Let’s be generous, welcoming and consistent.
Siesta Key is an amazing place to live and invest in property. That’s why people have homes there; that’s why so many visitors come to stay there each year. When people buy a home there, they do so because they want to enjoy all the great things about living there, now and in the future. They expect to use that property for their enjoyment.
But three proposals to build boutique hotels on the Key have set off a strong reaction. Should current residents be able to deny other current property owners the use of their land for development?
The Stop High Density Hotels movement seeks to do just that. Signs reading “Stop High Density Hotels” have sprung up the length of the Key, including in front of many massive, high-density condominium resorts with hundreds of units. This looks like people saying, “I got mine, now let’s shut the door,” and that is not fair or consistent.
Siesta Key does not need to close the door. The Key has zoning and the county has a planning process and impact fees specifically designed to analyze the effects of a new building project and to limit it to reasonable standards and provide for mitigation of external effects, such as traffic. This is a system designed to protect those already living here from careless side effects of new development while allowing property owners to build if they want.
But saying “stop” as soon as a project is proposed rejects any analysis of project impacts, refuses to allow the process to work and jumps to the conclusion of closing the door.
No one prevented a current resident of Siesta Key from enjoying the development of their property, and it is wrong to turn around and deny that same right to the next property owner down the road.
I’ll concede that traffic on Siesta Key can be terrible at times, though still a very small number of hours per year, mainly the beach rush hours in March and April.
The way to address that is not to forbid property owners from making reasonable use of their property. We need to keep working on improving the transportation options, the flow of traffic and better parking options on the Key. The Siesta Trolley has had a significant impact and shows that we can make progress there.
At the same time, congestion is an inherent part of a very desirable place — that is a global reality, and it’s a small price to pay for enjoying life on the Key.
A Fair Approach
There’s a better way for people with legitimate concerns about development or other activities to take control without forcing everyone to comply or shutting the door to the Key.
A number of condominium associations and homeowner associations already do so. If property owners want to come together and agree to put limitations, covenants and conditions on the use of their own properties, that is perfectly within their rights. Such an organization can preserve or shape a neighborhood to align with what the property owners agree to in advance and binds future property owners as well. If some owners are unwilling to join, the organization can choose to buy them out.
Purchasing a property to shape the way it is developed is the moral and just way to influence development — not asking the government to stop others from getting what you got. Owners should have full use of their property as the law or contract stood at the time they bought it.
Incorporating Siesta Key Won’t Help
Unfortunately, the newly minted “Save Siesta Key” movement, pushing for incorporation of the Key into its own city, seems focused on the power to say “stop” to almost everything. The county has taken sensible approaches to development consistent with the General Plan and to regulating activities on the Key, such as free shuttles, micro mobility, vacation homes, events, etc.
Residents do not need to venture into more and preemptive regulations. Siesta Key does not need be governed by a handful of nannies with nothing to do but stamp out anything they do not approve of.
Take the High Road
Siesta Key is a gem where it is a joy to live. Reasonable development that allows others to enjoy it, as residents or visitors, is not an enemy that needs to be stopped, but a reasonable decision by our neighbors.
The old saying “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken” applies. For the most part, Siesta Key works very, very well. Let’s work together on the few real problems we have, such as improving traffic in ways that don’t take away anything from others.
Let’s be generous, welcoming and consistent.
Adrian Moore is vice president at Reason Foundation and lives in Sarasota.
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