By Rachel Brown Hackney
Although the installation schedule had not been announced prior to the deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has approved the permits for a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C, FDOT spokesman Brian Rick told the SNL.
The applicant for the permits was an employee of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which has an office in downtown Sarasota. That information was shown in a document Rick provided the SNL.
Kimley-Horn conducted the required traffic analyses for the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development, which will stand in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
Rick added in a December 9th email to the SNL, “All necessary paperwork has been completed” for the traffic signal project. He noted that FDOT had issued two permits to Kimley-Horn: access permit 2020-A-194-00021 and drainage permit 2020-D-194-00021.
“They plan to start as soon as possible,” Rick pointed out of the undertaking.
In early December, he told the SNL that Kimley-Horn would have to provide a bond to FDOT before the work could begin.
After FDOT received the bond, Rick wrote in a December 1st email, “[T]he permits will be approved and issued, and construction can then begin.” The timeline would be up to the contractor hired by Benderson Development Co., which is the developer of Siesta Promenade, Rick noted.
During the Dec. 12th, 2018 County Commission public hearing on Benderson’s applications for Siesta Promenade, commissioners made it clear that the traffic signal would have to be installed at the Avenue B and C intersection before the construction of the mixed-use development could start.
Materials Benderson filed with Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff in June 2017 included Kimley-Horn’s advocacy for the traffic signal and the closure of the median opening at Stickney Point road and Glencoe Avenue. The latter action would “accommodate an eastbound left-turn lane,” the Kimley-Horn traffic analysis said.
An analysis was conducted at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, the report noted; data was collected for 12 hours. The results “indicate that a traffic signal is warranted,” the document added.
The County Commission approved 414 condominiums/apartments, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space on the approximately 25-acre site where Siesta Promenade will stand.
Last year, Benderson purchased two single-family homes in Pine Shores Estates, which is the residential community immediately adjacent to the Siesta Promenade site. As a result, Benderson has submitted a new, preliminary application to county staff, seeking the rezoning of those parcels so the company can add 16 more dwelling units to the development.
Continuing concerns about traffic congestion
As previously reported, Nathan Kautz, an FDOT traffic services engineer, notified Kimley-Horn staff in a December 19th, 2017 email that Kimley-Horn needed to provide details about how Avenue A ”will work with the [traffic queues] at the proposed signal [at Avenue B and C].”
Additionally, in a November 6th, 2017 email to Kimley-Horn employees, Kautz had pointed out that some of his colleagues had asked for assurance that the Avenue B and C traffic signal would not cause westbound traffic queues to back up into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
In a November 17th, 2017 letter to Kautz, Christopher Hatton, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn, wrote that the firm’s traffic studies indicated that westbound traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of [Stickney Point Road] & US 41.”
Nonetheless, Siesta Key residents have talked of such traffic backups occurring regularly on days during the height of tourist season, when beachgoers are headed from the mainland to the island via Stickney Point Road. They also have posted photos on social media to support their contentions.
During the December 9th Siesta Key Association meeting, Siesta resident James Wallace told the other participants, “We have demanded and will receive a hearing to dispute the analysis that has been done by FDOT for that light [at Avenue B and C]. That issue is not over.”
A week earlier, during a Neighborhood Workshop on proposals for a 120-room hotel and a parking garage on south Siesta Key, Wallace predicted, “If that light gets approved, 20% of the time, the east/west traffic [on Stickney Point Road] will be stopped dead in its tracks.”
Wallace has described himself as “a key person” in the litigation that fought the County Commission’s approval of Siesta Promenade. (He was a major fundraiser for the complaint Pine Shores Estates resident Sura Kochman filed against the county in January 2019. Ultimately, both the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the county.)
In a brief that was part of the litigation, Kochman’s attorney, Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, noted that the County Commission predicated its approval of Siesta Promenade on FDOT’s willingness for the the traffic signal to be erected at Avenue B and C.
He also pointed out that the Stickney Point Road drawbridge is one of only two accesses to Siesta Key. Yet, he added, between 10 AM and 2 PM on days during the height of tourist season, “[T]his segment of Stickney [Point Road] is very frequently ‘stop and go’ with backups in both directions on [U.S.] 41 and on Midnight Pass [Road] North and South of Stickney Point [Road].”
In her December 2nd, 2019 opinion in the case, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh wrote, “It is not in dispute that installing a traffic light is subject to approval by the Department of Transportation and that construction of [Siesta Promenade] cannot begin until the signal is installed and the intersection completed.”