More concerns arise as another hotel faces public scrutiny

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Traffic, environment among workshop topics related to Old Stickney Point Road proposal

By ChrisAnn Allen

The hotels may differ, but the concerns remain the same across the board.

The third of a series of recent neighborhood workshops regarding special exceptions potentially leading to new hotels on Siesta Key was held March 20 via Zoom with more than 100 participants.

The work session, which is required by Sarasota County as part of the application process, provided the public with an opportunity to ask questions and share comments in response to an application for a special exception with a binding concept plan for two contiguous properties – a seven-story, 120-room hotel and five-story adjacent parking structure at 1260 and 1266 Old Stickney Point Rd., respectively. If approved, this would allow transient accommodations within the existing zoning district. No rezoning or use change would be necessary.

The special exception also calls for a height increase to 83 feet above flood elevation. The current height restriction is 35 feet.

The Old Stickney Point Road project was initially approved in 2021, but due to legal challenges now requires amendments to the Sarasota County comprehensive plan and unified development code, hence the need for a special exception. A neighborhood workshop was held prior to that initial approval as well.

Bo Medred of Genesis Planning and Development and Charlie Bailey, a land-use attorney with Williams Parker Law Firm, served as agents for the session.

Attendee Eileen Jones asked about evacuations, to which Bailey responded the traffic impact analysis, which will determine such plans, is not yet completed. He added that a traffic study is required by the county as part of the process. Jones also asked about the availability of beach access to guests. The applicant representatives responded that Beach Access 12 and 13 are proximal, or guests could take alternative transportation, including Uber, trolley or bikes to other beaches.

Neil Schleifer, vice president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, said he had environmental concerns and asked about how the project would affect adjacent wetlands.

Bailey said, “There is no wetland on-site,” asserting the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District determined the area was not a wetland. Schleifer then asked about mangrove preservation.

Bailey again stated there are “no natural features and no protected native habitat.”

The applicant’s project engineer then spoke up and said the development will adhere to county and state regulations ensuring there is no adverse impact, which he said is standard practice, and approval for construction would not be granted unless this was demonstrated in advance.

Joyce Kouba, vice president of the Siesta Key Association civic group, asked how the special exception that would allow this project to move forward would “promote the public interest, health, safety and general welfare,” per the county approval requirements for special exceptions. Bailey responded the reasons remain the same as when the project was initially approved in 2021, including an influx in visitors staying in short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

“We think it makes the most sense to have a single transient accommodation with up to 120 rooms where people can drive directly over the bridge into the village and park their vehicles and stay on Siesta Key and walk, bike, Uber, use other forms of transit while they’re on Siesta Key, rather than forcing every visitor to the Key to drive,” Bailey said. “So, tourism is a pillar industry of our county, and we think that providing tourism use or hotel space on Siesta Key provides a new opportunity for visitors to safely enjoy the area beaches and other amenities and minimize the impact on those of us who live here year-round.”

Kouba then asked, “So is that promoting the public interest, health, safety or general welfare? I don’t quite understand.”

Bailey responded, “All of the above.”

Kouba was not convinced that the hotel would prohibit people from leaving the Key. “You are assuming all these people that are coming to these hotels are going to stay on Siesta Key and not drive back and forth from the mainland to do other things,” she said.

Bailey closed the dialogue by saying this information will be determined when the traffic study is completed.

One Siesta resident asked about the nature of the hotel itself. “Is this a luxury hotel? A budget hotel?” and also asked how they arrived at 120 rooms and if a feasibility study had been completed.

Bailey said the applicant has been considering the project for nearly a decade and has conducted market research. He said it would be a “nicer hotel, not something you would see out by the interstate,” adding it would be “higher end,” but a brand has not yet been identified. “Our client is looking to provide a quality, luxury brand,” he said.

Cindi Alexander asked how building a large hotel will “impact the island itself, structurally,” referring to reportedly sinking land levels in other parts of the country, due to construction. Bailey said the builder is subject to FEMA and the Florida building code, which requires elevation and is stricter than it was when many structures still standing on the Key were built.

Alexander also said she feels everyone’s concerns are based on “sustainability of the culture of our island.”

“We permit what we promote,” she said. “The more we permit this, the more we promote a change to something that’s very special about Siesta Key. Regardless of what we all say, that’s what we’re talking about. We do not want the slow-culture, family environment that is Siesta Key to become the Palm Beach, the Miami. We don’t need that. There are other places to go.”

In early January, similar sessions were held for two other potential hotels also requiring special exceptions, with one proposed 85-foot-tall hotel along Ocean Boulevard in the Village and another at 80 feet in height, between Beach Road and Calle Miramar.

A lawsuit filed by Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez determined the county commission violated its own policies in previously allowing unlimited density when approving the hotels between the fall of 2021 and the fall of 2022. That ruling said no hotel can be taller than 35 feet or have more than 26 rooms per acre (recalculated by the judge to 36) as set forth in 1989.

As a result, amendments must be made to the comp plan to move forward with the hotel applications.

The comprehensive plan is a state-required roadmap for growth within a community and contains plans for transportation, capital improvement, economic and coastal development, as well as environmental protections. The unified development code contains the zoning map, outlining density and intensity requirements and is subject to the comp plan. A special exception is required for any changes and only is granted by the county commission is cases where a property owner is deemed “burdened” by the codes.

Following the workshop, feedback is provided to the county as part of the application and the developer can choose to incorporate the suggestions or make changes to the application based on community response. Subsequently, the application, including information from the neighborhood session, is reviewed by members of 15 county departments who provide comments to the applicants before it moves to the planning commission for a formal public hearing. Planning commissioners will vote and make a recommendation to approve/deny to the county commission, which will then hold two hearings on the matters and make the final approval or denial.

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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