Proposed project at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd. goes before planners Sept. 1
By John Morton
It’s been quite the topsy-turvy ride for Dave Balot in his quest to build a hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd.
He had to scratch his initial designs because of a protected oak tree on his property, resulting in a second neighborhood workshop to discuss his revised plans.
Furthermore, a pair of lawsuits fighting the county approval of two other hotels – at Calle Miramar near the Village (eight floors, 170 rooms) and on Old Stickney Point Road (six floors, 120 rooms) near the south bridge – made things a bit cloudy. They are slated for trial next spring, and part of what is being disputed is the county’s decision through an amendment to allow no limits on density.
But now, about a year-and-half since buying in March of 2021 the 2.15-acre property where the old Wells Fargo bank sits for $4.41 million, he’s finally getting his project in front of county officials.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, Balot’s six-story, 112-room proposal he calls The Hotel Siesta will be discussed by the Sarasota County Planning Commission. The meeting is open to the public and is held in the county’s administrative center, located at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
With approval there, county commissioners would likely hear the proposal Oct. 26 for what could be a decisive vote.
That date comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 general election when two new commissioners will be elected to the five-person board.
Was Balot motivated to get before the same commissioners who previously approve the other two hotels? He’s seeking two special exceptions – one for transient accommodations use at his location and another for 24 feet of height beyond the 35 feet that’s currently allowed.
“As you may have surmised or been told, I have been questioned — or otherwise asked — by some of the opposition to wait for the new two new commissioners to be elected to the BOCC. Personally, I don’t see why the current commission should not hear my special exception request,” Balot said. “Just because there is an upcoming election, are the current elected officials no longer county commissioners?”
If approved, Balot’s situation would mirror the other two hotels that have yet to break ground because of the lawsuits. Two motions by the county to have them tossed out were denied.
“At that point, someone could file another lawsuit against my hotel, but I’m not sure they would, as the question of intensity will be getting answered before June of next year,” Balot said. “If the lawsuits overturn the Unified Development Code amendment and the court finds that a comprehensive plan is needed for density, then I plan to continue with my prior comp plan that doubles the residential density to 52 rooms per acre (it had been 26 per acre) for transient accommodations. As a comparison, I’ve been told that the city of Sarasota is 50 rooms per acre.
“I had asked the county if I could move forward with a comprehensive plan, but in discussions with the staff it was decided that no additional amendment to the comprehensive plan could be supported by the county until the pending lawsuits are resolved.”
The Sept. 1 hearing puts Balot back on at least a path of sorts. He went from moving quickly to some backpedaling in short order.
“As you may recall, I was initially rushing to get my project in front of the Sarasota County commissioners due to my belief that a comprehensive plan was needed,” he said. “We all know how that turned out. My intent to rush at the time was to provide a lower density option, in comparison to the two other proposed hotels at six-and-half times the density and four times the density. After the Unified Development Code amendment was approved and my conceptual plan was then denied due to the grand oak tree, we continued to work at a more normal, slower pace. I actually even temporarily halted moving the project along due to my team and me taking personal vacation and family time off.
“Now, summer is over, we are all back to work, the application has been approved and the dates the county have provided are personally convenient for me — especially before the upcoming holiday season, where again families are taking time off.”
That Sept. 1 date with the Planning Commission is a matter of frustration for Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key association civic group. It is one of many organizations that are fighting against the four new hotels that have been proposed for the Key in the past year and a half.
“It’s at the exact same time as our monthly association meeting,” Luckner said. “We represent many of the people who would want to be there to express our opposition, but we can’t be at two places at the same time.”
That meeting has since been changed to Sept. 8.
Luckner also feels Balot wasn’t forthcoming enough at his latest neighborhood workshop, which was held in June. He has been so, however, in previous interviews with the Siesta Sand.
“This application and the request for special exceptions was never disclosed or discussed during the public workshop,” Luckner wrote in an email. “The ability to request special exceptions is dependent upon a comp plan amendment which Dave still has ‘pending’ in his file. It was never removed from last year and is apparently needed, (re) setbacks required.
“There seems to be some shuffling around to expedite for an unknown reason (except the BOCC will be changed in November).”
Balot feels his requests are fair and the timing is right.
“I believe what I am asking for in terms of hotel use (transient accommodations) and height of 59 feet (above grade,) which is less that what the neighboring properties may build by right, are reasonable requests, regardless if I ask the current commission or the future BOCC with two new commissioners,” Balot wrote in an email. “I don’t feel I should be forced to wait beyond my turn to provide the opposition (what they may believe is) a better chance at stopping hotels on Siesta Key simply because they do not agree with some of the current elected officials.
“As stated by me and stated by some of the planning and county commissioners during the other two hotel hearings, Siesta Key could benefit from some new hotels. The real question of whether a comprehensive plan is needed for the proposed hotels (and ultimately mine if approved) will be decided in the courts early next year.”
Balot is also a partner in the Siesta Key Resorts and Suites in the Village. That hotel has applied for a plan to be razed and rebuilt with 170 rooms.