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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 8, 2016 2 years ago

Beach Road on the path to legal battles

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A couple accuses the Siesta Key-based Reopen Beach Road campaign of spreading misinformation.
by: Anna Brugmann Community Editor

After filing a legal complaint against Sarasota County over the decision to privatize a segment of Beach Road, Mike Cosentino had his first day in court last week — as a defendant, not a plaintiff.

He was facing Beach Road property owners Wendy and Dennis Madden, who filed an injunction regarding what they say is misleading information being disseminated on the Reopen Beach Road website and Facebook page.

Cosentino launched the campaign after Beach Road property owners petitioned Sarasota County to permanently vacate a portion of road in front of their homes. The county agreed, and although that agreement mandates continued pedestrian access along the street, the county will no longer control the segment.

Beach Road between Avenida Messina and Columbus Boulevard was first temporarily vacated in 1993, and cars have not been allowed to drive on it since.

After the county approved the permanent vacation, Cosentino filed a legal complaint against the county with intent to sue. The Maddens, represented by attorney Charlie Bailey, have aligned themselves with Sarasota County in the impending lawsuit.

The Maddens also filed a request for an emergency hearing in an attempt to expedite the injunction process. A judge denied the motion Aug. 31.

The court has not set a date for the injunction hearing.

“Basically, the judge denied the request to hold an emergency hearing on that motion,” Bailey said.

The initial urgency from the property owners may have been due to Cosentino’s efforts to solicit signatures to put a charter amendment on the November ballot that would overturn the county’s May 11 decision to vacate its interest in the segment in question. The proposed amendment would also make it illegal to privatize similar waterfront roadways in the future.

The initiative will not be featured on the general election ballot. Only seven of the requisite 15,000 signatures necessary to propose a charter amendment have been processed by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, which may have contributed to the judge’s denial for an emergency hearing.

Cosentino estimates he has half the required signatures, but has yet to submit them to the Supervisor of Elections. He said he has every intention of pushing forward with his amendment, but concedes that his initial timeline might have been overzealous.

“I certainly set an unreal goal as far as trying to get these things done,” Cosentino said. “We’ll keep steady at it until it happens.”

Cosentino filed his legal complaint June 10. Plaintiffs have 120 days from the time they submit a complaint to formally file a lawsuit, giving Cosentino an October deadline.

Cosentino said he will continue his efforts to reopen Beach Road.

“Sarasota County has never existed without a public Beach Road,” he said. “And we want to keep it that way.”

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