By Rachel Brown Hackney
In late January, the Sarasota County commissioners heard four Siesta Key residents urge them to remove, from their consent agenda of routine business matters, three different proposals that could affect residential density and intensity not just on Siesta Key but also on the other barrier islands within the county’s jurisdiction.
However, after also listening to remarks by Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, the board members voted unanimously to approve the three requests.
“I want to be very clear,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said, “this is a vote just to move forward with the process to consider these options or proposals. This is not a vote on the final projects.”
Each of the consent agenda items called for commission approval of the PDS staff to begin work on proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendments outside the normal cycle for such work.
Ziegler asked that all three be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion on Jan. 26.
Commissioner Mike Moran asked for assurance from County Attorney Frederick Elbrecht that “the community [will have] plenty of opportunities … to be heard … all in the Sunshine?”
He was referring to the state’s open meetings law.
“That is correct,” Elbrecht replied. “This is just a procedural vote.”
“These are going to be highly contentious [with] lots of public input, lots of conversation about the substance of the issue,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out.
Then responding to a question from Detert, Osterhoudt said, “We do feel that we have enough resources to be able to handle [the reviews] out of cycle.”
The projects behind the proposed amendments
The consent agenda items pertained to proposals for three Siesta Key hotel projects: a 170-room hotel planned on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, near the Beach Road/Ocean Boulevard intersection; a 120-room hotel designed for property on Old Stickney Point Road, close to the Midnight Pass Road/Stickney Point Road intersection; and the redevelopment of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites hotel, located at 5311 Ocean Blvd., from a 55-room facility to one with 170 rooms.
To make the projects feasible, each team has proposed a county Comprehensive Plan amendment to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, which restricts residential density and intensity on the barrier islands, partly in an effort to facilitate hurricane evacuations.
The Calle Miramar project team proposes eliminating residential density calculations for all “transient accommodations” — the term county staff uses for hotels — on the barrier islands. Gary Kompothecras , the owner of the Old Stickney Point Road property, wants to double the residential density allowed for hotels just in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge area,” south of the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection.
Finally, SKRS LLC, owner of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, is seeking an amendment that would allow owners of existing resorts, hotels and motels to “have an opportunity to redevelop their properties without density limits because that’s what they have paid for … when they purchased their properties,” the preliminary application explained.
SKRS LLC also proposes a companion Unified Development Code text amendment that would apply countywide to any transient accommodation with 40 or more units that was built before March 13, 1989 and remains in operation as of the date the amendment would take effect.
The Unified Development Code contains all the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
County zoning regulations for parcels zoned for commercial purposes on Siesta Key allow transient accommodations, but only if the County Commission approves a special exception for a hotel or motel use. Additionally, any hotel room without a kitchen counts as half a dwelling unit. County regulations allow a maximum of 13 dwelling units per acre on commercial general property; thus, the number of hotel rooms allowed on 1 acre would be 26.
Seeking a comprehensive approach
Mark Spiegel, chair of the Siesta Key Coalition, was among the island residents who urged the commission to deny the applicants’ requests for the out-of-cycle review.
The coalition was organized last year to oppose hotel projects that exceed the island’s existing commercial development regulations.
After the commission votes, Spiegel said “The real message we are trying to say to our county planning staff and commissioners is that the implications have a major impact on Siesta Key and we genuinely want, as stakeholders of Siesta Key, to have a county-run forum where we can not only share concerns, but recommend issues to consider and study.”
Spiegel has expressed dismay with the fact that attorneys and representatives of land-development consulting firms handled the county-required neighborhood workshops for the Calle Miramar and Kompothecras projects
Spiegel continued, “we feel we can put forth for benefit of the county and … developers what type of true boutique hotel we would support, one that would be better sized and designed in the character of Siesta Key, and have less adverse intensity impact on our roads and beaches, and require less precedent-setting and fewer material changes to our protective codes and policies. We want to share what we are for, not just want we are against.”
He added, “This doesn’t need to be highly controversial and adversarial if the county would engage with organizations like SK Coalition, SKCC [the Siesta Key Condominium Council], SKA [the Siesta Key Association] and the [Siesta Key] Chamber of Commerce in a proactive forum.”
Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Division, said the project teams for the Calle Miramar and Kompothecras hotels already have conducted their neighborhood workshops, in compliance with county regulations.
“Applicants are required to hold one neighborhood workshop within nine months of a scheduled Planning Commission public hearing,” Dary said. “We do not anticipate additional neighborhood workshops unless they would exceed the nine-month requirement for timeliness.”