Siesta Key resident makes connection with state-level ruling involving hotel-related victory by fellow islander
By John Morton
Siesta Key resident Jim Wallace is demanding that the Siesta Promenade project be halted.
Via a letter to Sarasota County through a lawyer, he’s questioning the county’s actions by piggybacking upon a state ruling in April involving a lawsuit by fellow island resident Lourdes Ramirez.
Wallace’s letter is merely one of opposition to Siesta Promenade, but could it be a harbinger of a lawsuit?
When reached for comment, Wallace declined per the advice of his attorney.
The 24-acre Benderson Development mixed-use project, first approved in December of 2018 for the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, will feature 414 apartments and/or condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space, and 7,000 square feet of office space. Recent changes in its plans required that it go through the county’s approval process once again.
The initial approval was contingent upon the installation of a traffic signal along Stickney Point Road at Avenue B & C – a signal that has already been erected but not activated. Wallace, a resident of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex on Old Stickney Point Road near the south bridge, fought the Florida Department of Transportation on the installation of the signal but lost, including the denial of an appeal ruled upon in January.
In the Ramirez case, an administrative law judge with Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) ruled that the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) went against its own comprehensive plan by approving a hotel on Calle Miramar that exceeded what had been density and height limits. Part of that ruling was based upon Siesta Key’s vulnerability as a barrier island to hurricanes and a potential need for sudden evacuation that is limited to two bridges.
Ramirez would win another hotel-related lawsuit, this one against Sarasota County, in an Aug. 21 summary judgment ruling from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. The state DOAH victory was knowledge to the judge, but what impact it may have had is uncertain.
Wallace’s opposition letter
In an Aug. 1 letter to the county on behalf of Wallace, land-use attorney Ralf Brookes wrote in summation, in part:
- “The BOCC should demand that all work on the Siesta Promenade Project must be halted immediately. To not do so flaunts the DOAH decision regarding Siesta Key and its two access roads, which by law demands such action. The significant negative impact of a new signal at Avenue B&C on traffic flow on and off the Key is simply beyond debate. Current plans appear to call for the proposed new signal to stop east-west traffic dead in its tracks every 85 seconds.”
- “The BOCC should demand that the Sarasota County legal staff quickly and publicly brief BOCC members on the legalities associated with the DOAH decision’s impact on the Siesta Promenade’s project approval because the county must base approvals on “maintaining the existing level of service of [constrained] roadways and to not allow the existing operating conditions to be degraded.” This legal staff’s public BOCC briefing should also address the impact of the DOAH decision on all other projects involving Siesta Key, and its two access roads …”
Sarasota County was made the owner of Stickney Point Road (west of the U.S. 41 intersection) in 2019 when FDOT handed it off when taking over River Road in the southern part of the county by converting it into a state road.
The drawbridge on Stickney Point Road, however still belongs to the state.
In Brookes’ letter, he also quoted part of the DOAH ruling in saying, in part:
“There are only two bridges — Siesta Drive Bridge and Stickney Point Road bridge that provide access and evacuation routes to the mainland from Siesta Key. Both of the bridges are designated as constrained roads by the comprehensive plan.
“A constrained road is defined by the comprehensive plan as a road with ‘a level of service lower than the adopted standard … this means that while on the bridges, speed and freedom to maneuver are severely restricted. Small increases in traffic will generally cause operational problems at this level.’
“The comprehensive plan states that constrained roads are common throughout the county and therefore the county has accepted ‘an additional responsibility … in its review and approval of land development regulation (LDR). Therefore, the county must base approvals of LDRs on ‘maintaining the existing level of service of [constrained] roadways and to not allow the existing operating conditions to be degraded.’”
Brookes’ letter also noted that the county received a letter in July of 2016 from an FDOT traffic services program engineer that said the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road should be given “special consideration,” in part, because of congestion and a high rate of car crashes.
Said Brookes, “Given this FDOT letter, it is hardly surprising that the judge in her DOAH decision specifically stated that the decision applied not only to the barrier island but also specifically stated that the decision applied equally to Stickney Point Road. Obviously, this access road’s performance is extremely critical to Hurricane evacuation and medical emergency vehicle travel times onto Siesta Key and then to a hospital on the mainland.”
In July, the county’s planning commission voted again in favor of recommending Benderson’s revised plans for the project – subject to the removal of new accommodations for parallel parking upon Glencoe and Crestwood avenues in the neighboring Pine Shores Estates subdivision.
Brookes’ letter also called into question the legitimacy of that meeting, in relation to the Avenue B & C traffic signal, in saying in part:
“ … it must be made clear to the public that the recent planning commission meeting regarding the Siesta Promenade was totally inappropriate and, in fact, an illegal representation of the situation. In effect, the neighborhood meeting participants were told to assume that the Siesta Promenade development and the newly installed, but not yet made functional, signal at Avenue B & C was not debatable — that this new signal would soon be made functional was assumed by all participants.
“Without that new signal there can be no Siesta Promenade. We call for an immediate and complete cessation of all building permits associated with Siesta Promenade currently scheduled to appear before the BOCC …”
The Sarasota Board of County Commissioners was set to hold a public hearing and potentially vote on Siesta Promenade’s new plans on Sept. 27, as a previously scheduled Aug. 30 vote was delayed due to Hurricane Idalia.
The outcome of the meeting came after Siesta Sand’s print deadline.
Wallace was a plaintiff in a second hotel-related lawsuit against the county, filed in 2021, also regarding the approval of what are now three hotels that received a special exception for the number of rooms and height. He has since dropped out.