Sunday, December 9, 2018

Making things worse: Siesta Key and other communities



On the impact of Benderson's Siesta Promenade on its surrounding area,Gene Kusekoski, president of the Siesta Key Association, says this:
"The problem with the current Siesta Promenade proposal is EXACTLY about the “What" and the "Where." If this project was being proposed by the most universally beloved organization on earth, it would still be facing strong opposition because it is quite simply the wrong size and scale for that location.

"Adjacent neighbors who used to have landscaped single-story mobile homes across the street would now be looking up at 40- to 85-foot buildings. Their neighborhood streets that are barely wide enough for two cars to pass would be flooded with hundreds of cars going in and out of the development."

Sura Kochman has been coordinating community concerns about Siesta Promenade. In the Herald Tribune she writes:

Sarasota County staff has recommended approval of this application, citing numerous Comprehensive Plan policies that the project meets; however, one policy is blatantly missing:
Future Land Use 2.3.7: “In established residential areas, incompatible land uses shall be discouraged if traffic is generated on abutting local streets in amounts that would substantially and adversely affect traffic flow, traffic control and public safety.”
This land-use policy should have greater weight, as it affects existing homeowners. HT Guest Column 12.8.18.


The planner who developed the concept of the Critical Area Plan for Sarasota County says the county is failing to properly apply it to this project. Brian Lichterman, who formerly worked for County Planning and now owns Vision Planning and Design in Sarasota, stated last year to the Board:
The purpose of establishing a boundary for a CAP project, Lichterman explained, is to insure that all the important changes a proposed development will bring to a specific area are addressed.
The boundary, he added, is not intended to encompass just the area of the project. Yet, that is exactly what Benderson has sought in its application for a CAP for Siesta Promenade, Lichterman told the County Commission . . . Sarasota News Leader

Vincent Paul Staley writes to the Herald Tribune:
Siesta Promenade project is in the wrong place. 
Our elected commissioners should study what happened to Mexico Beach, Florida, during Hurricane Michael. A tropical depression became a monster in such a short period of time that many people didn’t think they needed to evacuate until it was too late.
Our barrier islands face the same threat. The thousands of visitors and residents on the islands on any given day represent an evacuation nightmare. One accident blocking a bridge egress would be catastrophic. 
The Benderson people have the opportunity to create a lasting legacy in our community by not proceeding with their current plans. This project could create a snafu of epic proportions in the case of an extreme weather event. 
In addition to the evacuation of the Siesta Key population, the Siesta Promenade development would have to evacuate its employees, residents and hotel guests, and they will be part and parcel of creating a bottleneck.

Illogical, crudely incompatible Sarasota Planning is not only happening at the Siesta Promenade. It's also clearly in evidence with other developer initiatives, including the Celery Fields:

Those involved with fighting industry at the Celery Fields saw the same patterns: When Restaurant Depot was being considered for approval, planners treated the boundaries of its parcel as the boundaries of the Critical Area Plan. This allowed the county to ignore impacts on surroundings, just as it is apparently willing to do with Siesta Promenade.

The county is now preparing to re-open the Critical Area Plan at the Celery Fields -- which could allow for a community-based overview of the entire area. What will it do with this opportunity?

Robert Waechter owns warehouses next to public lands at the Celery Fields. He made the argument that so many large trucks already use the roads near the birding preserve that there's no use in trying to buffer it. He advised the county to allow more industry and more trucks there -- it's already so dangerous that it might as well be worse -- despite thousands of residents and school children who use Palmer Boulevard as their prime road.

The County keeps saying that industry is appropriate at the Celery Fields because it is already there (although it's mostly set back and not on Palmer Blvd.). Why would the county cite existing industry as a reason for more of same at the Celery Fields, but then turn around and approve Siesta Promenade, which as Mr. Kusekoski says will be a radical shock to a settled area that is full of people who have lived there for decades?

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