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Town of Siesta Key moves one step closer to incorporation

Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media

A bill that would allow residents of Siesta Key to form their own government will be introduced in the Florida legislature during the coming session.

The grassroots organization Save Siesta Key has for years petitioned local lawmakers to bring a bill to Tallahassee that would allow residents to vote on a referendum to break away from Sarasota County.

Last week, the Sarasota legislative delegation voted 3-1 to move the bill forward.

Tim Hensey, the chairman of the incorporation advocacy group, said Sarasota County’s approval of several large hotels is one main issue of concern.

"The island has a charm and that charm stands to be eroded if you put too many people out here on our streets and our beaches,” he said. “You know, we're not trying to just shut the doors and say this is our island but the increase in visitors has been tremendous."

The barrier island of Siesta Key has seen the county sign off on several high-density hotels in just the past few years. Many residents also opposed the county's decision to dredge Big Pass.

For years, residents of the island community have asked local lawmakers to support their efforts to form their own government. That effort failed last year but lawmakers encouraged the group to come back with a feasibility study and evidence that most residents supported incorporation.

In a recent election-like straw poll of thousands of residents, results showed that 87% of those responded favored the creation of a new town and local government on the island.

"Most people would say that the residents of a given area are better equipped and better tuned into the issues to protect the interests and preserve the character of the community,” said Hensey.

The group also completed a more than 100-page feasibility report on how the Town of Siesta Key would operate independent of Sarasota County.

If the full Florida legislature passes the incorporation bill and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off, it will head to a special election in November 2024.

An incorporation referendum would then need to get more than 50% of Siesta Key's registered voters' support.

Copyright 2023 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.