By Rachel Brown Hackney
It took longer than anticipated, but new Sarasota County signage went up on the morning of Dec. 22 at the intersection of North Beach Road and Columbus Avenue on Siesta Key.
The goal is to alert all members of the public that they can access a segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission vacated on May 11, Chief County Engineer Isaac Brownman told SNL.
During a telephone interview, Brownman noted that staff not only added signs that say, “Public access” at the south end of the 357-foot vacated road section, but staff members also installed two other signs: A right-turn only sign faces northbound traffic on Beach Road at the Columbus Boulevard intersection; a left-turn only sign faces westbound traffic on Columbus at that intersection.
Anyone may walk, bike or even use a golf cart on that portion of the road, Brownman pointed out to.
During the May 11 public hearing, Charles Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota assured the county commissioners, on behalf of his clients, that if the vacation petition were approved, his clients would make certain that the public continued to be able to use the section of road except to drive on it with anything other than a low-speed conveyance. The road has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1993 because of repeated storm damage.
Siesta Key resident Michael Cosentino filed a lawsuit against the county on June 10, citing a portion of the county’s Comprehensive Plan that said, at that time, “The County shall not vacate road segments on waterfronts along any creek, river, lake, bay or Gulf access point and shall encourage right-of-way use of these areas for coastal beach and bay access.”
During a revision of the Comprehensive Plan, completed in October, the board modified that language to give the commissioners more flexibility in road vacation matters.
Cosentino has appeared before the board at least once during each set of its meetings since late May, appealing for it to overturn the May 11 vote. Nonetheless, County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh has explained that, by law, rescinding the action is not possible.
Asked why it took more than seven months to erect the signage, Brownman explained that he and his staff had been working with Dennis and Wendy Madden, one of the couples who sought the road vacation. During more than one County Commission meeting, Bailey has talked of the Maddens’ plan to install bollards at either end of the road segment to keep out vehicular traffic.
“We couldn’t coordinate all the activity at the same time,” Brownman said. The Maddens do hope to get the bollards up in January, Brownman added. “And then [the portion of North Beach Road] will really look pedestrian-friendly.”
Staff also consulted with the Office of the County Attorney, Brownman pointed out, because of concerns the signage would be inappropriate while the litigation was underway. “We did hold off a little bit [because of that],” he said.
In response to a question, Denny Madden said he and his wife have submitted the application for the county permit necessary to install the bollards. “It is my understanding it is in the final phases of review,” he added, so they expect to receive the permit shortly. Madden told SNL he also understood that a number of departments — and the commissioners — have been involved in the whole process.