Left in limbo, Balot takes action

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Hotelier asks for legal clarification as to where things stand

By ChrisAnn Allen

Hopeful hotelier Dave Balot is refusing to take a wait-and-see approach to his plans as the Siesta Key hotel saga continues.

The island resident and businessman on March 27 filed a declaratory judgment asking Sarasota County courts to confirm his hotel special exception can move forward, assuming he adheres to his approved, binding development plan. In order for his potential construction process to continue, the county must approve Balot’s site development plan application.

“I understand the county may have had, and/or still has, trepidation regarding my unchallenged, unanimously approved special exception,” Balot said. “My declaratory action is not a lawsuit that seeks damages, but more of a conflict that deals with the legal rights and interpretations of the law. 

“We are simply asking the court to resolve the legal uncertainty, which will then assist us in how we govern our future actions.”

The purpose of Balot’s filing is for the court to potentially issue a ruling stating his plans for the project are “final, non-appealable and binding,” in light of a lack of challenge and a looming two-year deadline for his special exception on use and height.

The third in a series of special exception approvals for high-density hotels granted in 2021 and 2022, Balot’s project calls for six stories and 112 rooms on 2.15 acres at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd., where the old Wells Fargo bank is located. The previously granted special exceptions allowed for transient accommodations and increased height above the existing 35-foot cap established in 1989, but an August 2023 legal ruling on lawsuits that named only two other hotels negated them. Both those hotels – one with seven stories at Old Stickney Point Road and one with eight stories at Calle Miramar – were approved under the county’s short-lived “unlimited density” decision in 2021.

When Balot’s project was presented to the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in October 2022, it was also approved – in his case, unanimously.

As Balot pointed out in an April 9 email to the Siesta Sand, his special exception was not legally challenged, unlike the other two proposed hotels.

Subsequently, in November 2023, the county commissioners chose to further study and vet a comprehensive plan amendment recommendation that would allow the hotels to advance. The previous green light was given by the county based upon its interpretation of the existing rules.

The amendment was filed by the Benderson Development, which threw its hat in the ring for a hotel with eight stories on property Benderson owns in the Village where Flavio’s restaurant is located. Amendment proposals filed by Balot and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce were ignored, both having more restrictions than the Benderson proposal.

Now, Balot’s project was the only one excluded in the proposed amendment’s details, he said.

Balot’s March 27 court filing first states, to help establish background:

“On Nov. 28, 2023, the BOCC denied ABC’s (Balot’s business entity) request to be processed out-of-cycle but approved another property owner’s request to have its comprehensive plan amendment application processed out-of-cycle. Notably, the other property owner is seeking unlimited density and intensity of hotel use on Siesta Key and is seeking to develop a 147-room hotel on 0.97 acres, which amounts to a density of 151.5 hotel rooms per acre, or nearly three times the hotel density sought by ABC for the project. In addition, the other property owner is seeking to limit development of new hotels to (15%) of the total acreage of commercial parcels on Siesta Key. This new limitation would effectively make it a ‘first-come, first-serve’ race for development of new hotels on Siesta Key and prohibit new hotels once that 15% cap is reached.”

The complaint further states:

“The county staff’s extortionate leveraging of its police power places ABC in a regulatory ‘Catch-22.’ On the one hand, the county staff refuses to approve ABC’s site development plan application until a comprehensive plan amendment is approved. On the other hand, the county BOCC has refused to approve ABC’s request for the necessary out-of-cycle processing of its comprehensive plan amendment on the theory that ABC will benefit from the other property owner’s comprehensive plan amendment when in fact that property owner’s comprehensive plan amendment excludes ABC’s project.”

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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