Benderson hotel proposal emerges

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Meanwhile, some hotels and chamber submit comp plan suggestions

By John Morton

In the ongoing Siesta Key saga regarding new hotels, not only has the first and largest one initially approved returned to the fold but a new one proposed by a large, prominent developer has also emerged.
All this, less than two months after a court ruling deemed that Sarasota County’s decision to take it upon itself to grant unlimited density, through the misinterpretation of its own comprehensive plan, was unjustified.
The newcomer is Benderson Development, which has expressed interest in building an 85-foot, 210-room hotel in the Village. It owns parcels at two different locations: at 5221 and 5239 Ocean Blvd. where Favio’s Brick Oven Pizza & Bar and two small strip centers are located, combining for 1.14 acres; and across the street at 5214 Ocean Blvd. where Bonjour French Café and other small businesses reside.

These properties in the Siesta Key Village are under consideration by Benderson Development as the site for a possible hotel. (photo by John Morton)

“We have another big battle in front of us,” said Lourdes Ramirez, the winning plaintiff in two hotel-related lawsuits against Sarasota County, in a letter to supporters prior to a Nov. 2 victory party that drew as many as 150 attendees in the Casarina condominium clubhouse.
Meanwhile, the field is getting crowded for those seeking to amend the county’s comprehensive plan – the very plan that was upheld to only allow, as established in March of 1989, 36 rooms per acre (adjusted from 26) and a maximum height of 35 feet.

What was allowed by county vote the past two years blew those numbers out of the water.
The three submissions for an amendment have come from:

  • Potential hotelier Dave Balot, representing his project at 5810 Midnight Pass Road where the old Wells Fargo bank resides.
  • The Benderson group and Realtor Robert Anderson through a joint request (sharing the same legal representation on the matter); Anderson still seeks his project between Calle Miramar and Beach Road that was the first approved and the focus of the first two rulings against it by both a state court in April and a county court in August
  • The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, which once again filed suggestions as it did previously in 2021 prior to the hotels first being approved.
    The Sarasota Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to discuss the submissions at its Nov. 28 meeting. If indeed an amendment is selected, it would go through the process of a neighborhood workshop, a planning commission recommendation, and finally a county commission vote in this case needing a 4-of-5 super majority vote.
    It would come as an “out of cycle” decision, as consideration for comp plan amendments typically come during a predetermined legislative time period. It was last updated in 2016 after an 18-month review.

The key players
First, the new hotel proposal that may be joining the fray: In an Oct. 2 letter to the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, the Kimley-Horn engineering firm, on behalf of Benderson Development, requested a pre-application conference to discuss comp plan amendments that would support its desire for the parameters of its desired project. With that in mind, it could be the fourth to submit an amendment.
Benderson is the company that recently won another round of approvals for its mixed-use Siesta Promenade project at the corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
On Oct. 19, the chamber chimed in with a request similar to what it made two years ago in support of what it calls boutique hotels that match the character of the island: No more than 52 rooms per acre and no more than 75 overall. Regarding height limits, they should correspond with the neighbors: 35 feet if next to a residential are and 45 feet if next to a commercial area.
What’s new for the chamber is its request for a thorough traffic study to accompany any consideration.
District 2 Commissioner Mark Smith, a Siesta Key resident who used to sit on the chamber’s board of directors, earlier this year asked that the chamber proposal get first consideration seeing as it had submitted one previously. No action was taken upon that request.
Smith also suggested that Siesta Key residents Jim Wallace and Bill Oliver, a transportation professional, participate in creating the traffic model.
As for Balot, whose project is where the Wells Fargo bank used to reside, his comp plan amendment was the first to be submitted – it coming on Sept. 28. It also calls for no more than 52 rooms per acre and suggests parcels be at least 1 acre in size. He is seeking six stories and 112 rooms on 2.15 acres.
Next is the Calle Miramar project, which has adjusted its size to seven stories and 163 rooms on its .96 acres parcel. Previously, it asked for eight stories and 170 rooms. A letter seeking involvement in a comp plan amendment was filed Oct. 10 and designated as a joint request piggybacking the one submitted by Benderson Development.
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is the hotel approved on Old Stickney Point Road where Siesta Key businessman Gary Kompothecras was approved to build a seven-story, 120-room hotel on 1.17 acres. Across the street would be a five-story parking garage.

No November trial was needed
Finally, a second lawsuit against Sarasota County was mostly closed Nov. 6 in the form of a partial summary (non-trial) judgment submitted by Hunter Carroll, judge for the county’s 12th Judicial Circuit Court who also ruled on the Ramirez case.
The judgment was similar to the August ruling involving Ramirez, putting a halt to the start of any development orders.
Like Ramirez, the plaintiffs in the second case alleged the county violated its own comp plan by approving a special exception for not only the Calle Miramar project but also the Old Stickney Point Road project. The plaintiffs were the owners at the 222 Beach Road condo complex across from the proposed Anderson hotel along with Robert Sax and Marina Del Sol, residing near the proposed Kompothecras hotel.
A trial had been on the docket for a Nov. 13 start date to settle both lawsuits, with the Ramirez case eliminated via the August ruling, but a ruling on the second one was still pending.
A few loose ends remain and will be revisited early next year.
In October, Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to not appeal any of Carroll’s rulings. Also that month, Ramirez filed with the county for reimbursement of her attorneys fees which she has stated have reached “deep into six figures.”
Ramirez, who is against all the proposed amendments, said she plans to continue to participate in opposition in what appears to be a second round against the possibility of high-density hotels.
In an online communication to supporters, she said:

Ramirez

“I was approached by three mutual friends of one hotel developer, Dave Balot. He wanted to discuss his mega-hotel proposal. I refused to meet with any hotel developer as I am still in litigation and because I see no room for ‘compromise’ when it comes to protecting human life.
“For two years, I’ve fought in court with the focus that increasing density on an overcrowded barrier island will threaten human lives. Why would I even consider changing that position? Is losing a few lives better than losing lots of lives? Ridiculous. The proposed increase in density on Siesta Key is not about inconveniences but a real threat to us.
“The three recent hotel proposals for mega-sized hotels for Siesta Key require the county commissioners to make one choice: the public safety of residents and visitors of Siesta Key versus the desire for supersized hotels by developers.”

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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