By John Morton
Legal representatives for longtime Siesta Key resident Jim Wallace finally got the ear of a three-judge panel in the Second District Court of Appeal in Tampa on Jan. 17.
“I was pleased with my attorney’s arguments and am confident our case will get careful consideration,” said Wallace, who in early 2021 initiated an administrative challenge of a Florida Department of Transportation decision to provide permits to install stoplights along Stickney Point Road at Avenue B & C – just two blocks west of U.S. 41. That’s where the massive mixed-use Siesta Promenade project at the northwest corner of the intersection has been approved by Sarasota County, featuring 414 apartments and/or condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space, and 7,000 square feet of office space.
The county mandated during its 2018 approval of the project that a stoplight be placed at the location. It will be home to a turn-in that will serve one of the main entrances.
The oral arguments were initially scheduled for early November but were postponed due to conflicts with lawyers with Benderson Development, the firm that’s been given approval to build the project.
After the Jan. 17 hearing, no decision was made and no time frame for one was presented. If Wallace wins his appeal, not only would the stoplights have to come down but other sections of infrastructure put in place would have to come out.
A case study Wallace presented to FDOT determined that the stoplight would result in a cycle of stops at the lights every 85 seconds. The stretch of Stickney Point Road from U.S. 41 to Midnight Pass Road is less than a mile and is not only crowded with beach-goers but is home to an active drawbridge. It’s considered the main access to Siesta Key and is known for traffic back-ups that go for miles.
“The people of Siesta Key need to understand how detrimental this is,” said Wallace, who lives near the south bridge in the Marina Del Sol condo complex. “This would take us from a tourist attraction to a tourist trap.
“The residents here need to work overturn these decisions by the (Sarasota County) commissioners. And the FDOT doesn’t take into consideration that we are a barrier island – it has no notion whatsoever that what is already a difficult decision would get much worse.”
FDOT has countered that Wallace has been unable to show he has suffered, or will suffer, more harm than others from the installment of the signals.
Wallace has said that leaving and returning to the island for basic needs, including doctor appointments, have become increasingly difficult for him and many others.
Wallace first filed his complaint with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and, after making no progress, filed with the Second District Court of Appeal in June 2021.
Wallace was also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Sarasota County for the 2021 approval of two high-density hotels, but dropped out of the case. Three other plaintiffs remain.