Mike Cosentino is a man on a mission.
It’s a precious thing, being able to drive along the Gulf of Mexico. Precious to be able to take in an unobstructed view of the Gulf lapping up on the pristine quartz Siesta Key sand. Mike Cosentino calls Beach Road “the prettiest 400-yard drive in the state of Florida.” A friend of mine with a disability calls Beach Road the “honey spot” on Siesta Key because of its beauty, but also because it provides her with easy access to that beauty. Locals refer to the area near Beach Road as “sunset point” due to its particularly fine sunset vista.
Why would something so valuable to our community be given away?
This past May, the County Commission did just that. They decided to “vacate” public ownership of a portion of Beach Road. The Commission chose to do this in spite of clear language in the Comprehensive Plan prohibiting such moves. County Park Policy 1.1.13 states: “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.”
Cosentino says when he saw in a local paper that the Commission was going to take up this issue at their May 5 meeting, he didn’t think it necessary to attend, because he felt there was no way they would do such a thing.
Once the County Commission voted to give away this public resource, Cosentino took action. He created the movement and organization Reopen Beach Road, and enlisted the aid of numerous local businesses. A lawsuit was filed to rescind the Beach Road giveaway, asserting that the vote is invalid because it violates the Sarasota Comprehensive plan. Cosentino’s team also created charter amendment petitions to protect public waterfront access. The park policy language in Sarasota’s Comprehensive plan ought to be enough protection, yet the County Commission clearly believes they have the power to ignore it.
But if Sarasota voters sign the petition (see link, below) and approve Cosentino’s charter amendment via referendum, the same protective language would become a part of the Sarasota County Charter, giving the public’s waterfront access greater protection.
You see, the County Commission can ignore or change the Comprehensive Plan. But the County Commission cannot change the Sarasota County Charter. Only the voters can do that. Given this recent move to give away Beach Road, voters may agree with Cosentino that public access and ownership of waterfront roads is best safeguarded by the voters in our County Charter, and not by the County Commission in the Comp Plan.
Maybe when he’s done with this project, Cosentino can run for County Commission.
Featured image courtesy of Virginia Hoffman Photography: http://virginiahoffmanphotography.com/