By Rachel Brown Hackney
Former state senator and newly sworn-in Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert told about 80 people during the Feb. 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting that if she learned Sarasota County could intervene in the Lido Renourishment Project, she would be in favor of the county’s doing so.
Early in her remarks, Detert referenced the “sand wars” taking place in the community. The City of Sarasota initiated the Lido project, she continued, “not the county, and [city leaders] get to choose who they want to use for the beach renourishment.”
Asked by an audience member why the county board took no step to file an administrative appeal of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Notice of Intent to issue a permit for the project, Detert replied, “I don’t think it makes us look like leaders to be joining a homeowners’ lawsuit.”
She likened the county’s joining the SKA and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) in appealing the FDEP action to “having your two sisters fight with each other, and you have to pick which sister you like best this week.”
Furthermore, Detert said she did not believe the commission should prevent the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from using the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as a staging ground for the work. (The USACE is the city’s joint applicant for the state permit for the project.)
“Basically, [the county has] no standing on this, as far as I’m concerned,” Detert told the audience.
Still, Detert said she would not have chosen to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key, if she had had any choice in the matter. “I particularly would not have picked the Army Corps of Engineers. I don’t think they have a great track record.”
She cited the USACE’s decision to construct two jetties on Venice Beach, with erosion resulting on both sides of the structures. Detert also indicated the USACE had made bad decisions regarding the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
Sandy Hook resident David Patton then pointed out dangers to the north end of Siesta, especially, if Big Pass is dredged.
As an individual plaintiff, Patton has joined both the SKA administrative appeal and a complaint the SKA has proposed to file in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in an effort to stop the removal of sand from the pass.
“We should unite as one force, an army against the world to stop this! All of us,” Patton said.
Audience member Kent Larson asked why the city and the USACE did not propose to dredge Midnight Pass, as removing sand from that site would enable the channel to flow again for the first time since it was closed in December 1983.
“That’s what I said,” Detert responded. “I don’t know why they didn’t consider that.”
Former county Commissioner Nora Patterson, who was in the audience, pointed out that the county board and staff “spent a lot of money and time and energy” in years past, trying to persuade the state to allow the reopening of Midnight Pass. Nonetheless, Patterson said, the state would not issue a permit for the undertaking.
“We’re hoping that their Big Pass idea is the right way to go and that it doesn’t do any damage [on Siesta Key],” Detert replied, referring to the city and the USACE.
During her remarks, Detert also touched on the proposal for the mixed-use Siesta Promenade development on the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
“I am not a supporter of that potential project,” she said. “I just find it kind of outrageous that people buy a piece of property that’s zoned [for single-family homes] and think they can put up a condominium.”
The approximately 24-acre site where Siesta Promenade would stand is zoned for a mobile home park, she continued. Yet, Benderson Development has applied for rezoning and a Critical Area Plan designation that would allow the firm to construct 140,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel and several hundred dwelling units on the property — “everything but the kitchen sink,” as Detert characterized it.
Her response to Benderson is, “That’s not what you bought,’” she told the audience.
Detert added, “I’m philosophically opposed to constantly giving variances to people.”
Referring to the County Commission’s hearings on proposed developments, she continued, “Once it becomes our decision, we need to reach out to the public and see what you think and make the decision that’s the best decision for the community. … That’s where we get into trying to protect our little piece of paradise.”
In response to a question about the traffic studies Benderson will have to pursue under the scope of work four of the five commissioners approved on Jan. 25, Detert said that if the company wants to spend money to perform those analyses, that is its decision. (Detert voted against allowing Benderson to proceed with the scope of work.) Still, she noted her frustration about how more and more studies could be required, creating a long process before the County Commission ever votes on the project.
The potential for a hotel
As he did at the Jan. 12 SKA meeting, Ed Kroninger, a resident of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex on Old Stickney Point Road, brought up the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that could enable the construction of a hotel on property zoned Commercial General on Siesta Key. “There’s a lot of concern, I think, about the increasing density on Siesta Key,” he told Detert.
“I have not made a personal conclusion on the hotel as yet,” Detert replied. “At first blush, it doesn’t seem like a great idea.”
However, she continued, having a new hotel on the island might cut down on traffic heading onto the Key, especially during high season.
“I’d have to see a lot more on that before I make a decision,” Detert added.