Letter to the Editor: Reopen Beach Road

| October 1, 2016

Hopefully you saw Tom Lyons’ article in the 9/15/16 Sarasota Herald Tribune. For those of you who have not been following Reopen Beach Road, reopenbeachroad.com, here is a quick recap:

The same things that make Beach Road such a beautiful drive also make it vulnerable to storms. The County has paid for and ignored engineering reports that describe the need to and the methods for fixing the road. Charlie Bailey, the attorney representing the folks trying to turn their road-front homes into beach-front homes at our collective expense, personally told me on the phone that he and his clients helped to prevent the County from fixing the road after the Taylor Engineering firm, out of Jacksonville, Fla., described not only how to fix the road in their 2013 report, but how foolish – and how much more costly – it would be to not fix the road.

I thought at the time that Charlie and I had come to an agreement as to the framework for a mutually beneficial solution to the current problem. I guess not. The next week his client accused me of using “false and misleading” information in a lawsuit they filed against me and Reopen Beach Road, Inc., asking for an emergency hearing to basically shut me up. The judge denied their motion for an emergency hearing on August 31st. She did feel that there was such an enormous and immediate need to hear them out that she did schedule a hearing … for December.

The following is a sworn affidavit that I filed with the Circuit Court that conveys what Beach Road and public access mean to me:

“My name is Mike Cosentino. I’m a carpenter and licensed contractor. I was born and raised here in Sarasota. I don’t have a college degree. But my parents taught me well the difference between right and wrong, and I do my best to live by that.

I never imagined that someday I would be in court – much less for suing the county I love so much. But there came a time and point where I just could not stand idly by and let yet another of Sarasota’s treasures fall permanently into private hands. If we give it away, we have no say. Beach Road must stay in public ownership and control; I am willing to endure significant financial hardship to accomplish this goal.

Through my public information request I’ve found a treasure-trove of both inaccuracies and facts that I believe will help me and the overwhelming majority of Sarasotans who support me to prevail in this action as well as in the forthcoming litigation.

Before I delve into responding to the numbered complaints listed by the intervenors I would like to explain what access means to me by quoting the first sentence of the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, entitled “The Voyage to Paradise Reclaimed,” i.e., “The number one use of Sarasota Bay is simply looking at it.”

And later, “Improved access and user education are priorities that can be combined into a tapestry of recreational opportunities that can increase awareness of bay resources and the need to protect them.” Also, “A survey conducted by the Florida Atlantic University Social Science Research Laboratory shows that 82% of the two Counties’ residents use Sarasota Bay to ‘just enjoy the view.’” Finally, “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that most people’s primary recreational experience of the bay may be seeing it from a car window.”

As a society, our understanding of the need to provide equal access to the less fortunate is ever-increasing. As such, we need to keep Beach Road public so we, the people, can have input into how it is managed, and thereby protect our right to public beach access in the broadest possible terms. Allowing this, the last and most significant stretch of public road on Siesta Key with an unobstructed Gulf View, directly on the #1 beach in the world, to become the private property of three homeowners and to reduce, in perpetuity, the means by which we can access this land, as well as to eliminate our ability, forever, to have any input into how it is managed for the benefit of the citizens, who’s tax dollars have paid to maintain it since shortly after Sarasota became a county in 1921, is an unconscionably terrible mistake. On behalf of Sarasota and her people I intend to vigorously defend our collective vested interest in keeping Beach Road as a public right-of-way.

Sincerely,
Mike Cosentino”

The following is one of the allegations against me and my response thereto. My hope is that this clears up some of the confusion between “current” and “possible” access.

The Intervenor Landowner claims: #9) “The Charter Amendment Petition Form is misleading because an express condition precedent to Resolution No. 2016-079 is the conveyance and recording of a public access easement at no cost to the County. The easement will give the general public the same continued access over and across the vacated right-of-way by the same means the public currently has on this land…”

Response: “misleading”- No, it isn’t. What is misleading is the insinuation that the current use is the only and/or potential full right of use, which isn’t at all correct. The statement “hides the ball” by failing to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a HUGE difference between a public right-of-way and an access easement (pedestrian, non-vehicle) over someone’s privately-owned land. Yes, the public will have the same current use by the same current means. But, we now have the RIGHT to rebuild the road for thru-traffic for all of us, including SCAT buses that would increase public access and reduce the need for parking and overall island traffic. Further, we now have the RIGHT to make parking spaces, sidewalks, landscaping, benches, shoreline protection, etc., all of which will benefit the taxpaying public, and, significantly, all of which are specifically prohibited by the language that grants the public an easement over the vacated right-of-way that would thereby become the Private Property of the adjacent landowners. BCC #09062 from July 22nd, 2009, describes staff’s recommendation to reconstruct this section of Beach Road “in order to regain the intended use of the roadway.” The complaint speaks of the current use. We are speaking of the “intended use” and the inherent public rights that go hand-in-hand with public ownership. The passage of this amendment will have an enormous positive impact on the public’s right and ability to use this land.

Since the unfortunate vacation mistake of May 11, 2016 that ruins the area for all but the few benefactors of that mistake, my message has been, and is, consistent and clear. We will not accept any outcome that excludes the vast majority of Sarasota County’s citizens by eliminating vehicular use of the rebuilt roadway. We predict that the outcome of the public hearings that will be held to give all of the citizen-stakeholders their well-deserved say in the matter will be that Beach Road is rebuilt like or very closely resembling the rendering composed from the Taylor Engineering Report as found on our website: Reopenbeachroad.com. This means vehicle use – cars, golf carts, motorcycles, and the like. Maybe the Commissioners don’t have the will to see this through. That’s fine. We will replace them with those who do. They have a choice in the matter. Choose to follow the will of the people or be fired.

We will not rest until Beach Road is restored to its originally intended use. It is vitally important to the people and economy of Siesta Village, Siesta Key, and Sarasota, as well as our part-time owners and guests, that this gets done, and soon. We have waited long enough.

Mike Cosentino
Siesta Key resident

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