
I’m waiting to review the latest incorporation effort’s feasibility study. The FAQs on the Save Siesta Key website has a table listing 12 municipalities “of like kind.” The five island municipalities listed of Fort Myers Beach, Marco Island, Sanibel, Anna Maria, and Longboat Key have an average tax revenue of $10 million. At .5 mil the Town of Siesta Key will generate $2.9 million. When we know how much our taxes are actually going to go up and evaluate the proposed increase in level of service, then we can all determine if it’s worth it.
An ideal future would be having a balance of residential and commercial uses on Siesta Key that accommodate both the residents and visitors. That we have clean water in our bay and at the beaches. That you can get on and off Siesta Key in a reasonable amount of time.
Daniel Kuether, Democrat, District 4
I consider the top three priorities for Siesta Key to be preventing high-density hotels, improving traffic flow and overall infrastructure, and supporting Siesta Key incorporation.
The county has absolutely neglected Siesta Key, just as the current commissioners have ignored ALL citizens of Sarasota County. This blatant negligence is magnified on Siesta Key. The current commissioners disregard the comprehensive plan and residents’ concerns in favor of the developers’ wishes. Siesta Key needs representation that is not in the pocket of the local development community.
No, I do not support the new high-rise hotels on Siesta Key, as I believe they are being pushed by the current commissioners when they are not a proper fit. There is a significant lack of foresight in these plans. Not only do the density projections contradict the comprehensive plan, but there is no real strategy to mitigate the effects on traffic, the additional beachgoers, and the lasting change to Siesta Key’s character. We must take a big step back, listen to citizens’ interests, and evaluate the needs of our community.
Yes, I believe if Siesta Key wants to incorporate, then every elected official in the county should support this initiative. I would like to see a more detailed and long-term strategy for the exact execution and resulting operational budget. Still, I believe with proper planning, incorporating Siesta Key will protect the island’s residents and make a stronger community for all of Sarasota County.
I envision a Siesta Key that is again enjoyable for all Sarasotans to call home and visit whenever they wish. An end to battling bridge traffic, as we integrate new traffic flows and rely more heavily on public transit and shuttles. I envision a more secure Siesta Key that has safe places for pedestrians, respects private property, and provides clarified access boundaries for all beach visitors.
Finally, I envision a Siesta Key that proudly proclaims its history and works to maintain a look and feel that is natural to its character but still provides the necessities of a national vacation destination.
Joe Neunder, Republican, District 4
- Traffic begs for a well-researched and viable solution.
- Better beach transportation for the community and visitors.
- Dealing with growth and changing uses.
I don’t believe so, but I do think there should be a better relationship between the elected commissioners and the Siesta citizens’ organizations. I plan on building relationships and having open communication with the community. When following the Siesta community plan in the late ‘90s and the creation of the Siesta (barrier Island) overlay district in the early 2000s, there was a much better relationship. Being a “destination” community makes for unique challenges that we, as a community, are struggling with. The plan for me is to be fully engaged.
If you’re asking if there should be more than those already approved, I think that is, and would be, a heavy lift on the part of the applicant. I would have to be convinced. As far as the ones already approved, they are in litigation, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment while that is pending as I would be a defendant in at least two of the lawsuits when elected.
I believe Siesta Key is well represented as currently governed but, if the majority of the people choose to incorporate, I would never get in the way and support their decision.
I envision Siesta Key as a community that has struck a balance between a residential community and tourist destination with adequate parking and transportation to serve both.