Making Things Much Worse

On Planning

BY GENE KUSEKOSKI SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY DEC 8, 2018

As a resident of Siesta Key, I was appalled to read Paul Caragiulo’s recent column, "The Price of Living Somewhere Nice.” This viewpoint from a recent county commissioner shows just how deeply disconnected our officials have become from the citizens who elected them and how little they understand about the vital issues on which they vote.

Mr. Caragiulo states opposition to the Siesta Promenade project is not about the “What” or the “Where” but about the “Who.” He claims that the opposition is directed at Benderson Development as an evil force that is ruining our community. I honestly don’t know how someone who has just recently been an elected leader in Sarasota County could have it so backwards!

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.

Does this sound like a project that meets the “Compatibility” requirement of a Critical Area Plan? Would Mr. Caragiulo welcome hundreds of additional cars a day into his peaceful little neighborhood? The “What” and the “Where” of the current proposal are just obviously wrong to anyone who looks at it objectively.

I think even the people who are strongly opposing Siesta Promenade would agree that Benderson Development has done some great things for the community, transforming failing plazas and roadside eyesores into vital retail complexes at Landings Plaza and Pelican Plaza, as recent examples. Nathan Benderson Park is a community treasure. Given that legacy, the current Siesta Promenade proposal seems strangely out of character for them. Surely, they know how to make the changes required to turn it from a community problem into a community benefit, but so far, like Mr. Caragiulo, they don’t seem to be really listening to the people who would have to live with it daily.

To date they have made only token adjustments to their oversized plan and invested primarily in trying to convince people it won’t be as bad as everyone knows it will be. Little has been invested in earnestly trying to responsibly adapt the project to be compatible with its location. We all know Benderson can do much better than this.

A Critical Area Plan is the one remaining local process that requires a developer to address the traffic impact of its project. Anyone who lives on, works on or visits Siesta Key knows traffic on Stickney Point Road and on Siesta Key itself is already at dangerously unmanageable levels. The official “Level of Service" on this road is rated ‘D,’ which sadly seems to have become acceptable in the “Better Sarasota” in which Mr. Caragiulo claims we live.

County staff asserts a developer cannot be held responsible for making improvements to a traffic situation that is already bad. We can accept that line of thinking in principle, but that does not mean the county should knowingly allow them to make it much worse! And believe me, adding upwards of 8,300 additional cars a day to those roadways would make conditions much, much worse.

My wife and I have loved spending time on Siesta Key for 40 years. For decades, it was our blissful refuge from all the cares of the world, and we dreamed of making it our home in retirement. We were finally able to realize our dream in 2011. Even in the short period between then and now, conditions on and around Siesta Key have gotten progressively worse to the point where our dream is becoming a nightmare. I’m sorry, Mr. Caragiulo, but for the people who love Siesta Key and have seen what has happened to it over the years, things are about as far from “Better, Much Better” as they could be.

Let’s not make it any worse by putting an oversized, incompatible development at the gateway to such a vital part of the Sarasota community. I can only hope your successor is in better touch with the safety and welfare of the people who elected him and that Benderson Development will come to its senses and bring this project into line with their legacy of community improvement. 

Gene Kusekoski is president of the Siesta Key Association.

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