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Sarasota Friday, May 3, 2019 3 years ago

Siesta Key leaders optimistic over potential to halt Siesta Promenade

Sura Kochman, who lives across the street from the proposed development, first filed a lawsuit against the county in January.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Siesta Key residents say they are hopeful that the construction of the Siesta Promenade — a controversial development on the corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 — may be halted following the most recent court action involving a lawsuit against the county.

Sarasota County commissioners unanimously approved the Siesta Promenade plans in December, much to the dismay of residents who openly testified against the mixed retail-residential concept late last year. In particular, they argued the 24-acre project by Benderson Development could negatively impact traffic and safety on one of the busiest intersections in the county.

Following the county’s approval, Siesta Key resident Jim Wallace and Siesta Promenade opponent Sura Kochman teamed up to sue the county over “11 gross structural and procedural errors” in the approval process. The Siesta Key Association then threw its support behind the litigation, filing an amicus curiae brief

"The application failed to meet essential requirements of law contained in the standards and criteria for approval and was not supported by competent substantial evidence."

— Sura Kochman's amended petition against the county

that explained its objections to the proposed development and why it, too, should be considered in the conversation.

On April 17, Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh ordered the county to respond to the lawsuit with an explanation of why its decision to approve the Siesta Promenade should not be reversed.

The county has 30 days from the initial mid-April date to respond. Once it files its response, Kochman and her team will have an additional 15 days to file a rebuttal as plaintiff.

According to Ralf Brooks — Kochman’s attorney in the litigation — the two parties will likely go before McHugh again in the fall after both responses have been completed.

"If I were on the other side of this, I would be looking for another thing to do with that property,” Jim Wallace said, explaining that he warned commissioners of the oncoming lawsuit during his initial November testimony. “Frankly, I would be trying to sell the property for totally some other purpose.”

But the lawsuit isn’t the only avenue of stopping the development. Brooks says he believes opponents may also be able to halt its permitting.

According to Brooks, Benderson Development staff members have applied for an earthmoving permit with the county, for their pre-application for a site clearing permit was denied because of their lack of a solid site plan.

“We’re thinking about filing a challenge to that earth moving permit,” Brooks explained, “As it was intended for people with farms and agriculture, not for pre-site development.”

In either case, the continuation of the lawsuit has renewed optimism among Siesta Key residents.

“There’s an old saying from my generation: 'It is just and it is righteous,’” said Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association. “It is correct, and I am really happy that the judge saw that … And I actually believe that the county is very willing to do something different if they can. I really do.”

“I think [the county] is going to have a terrible time because they never did a traffic study,” Wallace said. “I think we’re going to win this.”

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