Being in the fortunate position of owning an investment management business that allows me to work from anywhere, I have chosen to spend the rest of my career in two of the most beautiful places in the country, Siesta Key and Traverse City, Mich. Both places are waterfront communities that share a casual, laidback lifestyle for the residents and the many tourists who share the experience every year.
But, although the lifestyles may be similar, there is one important difference in the development of these two desirable locations.
The Traverse City area has a master plan of what the majority of the residents want their community to be and look like now and in the future. This plan was years in the making and involved any resident who wanted to participate in the process. The result was a roadmap for future development of the area in a way that would please the majority of the people who call it home.
The benefit to the Grand Traverse area of having adopted a master plan is that most proposals for new development projects, new laws or regulations can be examined in accordance to “the plan” as well as its guiding principles when the plan may not specifically address the subject in question. Because of this process, the decisions by city and county commissions tend to be guided in a direction that better reflects the wishes of the majority of the taxpayers, especially on future development issues.
Without a plan, money talks and usually gets what it wants with little regard for the wishes of the silent majority.
From watching the way Siesta Key has developed and changed over the last 40 years, it is obvious there has never been a comprehensive development plan that reflects the wishes of the majority of people living there. And, because of that lack of planning, the area continues to have to deal with the unintended consequences of past ad hoc decisions.
An obvious example is Siesta Key Village. Was it really part of a master plan to have multiple bars at each end of the Village and to make this quaint beachside community a drinking destination? I seriously doubt it. It was the absence of a plan that allowed the money of the bar owners to influence development decisions in the Village.
A master plan would have considered the consequences of having so many bars with late-night entertainment, such as the noise levels and the frequent occurrences of disorderly behavior on the part of some of the patrons.
Another example of the consequences of not planning is the debate of whether to change the open-container law for Siesta Key Beach. I don’t think a well thought-out master plan for family-friendly Siesta Key would have included being one of the few beaches in Florida to allow unrestricted drinking for adults.
Now, we have the controversy surrounding the parking lot in the Village. Once again, money is influencing policy decisions that have long-term ramifications for not only Siesta Key Village, but for Sarasota County, as a whole. Are county taxpayers going to be funding the construction and maintenance of parking lots going forward? Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson voted no, and I support her lone position on the commission.
The Siesta Key Association should look into developing a comprehensive master planning process that would include the participation of Siesta Key residents. The result of this process would ensure that future development decisions on Siesta Key reflect the wishes of the majority of the taxpayers on the Key and not just those with business interests or the majority of county commissioners.
John Gudritz is the co-owner of an investment management firm. He and his wife have been coming to Siesta Key since the 1970s and have been property owners and seasonal residents since 2008.