More than 100 citizens attend workshop to inquire about project
By Phil Colpas
More than 100 concerned citizens packed St. Boniface Church on June 14 to attend a neighborhood workshop on a proposed hotel on Siesta Key — the third of four hotels proposed for Siesta Key in less than a year.
Property owner Dave Balot wants to build a 112-room hotel on a 2.15-acre parcel at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd., site of a former bank in between Gulf & Bay and Jamaica Royale condominiums.
Balot said he purchased the property about a year ago, and described the project as “The Hotel Siesta,” a courtyard-style hotel with a restaurant/bar, lounge, and large pool.
Balot plans on including a 150-seat restaurant “in the style of the Summerhouse,” which was a very popular upscale restaurant in a jungle-like garden setting on Siesta Key for many years.
“A lot of people wanted me to do a smaller, luxury boutique hotel,” Balot said. “But I wanted something affordable that people could bring their kids to.”
The concept of “affordable” is subjective, of course. Balot said his new hotel will charge patrons upwards of $300 per room, per night. During the high season, room rates will be an estimated $450 to $500 per night.
“Since I started this last year, building construction costs are 30% higher,” Balot said.
Balot held his first neighborhood workshop on the project on June 9, 2021, and the community is definitely appreciative of his willingness to continue to work with his neighbors and keep concerned citizens in the loop.
The properties in close proximity to the proposed hotel site are all zoned residential multifamily, Balot said.
“The buildings around (the proposed hotel) are seven floors. I’m proposing six floors,” he said, with a height of 35 feet over parking.
Balot also said he will offer guests to check out beach buggies, coolers and chairs for the beach.
“During busy times, we plan on having an open-air trolley to take guests to the beach,” he added.
Balot has received “about a 75% positive reaction” on his hotel plans, he said. “But there are NIMBY (‘not in my back yard’) people.”
The biggest trip generator in Sarasota County is its beaches. A number of those present at the workshop emphasized that the hotel would likely increase traffic on a busy stretch that, they argue, will also be hindered by future plans to replace a stoplight with a traffic circle.
A lady from the crowd yelled out, “Almost no one wants another roundabout on Siesta Key!”
The position of county traffic engineers is that the roundabout will be an improvement and will not affect access. The traffic study will be updated to reflect the 112 rooms now planned for the hotel.
Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, asked about a plan for stormwater mitigation. “We don’t want it sent to the Gulf or canals,” she said. “What is the treatment? Where will it be discharged?”
“That’s above my paygrade,” Balot responded, but also reasserted his intention to do everything in his power to mitigate neighborhood issues.
Siesta Key activist Mike Cosentino, who is running as a Democrat for the Sarasota County
Commission’s District 2 seat, praised Balot for working with the community, but reiterated the fact that if the county loses its lawsuits (the first two Siesta Key approved hotel proposals are in litigation regarding density), Balot will not be able to move forward with his current plan.
“What I’m looking to build will have much less traffic than Davidson Plaza,” Balot said, referencing the busy Southbridge Mall located south of the hotel property on Midnight Pass Road. “I want to be able to show my face. I don’t want to be someone who does something bad for Siesta Key. If the county wins and we have unlimited density, which I don’t believe we should, I still want to build something nice for Siesta Key.”
Balot plans to have two levels of parking and overflow parking with 315 total spaces. “The more cars I can take off the road, the better,” he said.
Mark Spiegel, president of the Siesta Key Coalition, which was founded to combat irresponsible development on Siesta Key, praised Balot’s transparency.
“I appreciate how you’ve kept us informed,” Spiegel said, adding that the setback should be measured from the building’s footprint. “The county has admitted it was wrong about this.”
“I donated to the Coalition. I thought a 170-room hotel was absurd,” said Balot, referencing the approved hotel between Beach Road and Calle Miramar near the Village.
Said Spiegel, “I know you’re planning on having overflow beach parking, but from our perspective as Siesta Key residents we’re full. This just means more people crowding our beaches and roads.”
“The city of Sarasota was thinking about 50 rooms per acre,” countered Balot, noting that his planned 112 rooms is right around that density. “I think the residents of Siesta Key would benefit from this hotel. I can’t solve these problems, but my intent is to mitigate them the best I can.”
Neighbors from Gulf & Bay and Jamaica Royale condominiums, which abuts the property on both sides, expressed their concern about noise pollution. Balot agreed that his hotel must feature “quiet enjoyment,” and referenced his efforts to eliminate noise pollution at Siesta Key
Beach Resort & Suites, a 55-room hotel in Siesta Village he co-owns.
Other questions were raised, ranging from concerns about environment and trash, to setback variances and boundary walls. To be fair, some of these inquiries put the cart before the horse, but people are understandably concerned.
“To be honest with you,” Balot said, “I don’t even have a room design yet.”
Balot said he will require patrons to be a minimum age of 23 to rent a room, and that he will restrict the number of people to a room. Further, he said he will stipulate guests cannot use the Gulf & Bay or Jamaica Royale beach accesses, and will instead instruct guests to use the public beach accesses.
Addressing several complaints from residents on existing traffic problems and how this hotel would exacerbate those problems, Balot said “Hopefully, people will check in and use other forms of transportation.”
Balot’s plans remain in a holding pattern until the county’s lawsuits relating to the first two Siesta Key hotels are settled. If the county loses, Balot would be unable to build without a special exception. If the county wins those lawsuits, the density cap remains unlimited.
“If I can’t build the hotel, I may sell it, because I don’t like the alternative,” Balot said. “I don’t have a plan B. Siesta Key needs a hotel, but I don’t know if it could use three.
“My goal is to be a good neighbor.”