By John Morton
How impressed with Dave Balot were members of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners?
For starters, it was Nancy Detert who made the motion on Oct. 26 to approve his plans to build a six-story, 112-room hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd. – where the old Wells Fargo bank once stood.
She happens to be the only commissioner who voted against both of the two high-rise hotels the commission approved last winter.
“The difference is night and day,” she said of Balot’s proposal when compared to the hotels that got the green light at Calle Miramar near the Village (eight stories, 170 rooms) and Old Stickney Point Road near the south bridge (seven stories, 120 rooms). “He understands the community. The other two were unbudging and in-your-face greedy.”
Next, as outgoing commission member Christian Ziegler – who in District 2 represents the area where the hotel will be built – shared similar praise, he literally suggested that Balot could be a strong candidate for mayor of Siesta Key if it indeed becomes its own municipality.
“If you don’t make a run for mayor, I hope you’ll run some seminars for other developers,” Ziegler said of Balot’s approach, which included two neighborhood workshops and many discussions with various organizations including the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Condominium Council, and the anti-hotel Siesta Key Coalition.
What transpired was a 5-0 vote in favor. It came on the heels of an 8-0 recommendation by the county’s planning commission in September. Neither of the two previously approved hotels had unanimous support at either level.
“You’re being rewarded for your community interaction, and you did everything to support our rules,” Detert told Balot. “You did it right.”
Even the 10 speakers in opposition of Balot’s plan acknowledged, without exception, that Balot was forthcoming and a pleasure. However, several of them told the board that while Balot was open to revisions and adjustments during conversations, only one item of concern – raising a concrete barrier around his property from 6 feet in height to 8 – ever made its way to the fine print of the proposal that was ultimately approved.
Others that needed to be in writing, said opposing resident Eileen Jones who is a board member of the Siesta Key Coalition and an ambassador with Save Siesta Key incorporation group, included details about trees being planted on the hotel’s south boundary, the posting of no-trespass signs on neighboring private-beach properties, posting of various rules in hotel rooms, and some roadway signage that addressed traffic flow and turn lanes.
Added Darrel Peters, a board member with neighboring Gulf & Bay Club, the promises “were only oral – there’s no written documentation.”
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger would counter that concern later in saying, “From what I’ve heard from the petitioner, I’m confident that these details will be worked out.”
Among those concerns was how to manage stormwater runoff. Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, said the construction would leave the hotel’s footprint 75.7% impervious – problematic for an area already known for flooding.
Other concerns included what Bob Luckner of the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Coalition argued was an insufficient traffic study, while others reminded commissioners that local setback interpretations remained in a state of chaos after county staff acknowledged in January that the other hotels were approved despite an oversight regarding language in the codes.
Beyond all that, reminders were also voiced about how the approvals of the other hotels were soon to be in question via lawsuits alleging the county violated its own codes. Thus, there should be no hurry or purpose in rendering a decision seeing as the Balot hotel would also be in limbo for now.
“You should table this, and see where you are in the litigation,” Patricia Petruff, a land-use attorney representing the anti-hotel Siesta Key Coalition, said. “Should you approve another one? Is that the best use of the taxpayers’ dollars?”
All these objections, including others, were previously voiced to the planning commission.
Like the other two hotels, Balot received two special exceptions: one for the site being used for transient accommodations, the other for exceeding the 35 feet of height that’s currently allowed. Balot’s hotel will be 59 feet tall, with four floors of rooms and amenities above two stories of parking.
A 7,000-square-foot restaurant, bagel/coffee shop, golf-cart rental operation, pool and courtyard are part of the plan. The architecture is 1960s-inspired and the name will be The Siesta Hotel.
Balot will also will create a parallel frontage-road design in front of the hotel to allow for service vehicles, drop-off/pick-up services, golf carts, and the Siesta Breeze trolley to stay off Midnight Pass Road, easing potential congestion.
In part because his site has no beach access, he also plans to shuttle guests to the nearby public beach.
Speaking of parking, Balot said 43 spaces in his lot will be allocated for public use. And, confident that many guests won’t have a car, he speculated that as many as 100 spots could be consistently available for public use. He said, as co-owner of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites in the Village, it is becoming a norm to arrive without a vehicle and make use of the public transportation on the Key. He estimated that half the guests take that approach.
“It will be a stay-and-play resort. The amenities’ primary role is for the guests,” he said.
Balot’s comments came on the heels of a traffic analyst on Balot’s behalf telling the commissioners that between 20% and 30% of Siesta Key traffic comes from motorists “trolling” around for an open spot to park.
That caught Commissioner Mike Moran’s attention. “Anything that can give relief to that (parking problem) I’ll support,” he said.
Regarding concerns about the undetermined setback situation, Balot’s plan has 20-foot setbacks for the first 35 feet, as required, but instead of adding 1 foot of setback for every 4 feet of height above 35 feet, as previously interpreted and in what creates a “wedding cake” type of design by stepping it back gradually in intervals, he chose to go with 26 feet of straight-up setback all at once after the 35-foot mark.
Also, on 2.15 acres of land, Balot was able to limit his density to 52 rooms per acre. It’s much less when compared to the 170-room Calle Miramar hotel that would sit on slightly less than 1 acre.
This, despite Balot having to change his plans last year due to a protected oak tree at the front of his property. As a result, he lost more than 20 feet of land and had to go up in height (originally five floors) and in the numbers of rooms (originally 101 rooms) to meet his needs.
Still, “This has significantly less density than the other two hotels,” Balot said.
And, as he also did during the planning commission hearing, Balot noted that he has a 20-year history with Sarasota and is currently building a home on the Key. He said he’d be working at his hotel, as would his children.
And he said he’d continue to be transparent and a good neighbor.
“I’m here, front and center, not hiding behind an attorney,” Balot said. “I’m not a developer. This is my first rodeo.”
Balot bought the property in March of 2021 for $4.41 million.
When asked afterward for comment on how well he was received by the commission and even his opponents, Balot said: “I credit my parents with teaching my siblings and I to treat people the way we want to be treated.
“In addition to having a great team, that advice assisted me in getting the special exceptions approved.”