By Rachel Brown Hackney
If the Sarasota County Commission allows an increase in density on the site of the proposed Siesta Promenade, that “must be linked to a Comprehensive Access Management Plan,” including provisions to ensure Siesta Key residents and property owners have access to U.S. 41 without having to contend with an overburdened Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key Association (SKA) says in an Oct. 6 letter to the County Commission.
The plan should take into account the opening schedule for the Stickney Point Road drawbridge and access points for Siesta Promenade, the letter continues. Furthermore, such a plan “must be linked to all building phases of the project,” the letter adds. [The emphasis is in the letter.] Todd Mathes, director of development for the owner of the site — Benderson Development — has said the firm expects the build-out of the property will not be completed before 2020.
“New traffic studies should be implemented prior to each phase of the project to ensure safety for flow onto and exiting Siesta Key and demonstrate the Access Management Plan is working as expected,” the letter says.
If the County Commission were to approve the rezoning of the property to Commercial General, that designation would allow up to 140,000 square feet of commercial space, 250 residential units and a 150-room hotel, the letter points out. However, Benderson is seeking county approval of a Critical Area Plan (CAP) for the site, which would allow the company to increase the density up to 25 dwelling units per acre. A Commercial General zone is limited to 13 units per acre. (See the related stories in this issue.)
“We find the one common factor that everybody shares [as concerns about the proposed Siesta Promenade] is the issue of traffic: traffic congestion, road degradation [and the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists],” Catherine Luckner, the SKA’s second vice president, told about 40 people present for the organization’s Oct. 6 regular meeting. “We really have a goal to make this safe.”
A major concern is “the vulnerability of those people” who live near the site and those on Siesta Key, she added, especially in the event of an emergency, such as an evacuation necessitated by an approaching hurricane.
The SKA suggests traffic counts be studied on Stickney Point Road during the peak tourist season — February and March — the letter says, focusing on traffic heading onto the Key between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and vehicles leaving the island between 3 and 5 p.m. Yet another facet of the access management plan should be the use of a shuttle between the hotel and residential property at Siesta Promenade and the barrier island, the letter notes.
If the County Commission on Oct. 11 approved a resolution on the boundary — or defined area — for the site of the project, Luckner explained, that would be just the first step in the process for Benderson. It would lead to more thorough studies of Benderson’s plans for the approximately 24 acres it owns on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, Luckner pointed out, characterizing those initiatives as “another hurdle” Benderson would have to clear to create the development.
County staff also needs to take into consideration how the development would affect water and sewer systems for the area, Luckner told the SKA members. Although the County Commission continued the hearing, county Planning Division Manager Allen Parsons and other staff will deliver a report to the board on all the facets of studies Benderson will have to undertake as part of the CAP process. The commission directed staff to schedule a workshop on that information after the report has been completed.
Dr. Steve Lexow said he had heard that residents who live near the site have talked about the possibility of the county purchasing the property from Benderson and then creating a gateway park to Siesta Key. The property could be used as a hub, too, for public transportation on and off the Key, Lexow added.
“Maybe there can be some sort of movement” to try to achieve that goal, he said. She doubted that the county would take such a step, Luckner told him, explaining that Benderson paid about $20 million for the property. SKA member Jean Cannon said it would be important for a lot of people to attend the Oct. 11 hearing. “That is something [the SKA directors] can promote to their members.”
Luckner replied that many of the organization’s members — and other people — have written letters to the County Commission to express their views about the project. She had read 93 of them, she noted. “They were excellent letters.”
Publishers Note; SKA has started its 2017 membership drive.
SKA working for you….Our advocacy cannot be effective without the support of you and the other Siesta Key residents and property owners. Numbers count when speaking to elected officials. We hope you will renew/join SKA. The cost is $30 per year. You can join online at www.SiestaKeyAssociation.com or you can mail your check to PO BOX 35200, Sarasota FL 34242. Be sure to include your name, mailing address and email address.