by Mike Cosentino
INCORPORATE SIESTA KEY NOW!!
My brother and his family now reside on Phillippi Creek where, ever since I was a kid growing up there in the 70’s, my folks kept chickens. In the late 80’s, my folks moved the chickens and coop to their guest house in the woods off Proctor Road. My sister lives there now. She still has chickens, and, to her credit, has kept the property in its natural state.
On a few nights in his later years, and with predictably disastrous results, my dad forgot to latch the chicken coop’s gate. Unfortunately, the raccoons never, ever, forget to check the latch.
And so, it is with development on Siesta Key. Daily, developers from near and far rigorously search our island looking for a loophole, special exception, or variance to help them avoid the carefully crafted regulations enacted to protect our island’s character and charm.
While my dad may have inadvertently forgotten to latch the gate, our county commissioners regularly swing it open to anyone willing to increase the tax base. Please pardon the vulgarity, but, in essence, Siesta Key is the prostitute, the commissioners are the pimp, and anyone can have their way with us as long as the county gets its cut. This has got to stop.
Only we can make it stop, and only if we choose to self-govern through incorporation as the Town of Siesta Key. If we so choose, we can build, latch, and guard the gate. Rather than have bad ideas continually crammed down our throats, we can decide how our future will look. Rather than be subjected to a government that regularly changes, ignores, or violates our laws in exchange for campaign contributions, we can elect, from among ourselves, a government that is truly of, by, and for our island’s people. A small, local government that will listen to and be accountable to Siesta’s voters. A government whose attorneys advocate for the rule of law, rather than coaching the government how to change, ignore, or violate it. I have a dream…
To do so, we must be willing to accept the tax burden commensurate with adding another level of bureaucracy. To create, finance, and sustain the elements of self-governance certainly isn’t free. We have but two options, and from them we must choose: Option 1) Quickly become an overdeveloped megalopolis like St. Pete and Clearwater Beach. Option 2) Incorporate, self-govern, and protect our homes and our island as we see fit.
It’s really that simple. As such, the question is, “What do you envision for our future?” The folks I grew up with, although sickened by our current state of affairs, advocate strongly to keep what’s left of the beauty we once knew. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I presume our many newcomers, had they wished to live in an overdeveloped quagmire, would have chosen another destination. They could have chosen St. Pete, Clearwater, Miami, or Ft. Lauderdale. They didn’t. Call me crazy, but I think they chose Siesta Key not to change it, but because they loved it.
To be clear, the proposals regarding the hotels, Accesses 3 and 10, Beach Road, etc., are merely symptoms of the problem. The problem is cash register justice. Development approvals are, in essence, for sale. Over and over, our elected officials demonstrate a feckless disregard for our island and its laws. The problem, then, is taxation without proper representation. In many respects, our nation’s Declaration of Independence parallels Siesta’s current situation:
“WHEN in the Course of Human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. . . . But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. . .”
Like our founding fathers, we recognize that in order to secure our future it is necessary to dissolve our political bands with our oppressors and alter our governmental course to one more likely to provide for our safety and happiness. As did they, we now declare the causes which impel our Duty to accomplish this Separation:
Florida has 26 “Historical American Landscapes” listed in Washington, DC’s Library of Congress. Sarasota’s only one is the segment of Beach Road between Beach Accesses 2 and 3. The half- billion dollar fraudulent taking of this historic public land is what RBR contributor Jay Lancer described to me as “the worst decision in the history of Sarasota County.”
Beach Road was vacated expressly to provide a “bridge” to connect the petitioners’ lots on either side of the road, thereby doubling their development rights. This directly conflicts with the Florida Legislature’s recognition of “the state and national interest” to protect our coastlines “through coordinated management,” by “removing coastal properties from the pool of developable acreage. . .” s. 380.21(1)(b),(c), and (4), Florida Statutes (2020).
Beach Road is also protected by several policies in our County’s Comprehensive Plan. While our County Commissioners are given wide latitude and discretion on most subjects, they must follow, with strict scrutiny, the clear and unambiguous language of the Plan, which prohibits vacating ANY public waterfront roads. Former Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who authored the policy, told me he did so with Beach Road in mind.
Our comp plan, FLU Policy 1.1.4, echoes s. 380.21, Fla. Stat., by calling for “the vacation of platted lots of record” on the undeveloped beaches. In court documents, the county admitted it abandoned Beach Road in order to bring the petitioners’ beach lots INTO the pool of developable acreage. Now, however, the county is arguing before the appellate court that giving away Beach Road was unrelated to the petitioners’ development proposal. My fishing buddies in Old Myakka call that a bold faced lie. My golfing buddies in the Sanderling Club call it disconcertingly mendacious. I think the county’s pants are on fire.
Of the 67 counties in Florida, Sarasota is one of 20 whose voters crafted and adopted a home-rule charter in order to have greater control over local affairs. In my original lawsuit, the county’s legal argument, however ludicrous, is that its unlawful Beach Road giveaway cannot be challenged because it’s not a “development order.”
