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After incorporation bill fails, Siesta Key speaks up through lawsuits

Incorporation of Siesta Key has been tabled for the next two years, but residents will continue to make their voices heard through lawsuits.

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  • | 11:30 a.m. January 7, 2022
James P. Wallace III updates the Siesta Key Association on lawsuits during Thursday's meeting.
James P. Wallace III updates the Siesta Key Association on lawsuits during Thursday's meeting.
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Siesta Key residents wishing to incorporate the island saw their bill to do so killed by county legislators on Tuesday. But efforts to make the decisions within their community will continue primarily through lawsuits, residents were told at a meeting of the Siesta Key Association on Thursday evening.

James P. Wallace III, a Siesta Key resident and plaintiff in two of those lawsuits, updated the Siesta Key Association on where the lawsuits stand during the monthly meeting. Both lawsuits pertain to concerns that prompted the wish for incorporation in the first place.

Wallace announced that he has filed an appeal of the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision to deny him a hearing regarding a new signalized intersection approved for Stickney Point Road between the south bridge and Tamiami Trail.

“The permit approved the creation of this new signalized intersection on grounds that being stuck in traffic is insufficient to establish legal standing,” Wallace said. “This case raises the issue as to whether the residents of Florida’s barrier islands do in fact have legal standing.”

Siesta Key residents rely heavily on the south drawbridge to the mainland for essential travel including medical emergencies. The approved intersection construction could worsen the already-present traffic issues residents run into when conducting their daily activities, Wallace said.

Wallace, who has previous experience in transportation work, collaborated with an engineer to create and present a model of what changes to the intersection could do to island traffic. The project found a 30% increase in travel time during tourist season. FDOT approved the construction anyway, according to Wallace.

“It’s an incredible problem and there’s all kinds of construction everywhere,” Wallace said. “The corner where this was approved has been vacant for 10 years.”

Increased roadway congestion was also a concern regarding the approval of two new hotels on the island, which was the premise of another lawsuit filed against Sarasota County. A response from the county is due on Monday and will be made publicly available online, Wallace said.

The approved hotels could cause additional pedestrian traffic and confusion between private and public beaches. The hotels could also create a precedent for future projects, which has worried Siesta Key residents that the island could look very different in the near future.

“This is all about Siesta Key. If we lose these cases, there will be a dramatic effect, and Siesta Key will be toast,” Wallace said. “These two things would be so destructive, and I think people will be outraged."

Although incorporation of Siesta Key has become nearly impossible within the next two years, annexation has become a possibility. The Sarasota City Commission is scheduled to discuss what would be involved in such a move at its regular meeting on Jan. 18.

Annexation would require a feasibility study, two public hearings, approval by the city commission and a vote upon it in the next election. The city commission meeting will be in the City Commission Chambers and begins at 9 a.m..