The Price of Living Somewhere Nice

County Government


I found myself last week watching the public hearing at the Sarasota County Planning Commission for Siesta Promenade a project proposed for the northwest corner of US 41 and Stickney Point Road). This project has been under the microscope for nearly three years, largely because of the “who,” not the “where” or the “what”. In case you are wondering, the “who” in this case is Benderson Development. For the record, any development company which includes the word “development” in their name is asking for trouble. If you believe the small but vocal minority, development is the cause of all the anxiety and grief to those of us who were here first. Developers, in their opinion, create traffic simply because people and therefore vehicles tend to populate the places they create—or recreate, as is the case with an urban infill project such as Siesta Promenade.

The project in question involves a vacant parcel designated for future commercial use on one of the most prominent intersections in the community. I wasn't terribly interested in hearing a presentation on the merits of infill development, but I listened. Both the applicant and county staff have a proposal which is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan. What I wanted to hear was the public testimony and that was dominated by concerns of increased traffic.

Traffic where two nine-lane highways meet in a completely urbanized area, not a two-lane road east of town. Relatively few voiced concerns of compatibility to the adjacent single-family neighborhood, a far more important and relevant issue and the one I hope the County Commission will spend some time on.

Why can't my neighborhood Publix have more checkout lanes open? Why can't my favorite restaurant have more tables so I don't have to wait? Why is there so much more traffic than there was when I first came here? More people showed up and ended up staying. Can you blame them? I think not. This place is not just nice, it's really nice. The only thing that people like better than a nice place is a really nice place. Don't believe me? Invite someone here. They will show up and likely return. Take a nice place and add excellent services and amenities, it becomes a really nice place.

Nice things can come with a cost, which may include more time getting to and from our places of employment, schools and—more specifically related to Siesta Promenade—the beach. Show me a place with little traffic and I will show you a place few people want or need to be. It is the nature of supply and demand.

Government can and should take steps to manage the impact of additional people in our community and on roads. They do a competent job with traffic safety and what they can with capacity. Whenever possible, adjustments to sequencing and signalization are made. These improvements can be small on an individual basis but transportation systems are more about the sum than the parts and frequently there are multiple jurisdictions and bureaucracies involved. They get it right far more times than wrong. It is not government’s role nor responsibility to guarantee the 10-, 15- or 30-minute trip you currently enjoy or endure from point A to point B remain below any specific time ceiling in perpetuity. That is simply not going to happen.

We live in a nation in which a tremendous portion of the population enjoys total freedom of movement whenever we wish. It's a uniquely American phenomenon. Yes, we love the freedom our automobiles provide and although driving can be painful it seems it's just not painful enough to demand alternatives, not yet anyway. Throughout my conversations with constituents on traffic I found people rarely adjust their discretionary travel patterns. Some complain but most recognize the wonderful community we live in is no secret and there may be others around us causing “congestion” and encroaching upon our “quality of life.” Things change and hopefully evolve.

This is certainly not the same community I first experienced 30 years ago. It's better. Much better. It's really, really nice.

Paul Caragiulo is a former Sarasota County Commissioner and Sarasota City Commissioner. His new SRQ Daily column will appear the first Saturday of each month.

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