Second hotel-related lawsuit, meanwhile, remains unresolved with Nov. 13 trial unlikely but still on the schedule
By John Morton
When it comes to suggestions to alter Sarasota County’s comp plan, the race is on.
And the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce wants to be first in line.
On the heels of an Aug. 21 summary judgment (non-trial) ruling that the county commissioners exceeded their authority in granting unlimited density in relation to three hotels it would approve, several entities are expected to propose what are known as text amendments in the quest to get what they want on the books.
Judge Hunter Carroll’s recent ruling shot down the county’s interpretation of development rules, putting at least for now a halt to the plans proposed by the new hotels.
He decided that a March 1989 ordinance is what governs Siesta Key development. That language limited height at 35 feet and the number of rooms to be 26 per acre – a number Carroll recalculated at 36 per acre.
A few months prior to the county’s controversial decision in October of 2021, the chamber submitted its recommendation. In general, it asked that hotels be “boutique” in nature and match the island’s character. The number of rooms should be limited to 52 per care and not exceed 75 in total, the chamber said, and height should conform with neighbors – no more than 35 feet in residential areas and 45 feet if in commercial areas.
The chamber’s suggestion was never acted upon, and soon after the unlimited density decision the county approved in late 2021 an eight-story, 170-room hotel on 0.96 acres on Calle Miramar near the Village; a seven-story, 120-room hotel on 1.17 acres on Old Stickney Point Road near the south bridge; and in late 2022 a 112-room on 2.15 acres at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd. in the mid-island area.
Dave Balot is the potential hotelier behind that third proposal, and in late September he submitted, upon invitation by county staff, his suggestion for an amendment. In a nutshell, it mirrors his hotel’s current plans with a maximum number of rooms at 52 per acre. Also, it calls for a requirement of at least 1 acre of land for any project.
His submission is the first, but it doesn’t mean it will be the first to be considered. District 2 Commissioner Mark Smith, a Siesta Key resident and former Siesta Key chamber board member who was the group’s incoming chairman (he dropped the role when elected to his county seat), told his county colleagues at a Sept. 26 meeting that the hopes the Siesta chamber proposal would get the first look. He reminded them that hotel-related lawsuits against the county put the chamber’s views on the back burner after it first submitted them in March of 2021.
No vote was taken by commissioners on his suggestion.
Nonetheless, the Siesta Key chamber is currently fine-tuning what will be a new proposal, and current chairman Mike Gatz said it would be similar to the original.
“They’ll be the same numbers as 2021. There’s no reason to change anything,” Gatz said. “Again, we want to see measured growth that fits the style of Siesta Key.”
Gatz also suspects that those behind the other two hotels will be filing their own comp plan amendments, like Balot did.
“Everyone denied a hotel is going to get their expensive lawyers involved and file one,” Gatz said. “If ours is first and gets approved, I’d think it’s unlikely the comp plan would be changed again for people who are asking for more and more.”
Changes to the county’s comprehensive plan require a supermajority vote – as in four out of five commissioners.
Gatz also noted an amendment of any sort may not be best for the island when all is said and done.
“There’s a movement afoot for a traffic study here,” Gatz said. “Maybe that will show that no growth is a good idea.”
Indeed, such a request was made by Smith earlier this year involving county staff and Siesta Key residents Jim Wallace, who has participated in studies in opposition to the Siesta Promenade project, and Bill Oliver, whose career was related to traffic issues.
Other hotel-related matters
Meanwhile, regarding Carroll’s ruling, winning plaintiff Lourdes Ramirez, Sarasota County, and attorneys for Robert Anderson (Calle Miramar hotel) and Gary Kompothecras (Old Stickney Point Road hotel) all asked for a final judgment which was issued by Carroll on Oct. 9. It’s required for any type of appeal, of which none of the parties have yet officially filed, and eliminates the need for a Nov. 13 trial that would address a few minor matters that Carroll was unable to rule upon in August.
However, a second hotel-related lawsuit against the county, that was combined with the Ramirez lawsuit, remains unsettled. The plaintiffs are the 222 Beach Road condominium complex (across the street from the Anderson hotel) along with resident Robert Sax and Marina Del Sol condominium complex (across the street from the Kompthecras hotel).
Those plaintiffs are likely to ask Hunter for a summery judgment as well, with a similar outcome appearing likely, thus avoiding the trial.
That second lawsuit is similar to the Ramirez case, the biggest exception being that the plaintiffs included an additional claim that the county commission members exceeded their authority when they approved the ordinance change which eliminated the density limits in the Unified Development Code. Otherwise, like Ramirez, the plaintiffs claim the Anderson and Kompthecras projects exceed the density limits outlined in policy 2.9.1 of the comprehensive plan that governs barrier islands.
Ramirez’s ruling only involved the Calle Miramar hotel. However, Carroll’s ruling applies to any proposed development.