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Lido and City of Sarasota fight Dredge and Fill … a time capsule

By Catherine Luckner, Siesta Key Association, VP
In old newsprint, carefully archived at the History Center, the message was clear. Not long ago, and across the Big Pass waters, south Lido Park was born.

1966 DOT Photo State of Florida archives
1966 DOT Photo State of Florida archives

It was 1967, Arvida Corporation sought permits for development of the southern tip of Lido Key. Arvida was most influential in community development throughout Florida beginning in 1958. Their plan was not unlike that of Bird Key, taking dredged materials to create land for development. Their plan was to dredge and fill 160 acres on south Lido, create an extended shoreline, a golf course, a hotel, canals, eliminate Brushy lagoon, from Otter Key bayside to the gulf front bulkhead of south Lido. The Big Pass shoreline was one aspect of the litigation between the City and Arvida. Property boundaries and ownership was questioned where accreted shoreline existed.  On two occasions, despite well documented business plans, engineering designs and significant tax revenue, the Sarasota City Commission and Planning Board denied the Arvida permit requests. Really?

Residents from Lido Key and Sarasota, including 50 local organizations , galvanized to fight for conservation of the marine and estuary environment. Of particular concern was the impact of dredging and filling on the shallow grassy flats, known for bird, fish and mammal habitat.

This grassroots effort of private citizens, led by local businessman Ted Sperling, became the Save Our Bays Association (SOBA). One news account reported more than 1500 residents attending a City Commission meeting to contest the Arvida proposal.  In the City v. Arvida conflict, “It’s within…the powers of city government (re City owned property) to restrict the amount of dredging and filling if it’s shown the public interest is served”. (Gil waters, City of Sarasota Commissioner)

The Sarasota City Commission unanimously denied permit one last time in 1968.

Between 1968 and 1972, SOBA began the process of inquiry for land acquisition under a new Federal program from the Dept. of the Interior and Florida Dept. of Natural Resource to purchase environmentally sensitive lands for ‘open space and recreation by the public”. Under the program guidelines, it was noted … ” gulf and bay frontage is our greatest natural resource and fast disappearing”.

Without likelihood of permitting, Arvida was soon interested in selling the south Lido and Otter Key properties. SOBA and Sarasota County initiated the quest for the newly available funding .

The “open spaces and recreation’ grants were to be used for permanent conservation protection and use by the public.

The preservation of Otter Key (30 acres) , it’s Mangrove bay bottom root system and South Lido property(130 acres) became one of the first opportunities for a Florida County to purchase and protect lands under new Federal Regulations. With an affordable price and funding, the momentum led to the Sarasota County Commission to hold a Voter referendum to purchase the land with a property tax mill increase. Another parcel was also included after being offered by the Casperson family. We know it now as Casperson Public Beach.

With a County wide Referendum held May 1, 1973 the Voters of Sarasota County made a commitment to the land and it’s environmental protection. In a 9-1 county wide margin, voters approved an extra ½ mill on property taxes for 30 years or until funding was complete. The residents of Lido Key voted in a 10-1 margin to approve the purchase.

The Federal and State grants $943,000 were secured and set aside by Sarasota County for future purchases of environmentally sensitive land.

The South Lido County Park was established to be “forever maintained in it’s natural state for public use and recreation” . It was soon named in remembrance of Ted Sperling, the resident and visionary who galvanized the community in this direction

What will newsprint in the History Center Archives tell us someday?

Did we keep old Florida as we kayak through the Mangrove tunnels, watch Manatee play, find nesting birds, clear water, plenty of fish?

Will they build groins and dredge Big Pass?