James Wallace voices his opposition of a traffic signal along Stickney Point Road.
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Siesta Key resident James Wallace readily concedes that he was late in joining the fight against the Siesta Promenade project.
Nonetheless, since the County Commission approved that mixed-use development in December 2018, Wallace has been a leader in the fight.
Wallace’s latest salvo is an effort to convince the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials that a new traffic signal authorized at the intersection of Avenue B and C on Stickney Point Road fails to meet transportation planning standards.
And if he can stop that light from being installed, he said, Siesta Promenade cannot be built, thanks to a County Commission stipulation.
As designed by Benderson Development Co., Siesta Promenade would encompass 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel standing about 80 feet tall, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. The structures would stand on about 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
On Feb. 4, during a regular Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Wallace pointed out that if both Siesta Promenade and a 120-room hotel that Siesta businessman Gary Kompothecras has proposed on Old Stickney Point Road are constructed, “The Key will never be the same. People need to know that.”
In late December, Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes filed a petition with FDOT on Wallace’s behalf, seeking an administrative hearing on the stoplight plan. FDOT issued an order of dismissal of the petition in late January, but it allowed Wallace to submit an amended version. Therefore, on Feb. 4, Brookes filed that second document.
Brookes pointed out that if the Avenue B and C stoplight is installed, “Clearly there will be additional lives placed at risk, and even lost, due to emergency vehicle delays to and from Siesta Key and emergency rooms on the mainland,” as the vehicles would have to traverse the section of Stickney Point Road with the new traffic signal, plus a drawbridge.
Moreover, Brookes wrote, “There will be more time lost in stop-and-go Siesta Key-related traffic by persons who reside or work on Siesta Key as they must use the road segment affected by this.
“More persons will simply be marooned at home and not be willing to endure attempting trips on and off the Key during post-COVID tourist season beach-traffic rush hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“These are historical facts, and the result of a future virtual certainty, in the opinion of [Wallace’s] traffic engineering expert.”
Brookes further noted that the level of service for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road during the afternoon peak drive time is an “F.”
“An ‘F’ represents near ‘gridlock’ conditions,” Brookes continued, “where every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it and traffic nearly comes to a stop. The approval of additional development adding to traffic congestion in the area of [that intersection] was already the subject of FDOT concern [in a 2016 letter to Sarasota County’s Transportation Planning Division manager], and as a result Sarasota County conditioned approval of [Siesta Promenade] on FDOT’s review of the [need for a traffic signal at Avenue B and C].”
Brookes emphasized that after the traffic signal is in place, “There will be no remedy, no review, no chance for any oversight or citizen participation as contemplated by Florida’s Administrative Procedures Act [Chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes, which] was created to provide for input into agency decision making by affected persons prior to a final agency decision.
“It would seem prudent that FDOT either rescind its current decision or grant a formal or at least an informal Hearing or meeting with FDOT on the matter.”
Details of Wallace’s original petition
On Dec. 30, Brookes filed the initial document in the case, seeking “assignment of an independent administrative law judge” to hear the Wallace petition.
The goal, Brookes noted, would be to gain such a judge’s recommendation of denial of the FDOT permit for the stoplight or a modification of that permit.
Brookes emphasized that no intersection exists at the planned location of the Avenue B and C traffic signal.
Among his arguments, Brookes pointed to sections of FDOT rules and the Florida Administrative Code in contending that, given “the addition of significant development at the intersection of [U.S. 41] and Stickney Point Road,” plus the “significant role of Stickney Point [Road] as a gateway access to Siesta Key, the scarcity of alternative accesses, and the long-term life of [Siesta Promenade], FDOT should have taken a longer-term and more comprehensive approach to evaluating this traffic signal proposal.”
In an Oct. 26 letter from FDOT to Brookes — which is included among exhibits with Wallace’s petitions — Mark Mathes, a district traffic operations engineer, wrote, “Based on the traffic analyses and submissions by the applicant, Benderson Development Company LLC, the Department has determined that a traffic signal is warranted at Avenue B & C. The proposed signal met warrants for 8-hour vehicular volume and for 4-hour vehicular volume.”
Brookes responded by saying, “The flaw in using intersection turning movement count data is that only the vehicles that actually pass through the intersection are counted, but not the vehicles that arrive at the location but cannot pass through due to operational and capacity limitations.”
Thus, Brookes continued, the Kimley-Horn consulting firm’s traffic analysis for Siesta Promenade “does not address the ‘traffic demand’ issue, even though there is quite a bit of testimonial and photographic evidence from citizens documenting extensive queues and routine congestion. An analysis of traffic demand vs, actual ‘constrained’ flow … should have been required,” he added, during FDOT’s review of the Benderson application for the permit for the traffic signal.