Siesta Key residents say the project will only exacerbate issues near U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
Siesta Key residents are hopeful that the Siesta Promenade, a controversial multiuse development planned for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, will not be built as the next step in a lawsuit against the county is set to take place in October over approval of the project.
Oral arguments in the lawsuit, which was filed after Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously approved
the Siesta Promenade plans in December 2018, will be heard in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on Oct. 10. Each side of the suit will have 20 minutes to present its case.
Opponents of the project say developers and county leaders failed to consider the various areas of impact the project would bring; they cite exacerbated traffic as the largest issue.
Benderson Development’s plans for the space include 414 residential units, 130 hotel suites, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space.
The county response brief, filed in July, states the proposed development is “compatible with commercial characteristics of U.S. 41 through south Sarasota.”
Siesta Key resident Jim Wallace, who has been a part of the legal battle, said it is not.
“This road is not like any other road; this intersection is not like any other intersection; this corner is not like any other intersection,” Wallace said. “Yet the county treated it like any other intersection. … Well, it’s insane.”
Benderson Director of Development Todd Mathes argued the proposal was optimal for the site. Mathes said several elements of the plan, such as 25 affordable housing units and new traffic amenities, would bring benefits.
The intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road — one of the two entrances to Siesta Key — is designated by the Florida Department of Transportation as “PM peak Level of Service F,” which represents near-“gridlock” conditions on a scale that grades Service A the best.
In addition to the F designation, the Siesta Key Association produced a letter sent from FDOT to Sarasota County officials in 2016 that stated the department had concerns about the safety and operation of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
The letter also states that the eastbound left turn movement has up to 75% more volume than the design can accommodate and continues to run at an F despite FDOT retiming the 30 traffic signals along the corridor.
Benderson countered those claims before the County Commission with data and testimony on how road and traffic infrastructure improvements proposed by the developer as part of the project, along with other improvements made by FDOT in the subsequent years after those findings, would address issues raised in that 2016 letter.
Because of traffic and safety concerns coming on and off the Key, the Siesta Key Association filed a brief
in support of resident Sura Kochman’s suit against the county, though Judge Andrea McHugh denied the request, ruling the group did not establish it had unique information or perspective.
Although SKA President Catherine Luckner said the litigation has been a long process, she’s still optimistic.
“I think there’s still a road ahead,” Luckner said. “But I am hopeful the oral arguments will help us prove our point.”
In addition to traffic concerns at the Stickney Point and U.S. 41 intersection, Wallace said the project would cause issues on Stickney Point heading toward the Siesta Key bridge.
The plans for the project state that a traffic light would be needed between U.S. 41 and the Siesta Key Bridge, and the county commission agreed, making its approval of the project conditional on FDOT permitting the new light.
However, Wallace said that this light would bring more pedestrians to a crowded area and cause people exiting the promenade to drive through neighborhoods.
“I stopped going out between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. unless I absolutely had to because it’s stop and go,” he said. “That light is going to make matters dramatically worse for the people on the south end of Siesta Key, which is going to lead to an exodus of people.”
Benderson's traffic analysis data and testimony called into question claims the light would make matters worse.
This story has been updated since its original posting.