Important Sarasota races will be decided on November 8th. As party lines blur nationally, local elections may be similar. Party affiliation may not be the best guide in identifying who will effectively steward our community, especially since effective oversight of development decisions is no longer found at the state level. Important decisions lie ahead, and they will be decided by the County Commission. Siesta Key’s south bridge at Stickney Point and US 41, a major gateway to a local economic engine and prized beach, may suffer a suffocating traffic future. County government is responsible for creating safe and economically viable development. The County Commission election matters.
We used to be able to count on the Department of Community Affairs for wise development standards in Florida. The state agency, established in 1969, worked to reduce sprawl and congestion for 42 years. DCA was abolished in 2011. In Sarasota, the most obvious evidence of the absence of DCA oversight is traffic at University Parkway and I75. Without DCA’s usual oversight requirements (e.g. a DRI – Development Regional Impact study), Sarasotans have seen the new mall create dangerous congestion and siphon retailers from existing commercial centers. The traffic fix—a cumbersome diverging diamond—comes with an $80-million price tag.
You might think that the Florida Department of Transportation has the power to prevent local traffic problems. FDOT has no veto power in local development decisions. This past July, FDOT sent Sarasota County a letter expressing concern about future traffic problems at Stickney Point and US 41. Why? Benderson Development is petitioning the County for permission to build 510 residential units, 150 hotel rooms and 140,000 square feet of retail at the northwest corner of the intersection. That 24-acre parcel was purchased in 2005, when it was home to just a gas station and 300 mobile homes. Quite a difference, and FDOT noticed.
The July FDOT letter indicates traffic at Stickney Point and 41 is already hazardous. The intersection is on the “High Crash Segments” list. FDOT’s Keith Slater writes: “…over the past five years there has been a constant increase in crashes in this segment [intersection]. Crashes have increased an average 30 percent per year with an astonishing 175 percent total increase between 2010 and 2014.” Slater calls for the County to engage in “vital” coordination with FDOT.
Given the Benderson-friendly County Commission’s traffic record, FDOT’s concern is warranted. If the Commission rubber stamps this project, what kind of traffic fix is possible? There’s no room for a diverging diamond entering Siesta Key.
You may remember that when approving the new Benderson mall, the County removed a requirement to build over 400 affordable housing units. Affordable housing for those working nearby could have alleviated some traffic near the mall. No affordable housing is planned at Stickney Point and 41.
In the County Commission race between Fredd Atkins and Mike Moran, Benderson’s choice is clear, as evidenced by Moran campaign signs at Stickney Point and 41. Fredd Atkins has pledged to listen to the people. Who will you support?