By Rachel Brown Hackney, SarasotaNewsLeader.com
The first two hotel proposals submitted to Sarasota County staff are the first two scheduled for county Planning Commission hearings, county documents show.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 19, the project team for the hotel planned on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road will have its chance to win over the planning commissioners. Then, two weeks later, on Sept. 2, the team representing Gary Kompothecras will appear before the Planning Commission to discuss his proposal for a seven-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road and a five-story parking garage on Stickney Point Road.
Additionally, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis won approval of the County Commission on July 13 to set that board’s public hearing dates on the two proposals. The Calle Miramar project will be the solitary item on the County Commission’s Oct. 27 agenda. Likewise, the County Commission will address Kompothecras’ plans as the sole focus of business on the Nov. 2 agenda.
Both hearings will be conducted at the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
In late spring of 2020, one of the principals behind the proposal for the eight-story, 170-room Calle Miramar hotel — RE/MAX real estate agent Robert Anderson — began making presentations to various neighborhood groups and organizations on the Key in an effort to win their support. Anderson is the long-time lessee of the site slated for that hotel; the primary owner of the land is Louise Khaghan of New York City.
During a Jan. 11, county-mandated neighborhood workshop, attorney William Merrill of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota told participants that the team is seeking a special exception for the hotel to exceed the 35-foot height limit allowed in Commercial General zoning districts in the county, including those within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD). Merrill has said the hotel would have a height of 80 feet above base flood elevation. A restaurant, bar and retail shops also are part of the plans.
Additionally, the project team has asked for an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that would treat “transient accommodations” — the term county staff uses for hotels and motels — as a non-residential use. In the preliminary project application, attorney Matthew Brockway of Icard Merrill wrote that that “is consistent with the true nature of the use. After all, from a land use, planning, and zoning perspective,” he added, “hotels are a commercial use critical to tourism and our local economy. To that end Transient Accommodations are only permitted (either as permitted uses or by special exception) in certain commercial zoning districts.”
Under county regulations for Commercial General zoning, a hotel room counts as half a dwelling unit if it has no kitchen. Residential density on Commercial General property is limited to 13 units per acre. Thus, a hotel could have up to 26 rooms per acre. The site of the planned hotel on Calle Miramar comprises 0.96 acres.
However, in updated application materials, the project team simply is seeking amendments to the county’s Unified Development Code, which encompasses all the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
Merrill pointed out in a May 7 letter to county Planning Division staff that, because “the proposed hotel use and associated (Unified Development Code) text amendments do not create residential density and do not direct population concentrations to the barrier island … the intensity of the proposed hotel use does not exceed that allowed pursuant to (county Future Land Use) Policy 2.9.1.”
That policy was enacted in 1989 to restrict barrier island residential density and intensity.
Siesta residents have been adamant in opposition to the hotel plans, as well as the proposed amendments. During the January workshop, many told Merrill that the project is too intense for the island, particularly because of the increased traffic congestion with which residents — and visitors — have been contending over the past couple of years.
Lourdes Ramirez, past president of the Siesta Key Association and the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations, pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan policy the project team wants to amend was put in place in 1989.
It “was created by the county commissioners back then because they recognized that the barrier islands could not handle any more intensity,” she said.
The Kompothecras proposal
Along with their building plans, Kompothecras’ team members originally filed for a county Comprehensive Plan amendment and an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code.
However, on May 27, county staff received a letter from the project team announcing that it was withdrawing the Comprehensive Plan amendment petition.
That amendment — like the one for the Calle Miramar project — pertained to county Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, regarding intensity and density of future development on the barrier islands. It would have applied only to lands located south of Stickney Point Road — in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge area” — that are zoned Commercial General and Commercial Intensive.
In a June 14 response to Kompothecras’ attorney, Charles Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Services Division, wrote:
“The withdrawal of the privately initiated petition is based on written analysis you provided during the sufficiency review (by staff) that demonstrates that the proposed commercial use of (Commercial General]/SKOD zoned property was consistent with Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Policy 1.3.1. (‘SKOD’ refers to the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations.)
“Specifically, the proposal could be allowed by right, or special exception, based on existing codes, as well as codes that were in existence in 1989 as specified in Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. Staff has reviewed the analysis and agrees with the premise and finding as the impetus of your withdrawal.”
The proposed Unified Development Code amendment that Kompothecras’ team has submitted says that no hotel room within a Commercial General zone in the Siesta Key Overlay District could have a kitchen and that each room without a kitchen would be calculated as one-quarter dwelling unit. Finally, that amendment calls for no more than 120 rooms in an individual transient accommodation.
During two neighborhood workshops in December, Siesta residents also voiced adamant opposition to Kompothecras’ proposals.
Again, traffic was a primary concern, especially as Old Stickney Point Road has a dead end.