Because state law prohibits citizen-initiated charter amendments that overturn development orders, it was the county’s false claims that allowed the voters to reverse the wrongdoing through the charter amendment process. On November 6, 2018, 67% of Sarasotans voted to Reopen Beach Road, while 73% voted to protect all of Sarasota’s parks, preserves, beach and water accesses, and waterfront roads.
The commissioners then sued me and RBR, and basically claimed that “we, the people” have no right to tell them what to do. Representative democracy? Hmmm.
Last month, the County voted 4-0 to deny an applicant’s proposal to build a house on the very beach lots he agreed, in writing, to keep open to the public. In other late-breaking news, yesterday, I stopped at a red light. The applicant’s proposal is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to reap millions of taxpayer dollars for two beach lots he bought for $1000 in 2016. What floored me most at the public hearing was the commissioners’ and county attorney’s lack of understanding or acknowledgment of the cornucopia of mistruths, legal infirmities, and misinformation in both the petitioner’s and their own staff’s reports on the matter. Ditto for the presentations made by the petitioner’s representatives and county staff. Whether the disgraceful display of ineptitude was or was not deliberate remains a valid question. Here’s why:
Similar to eminent domain, Florida property owners can sue to be compensated for a local government’s “taking” of a “vested property right” under the “Bert Harris Act.” For example, if a property’s zoning allowed 6 units per acre, and the county rezoned it to 3 units per acre, the owner could force the county to pay for his “investment backed expectation” to develop the property at 6 units per acre. At Access 10, Saba Sands invoked Part II of the “Act,” which allows a magistrate (not elected, but appointed from a local land-use law firm) to hear from both sides, attempt to mediate, and, if need be, adjudicate the impasse. One problem is that public input is eliminated, or, at best, minimized in this process. Not unlike the applicant’s denial at Access 3, the County’s legal brief to the magistrate is terribly inept. There is no plausible reason Asst. County Attorney David Pearce, a seasoned veteran in this field, would exclude from his brief the legally sound arguments provided prior to the public hearing by opponents of the proposal. Indeed, those objections provided a litany of competent, substantial, irrefutable evidence that forced the county’s denial of the proposal. Could it be that the County denied the petition at the public hearing for show, then tanked the magistrate process so the proposal could be approved without their blessing? Time will tell. I think Mr. Pearce tanked his brief because making the proper arguments, as Dan Lobeck did, would prove that vacating Beach Road was a “development order.” Thus, the County seems to be willing to lose the Saba Sands case in order to not lose the Beach Road case. Oh, the tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive…
Without question, the proposed hotels are nearly unanimously opposed by Siesta’s residents. Curiously, the businesses that support them will be eliminated if the proposal passes. It’s illogical to think that any owner would keep a restaurant/bar/market/ice-cream shop, or any other retail endeavor instead of building 120 feet tall, with no setbacks, at 170 units per acre, if the current proposals are approved. Goodbye Siesta Village. Hello South Beach, crime, and mayhem. Please, folks, understand this will spread like the Coronavirus. Remember hearing of the first few cases last year. That’s what these proposals represent. FAR WORSE than the proposals is the precedential nature of the laws being changed to accommodate them. Because spot zoning is unlawful, approval anywhere equates to approval EVERYWHERE. It’s that serious.
Twenty years ago, residents owned the vast majority of our island. Unfortunately, the opposite is now true. As we’ve become an even bigger cash cow for the county, we’ve been eliminated as a voting block. Indeed, even if all of Siesta’s residents set our partisan differences aside and vote alike, it still equates to nothing. The county isn’t stupid. Our commissioners are well aware of the fact that our votes, in total, are inconsequential. As such, they have no reason whatsoever to not milk this cow for every drop it can produce. Think about how foie gras is made. We’re the goose. None of them live here, so why should they care? Currently, our future promises high rise hotels, increases in traffic and crime, and the end of our restaurants, retail amenities, and laid-back island lifestyle. Fortunately, it is within our power to choose a better future. Folks, we have a great but time sensitive opportunity to preserve our island’s character and charm. I hope you’ll join the effort to Incorporate Siesta Key Now!!
Call to Action
Please mark your calendars for Wednesday, February 17th, 2021. I’ll be hosting a public meeting at the main pavilion at Siesta Public Beach from 6:00-7:30 PM to present the idea of incorporating as the Town of Siesta Key. The guest speakers will be Brian Lichterman and Ralf Brookes. Brian was a senior planner for Sarasota County for 22 years. He has vast experience in community planning and codes, and currently owns and operates Vision Planning and Design. Ralf was an assistant county attorney for Sarasota in the 90’s. He’s board certified in government law, and has helped other communities navigate the process of incorporation. Please be respectful of others by following the CDC’s Covid guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks. For those unable to attend, the meeting will be available by Zoom. For a link or for any other questions, please feel free to call me at home at 346-2584. Please leave a message; I will return your call. Thank you to the publisher for providing the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions.
President, Reopen Beach Road, Inc.