Siesta Key residents pushing for incorporation, hold rally ahead of pivotal vote

Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – A vote scheduled for next week could bring Siesta Key one step closer to becoming its own city. Residents on the barrier island have been working to gain support in their grassroots movement over the last several months.

The residents will need majority support from the local delegation to get the topic of incorporation on a ballot next year. So far, two of the delegation members have expressed support publicly including Senator Joe Gruters and Rep. Fiona McFarland.

The delegation meeting will take place in Sarasota County next week.

Leading up to the pivotal vote, supporters of the movement rallied in Downtown Sarasota Wednesday in a final push to gain momentum and visibility on the issue. Several dozen people marched from the Bayfront through Main Street and back.

“One of the reasons we brought it off the key is that this isn’t just for the residents of Siesta Key,” explained Save Siesta Key chairman Tim Hensey. “There are a lot of people in Sarasota that enjoy the beaches and right now it is very difficult for them to enjoy the beaches because of traffic congestion, parking, and it’s just difficult. You want to bring your family to the beach, but where are you going to park? In some cases now there are a couple of churches and a bank that are charging for parking and it is about a quarter to a half-mile walk so people are willing to even do that,” he continued.

The grassroots movement by a group called Save Siesta Key gained steam shortly after Sarasota County commissioners voted to approve special exceptions for two controversial high-density hotels on the barrier island, despite overwhelming opposition during a public hearing.

The two hotel proposals will shatter existing height and density restrictions that have been in place on the barrier island for decades. Residents were frustrated and felt their voices weren’t being heard.

“That was really kind of the catalyst that.. the straw that broke the camel’s back is that we want to self-govern. We don’t want to trust a county commission anymore with how we develop our island. We are not against development, we just want to follow the overlay district,” said Hensey.

There have been concerns expressed about adding another layer of government to the island, but overall most residents appear to be in support. More than 2200 island residents and taxpayers have signed a petition in favor of bringing a referendum to the 2022 ballot.

The delegation meeting will take place Tuesday, Jan. 4.

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