By Phil Colpas
It was trial by fire Sept. 2 for newly sworn-in Sarasota County Planning Commissioners Martha Pike, Donna Carter and Jordan Keeler, as the board recommended approval of the second of four proposals for hotel construction on Siesta Key. The team representing Gary Kompothecras (of 1-800-ASK-GARY fame) presented his plans for a seven-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, and a nearby five-story parking garage on Stickney Point Road.
The hotel would feature the mid-century modern design inspired by the Sarasota School of Architecture.
After hearing public comment from 19 concerned citizens, all but one of whom spoke against the project, the board voted 7-2 (with Justin Taylor and Martha Pike voting no) to approve granting special exceptions that would allow height increases to 83 feet for the hotel and 54 feet for the parking structure. The board also voted unanimously to deny a code amendment seeking to redefine how transient accommodations are measured within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD), because the board in August approved an amendment to redefine density as related to transient accommodations throughout the entire county. The Planning Commission’s recommendations will now go before the County Commission for potential final approval on Nov. 2.
The only public beach access point nearby the proposed hotel site is No. 12, which is linked via a pedestrian crosswalk bisecting Midnight Pass Road. The proposed 54-foot-tall parking garage would be comprised of 203 spaces, including 28 retail, 74 hotel and 101 public spaces.
Proponents argued that a 120-room, luxury boutique hotel would create less traffic than some other uses already approved for that “very underutilized property.” They also stated they believe that the hotel fits in nicely with the neighborhood’s existing structures, such as the Anchorage, at 97 feet in height, and Crystal Sands, at 113 feet.
“It’s an opportunity for better stormwater treatment, transportation, crosswalk, parking and places to stay,” said Charlie Bailey, attorney for the developer.
In an effort to reduce the traffic problems, Bailey said, Kompothecras started the Frog Hopper, a free Siesta Key trolley service. He also plans to include 101 public parking spaces in the proposed parking structure.
Representatives of the Siesta Key Coalition, which was formed to limit such developments, were among the opponents.
According to Catherine Luckner, Siesta Key Coalition board member and president of the Siesta Key Association, the SKOD was crafted to protect the welfare, health and safety of the community. “We’re excited for something new, but we’re worried it will be as detrimental to the neighborhood as Bob’s Boathouse was,” she said, noting that the Peacock Road area is a quiet, residential neighborhood with one road in and one road out and very little in the way of street parking.
“I agree with your staff that the exception should not be approved,” said Patricia Petruff, Sarasota land-use attorney. “The density should be 26 per acre; I disagreed with the ruling two weeks ago. One hundred-plus per acre is frightening to me.”
Mark Spiegel, president of the Siesta Key Coalition, told the Planning Commission “We are not opposed to a boutique hotel. This is not a boutique hotel … and (it) will have a detrimental impact on traffic, pedestrian safety and density.”
“Mr. Bailey did a wonderful job pointing out all the tall buildings around the area, but he didn’t mention all the single-family homes,” Spiegel said. “Special exceptions are meant to be just that: special. The hotel is not a by-right use.”
“A no vote doesn’t mean you don’t want a hotel,” Spiegel continued. “But what it will do is challenge the developers to come up with something better more in line with the Siesta Key Overlay District.”
Longtime resident and traffic operations engineer Bill Oliver argued that the applicant’s traffic studies were based on typical case scenarios. “Barrier islands are not the typical case,” he said. “It is not uncommon for traffic on the island to back up for a mile at both bridges.”
Oliver said there were already serious problems with access and traffic circulation on Siesta Key, and the real issue is that the hotel, in its current plan, would create more traffic. “We’re not opposed to a hotel,” he said. “But we recommend the planning commission come up with a plan to better manage traffic on the island.”
Fifth-generation Siesta Key resident Fred Lowe asked the commissioners to vote no on both the text amendment and special exceptions. “The 120 rooms will bring too much traffic to an already overly congested area,” he said, while showing a video of bumper-to-bumper traffic at Stickney Point and Midnight Pass roads, backed up all the way to U.S. 41.
Robert Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Coalition, made planning commissioners aware that just because something similar was done elsewhere does not mean that’s what locals want here. “Siesta Key residents have no desire to look like Destin or St. Pete Beach,” he said, referring to the more than 400% density increase the 120-room hotel would require.
Luckner suggested that FAR (floor-area ratio) may be a better way to calculate the hotel’s impact on density. He estimated that the current plan would more than double the FAR standard.
Peacock Road resident Lisa Russo knew that the area near her home was zoned Commercial General, but never expected a hotel to be constructed that violated the SKOD. She expressed concern about dangerous traffic, flooding problems and lack of proper emergency vehicle access in the neighborhood. “This is already an unsafe area,” she said. “It does not need a high-density hotel.”
Longtime Siesta Key resident Amy Spiegel told commissioners that the crosswalk that bisects Midnight Pass Road and leads to public beach access No. 12 is not convenient and is extremely dangerous already. “This hotel would invite 400-plus more people a day to use beach access No.12, which has private property on both sides,” she said. “This is going to overcrowd an already overcrowded beach.”
“Who’s going from the hotel, at that price point, to wait in line to take a trolley 3 miles to go to another beach?” asked Spiegel. “There is not enough beach access at that location.”
According to Marina Del Sol board member Kathie Hardin, 87 single-family households and more than 180 residents comprise the neighborhood of Sabal Drive and Peacock and Old Stickney Point roads. She expressed concern about trucks routinely blocking Peacock Road when making deliveries, and the liability of emergency vehicles not able to reach their victims.
Longtime resident Jean Cannon was surprised that there is nothing in the plan to address the effects of the construction and increased density on the neighborhood’s Sable Lake, which acts as a stormwater retention pond. In fact, she said, plans call for part of the lake to be paved over, and argued that it should be protected wetlands.
“They need a parking structure, but why does it have to be this large? It does not fit in with the neighborhood,” she said. “One hundred and twenty more families … where will they go?”
“What will happen to existing businesses when people aren’t going to be able to get in and out due to traffic congestion?” Cannon asked, noting that Siesta Key routinely pays the lion’s share of Sarasota County’s bed tax. “We already bring in the revenue. What are you doing to the existing residents of Siesta Key?”
Resident Rodney Linford wrapped up the Siesta Key Coalition’s speakers by informing commissioners that they “might want to take notice of this volume of protests from so many residents” represented there that evening, including the 920 member households of the Siesta Key Association and the 6,400 households and 70 community support organizations of the Siesta Key Coalition. “You must take into consideration the cumulative impact of all these hotel proposals together,” he said.
Peacock Road resident Laura Lowe said that navigating Old Stickney Point Road is already a hazard, and that people regularly park illegally on sidewalks because there’s simply nowhere else for them to go. “How can a dead-end road with two dead-end streets support this? Residents should not continue to be squeezed out,” she said. “A profitable return on (the developer’s) investment should not be our cross to bear.”
“The Comprehensive Plan specifically states that density shall not exceed the definition from SKOD,” said Lourdes Ramirez, longtime resident and former SKA president. “Courts have ruled many times in favor of comp plans. This proposal violates the comp plan.”
Ramirez mentioned a 2002 comp plan case in Jacksonville, wherein Martin County approved an apartment complex that violated their comp plan. Neighbors later sued, forcing the developer to tear down the $3.3 million apartment complex, she said.
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