Could the most valuable tourist attraction in Sarasota County become home to Florida’s next city?
A citizens group called Save Siesta Key has started raising funds for a feasibility study on incorporating Siesta Key. Organizers believe a charter could be ready and a referendum put on the ballot this March, which could kick off the process of turning most of the island into Sarasota County’s fifth municipality.
Tracy Jackson, a board member for Save Siesta Key, said many on the island feel it’s time for some kind of government restructuring that lets Key residents craft their own future. Unhappy with certain development decisions by Sarasota County Commissioners, the time may have arrived for a city council to call land-use shots.
“I want to be really clear, we don’t know if incorporation is right,” she said, “but it’s time to do a feasibility study to see if incorporation is right.”
Of course, to do so would ultimately take a special act of the Legislature. Members of the Save Siesta Key board have already approached Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, on the matter.
“It’s an involved process requiring a feasibility study to explore services needed and the fiscal impacts, among others.” McFarland said, “And I’m sure the study will shed a lot of light on what adding a new municipality will entail for Siesta Key residents.”
Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, was caught somewhat off guard by the proposal. He has often wondered if Sarasota County needs to think of a more metropolitan model of government like that used in Duval County and Jacksonville. “But maybe they will evaluate this and see it different,” he said. “I’m happy to look at any study they bring over to me.”
He suggested any step must be made with caution.
“My advice to them is to do their homework and evaluate the costs, see if it’s worth moving forward,” Gruters said.
Jackson noted this is not the first time incorporation has come up. Discussions in the 1990s eventually morphed into creation of the Siesta Key Overlay District, codified in 2001. But recent discussions of variances for projects within that district, combined with approval of projects like Benderson Development’s Siesta Promenade, which is located on the mainland on U.S. 41, have left many wondering if existing provisions provide enough.
“Our voice is not loud enough,” Jackson said. “So what is the solution to not being heard?”
The organization will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. May 19 at the Siesta Chapel, where masks will be required by the venue.
To follow through on an effort will be costly. A study costs $75,000, and organizers are a little more than a third of the way toward that fundraising goal. Final drafting of a charter could cost an extra $250,0000.
For the moment, Jackson said Save Siesta Key contemplate city limits at the water’s edge, including the entire island, sans a small part of the north Key already annexed into the City of Sarasota.