SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Monday, Sarasota County and a Sarasota citizen were in court in a dispute over public access on Beach Road on Siesta Key.
Beach Road parallels Siesta Beach at the intersection of Avenida Messina. For years, a group of citizens led by a man named Mike Cosentino have fought with Sarasota County over access to a section of the street.
“The county has a duty to maintain its roads for public access," argued Cosentino. “I’m trying to preserve the character and integrity of our town and they’re trying to make money and that’s where the battle lines are drawn."
Cosentino is leading a group of citizens called “Reopen Beach Road,” who are rallying to require the county to maintain Beach Road and allow for wheelchair accessibility. Cosentino got 30,000 residents to sign a petition that placed this issue up for vote on the November ballot. He said it was overwhelming popular, passing by 73 percent.
But the county said this decision isn’t up to the public, so it took Cosentino to court.
“Rather than listening to the will of 73 percent of the people, the county is suing to have these chartered amendments, that protect Beach Road, that protect every park, preserve, beach and water access in the county," Cosentino said. "They’re trying to say, no we want to be able to give those things away.”
It’s been years since the county decided to vacate this portion of Beach Road and years of back and forth over the decision. He believes the county wants to keep Beach Road vacated because they’re doing developers a favor, potentially allowing for an increase in the number of units they can build.
ABC7 reached out to county officials who said they can’t comment because of the pending litigation, but the people who own rentals along Beach Road said this area of the beach that surrounds the road is already privately owned by them. They also added that part of their agreement with the county is to never build any closer to the water than they already have.
“The 60 foot right-of-way will always be accessible to the public," said William Caflisch, owner of Sunset Beach Resort. "[Which is] where [Beach] Road used to be. From the end of the sidewalk, 60 feet out is all public access.”
The Sunset Beach Resort said a protected species has grown in the sand that now covers Beach Road and the owners are happy with keeping that portion of the road vacated.
“We want it to stay exactly as it is," said Caflisch. "That’s our fight, for the people and for the environment.”
Nothing was decided in court Monday, but Cosentino said he expects the judge to return with a ruling the next few weeks.