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Overdevelopment meets elections

Written by on Sunday, January 28, 2024

Activists opposing big projects in Sarasota put the spotlight on county commission candidates.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Jan. 26, 2024

Host: A week after their first ever joint gathering, anti development activists in Sarasota were the subject of a League of Women Voters panel. This time, the focus was on electoral politics, as Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: For four consecutive years, surveys of Sarasota County residents have shown that growth development in the area is their top concern. From Siesta Key to Old Miakka, the Celery Fields, and Warm Mineral Springs in South County, changes to the county’s comprehensive plans and other growth management policies are affecting local communities.

With this in mind, the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County held a forum Wednesday night at Gulf Gate Library on the issue. More than 100 concerned citizens packed Meeting Room A of the library. They came to hear from two local leaders of the fight against real estate overdevelopment in the county, the broken policies surrounding proposed massive real estate developments, and how citizens can get involved.

Community activist Lourdes Ramirez, who is leading the fight against mega-hotels on Siesta Key, discussed her recent legal victories over two large hotels on her home turf. She described what passes for growth management in Sarasota County.

She said the battle isn’t over yet, as Benderson Development is trying to get Sarasota County commissioners to change the county’s comprehensive plan and unified development code. If successful, the wealthy real estate developer will build an eight-story, 210-room hotel on sleepy Siesta Village. Ramirez warned that the zoning changes sought could also affect the entire county.

Lourdes Ramirez: Well, there’s one obstacle developers are facing today. And that’s the one on the list affecting Siesta Key and all of us, and that’s public safety. They are right on the wildlife, the trees, fiscal neutrality, the greenways — they got rid of all that. But now they got stuck on a bank that our lives are getting in their way. The one thing about Siesta Key that a lot of people are not aware of is, the Siesta Key has the highest, most intensive density in all Sarasota County. We need to remove people from Siesta Key because it’s unsafe. Hurricane evacuations were a concern, the capacity of the bridges was a concern. We’ve been waiting all along, but this is over the top, in my opinion.

RL: Susan Schoettle is a 30-year county resident, ex-assistant county attorney, and a private practice lawyer who specializes on local government zoning issues. She is also co-founder of Keep the Country, a non-profit that supports preservation of rural areas in the county.

Susan Schoettle

She described how protections in the community planning process have been eroded in favor of big real estate developers. Voters can help by replacing the current pro-growth county commissioners.

Susan Schoettle:  More importantly than anything, we need to elect people that will listen to the concerns of residents. [applause]
So research your candidates. It’s very easy to find out who’s getting funding from the developers. The Supervisor of Elections office has a website so find out where they get their money. If they’re mostly being funded by developer organizations, PACs that support other developers and other like-minded elected officials, maybe that’s not that you want to give your money to. … Give money to candidates that you like, in any district. They need your help. They need your money. They cannot run campaigns without money. I don’t care what denomination they are. Personally, I want somebody who’s going to listen, and do a good job and the right thing.

RL: Ramirez this week announced the creation of “Protect Siesta Key”, to continue the fight against Benderson. She has teamed up with Rob Sax to form the not-for-profit. Sax recently won a lawsuit in circuit court against Sarasota County over approval of
hotels on Old Stickney Point Road and Siesta Key Village. Protect Siesta Key’s mission is to “promote good governance”, “enhance
public safety” on the 2.3-square mile barrier island, and – if necessary – launch appropriate legal action against developers and
county officials.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.