By Rachel Brown Hackney
Development Project #4
Although only a dozen members of the public showed up for a Dec. 7 neighborhood workshop on the subject, speakers were adamant that they do not want to see a hotel bring more density and intensity to Siesta Key.
The focus of the session at St. Boniface Episcopal Church was an application submitted to Sarasota County for a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would change Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 to allow for property on barrier islands that are zoned Commercial General (CG) to be redeveloped to provide transient accommodations.
Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Sarasota and Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker law firm hosted the workshop to discuss the proposal on behalf of their client, Siesta Acquisitions LLC. (According to the Florida Division of Corporations, the manager of that entity is Dr. Gary Kompothecras; he is a chiropractor best known for his “1-800-Ask-Gary” advertising.)
Past County Commission candidate and former Siesta Key Association (SKA) president Lourdes Ramirez, current SKA Director Joe Volpe, two SKA members — Jeanne and Bill Francisco — and another Siesta resident, Rosemary Bloch, all voiced concerns that any hotel project ultimately resulting from the Comprehensive Plan could increase the amount of traffic and demands on other island infrastructure. Ramirez told Bailey that she wanted to convey to him what county staff tells her whenever she complains about the insufficient number of parking spaces at Siesta Public Beach: “‘There’s no way you can ever accommodate all the needs for parking [at the beach].’” Therefore, Ramirez added, “There’s no way you can accommodate all the needs for hotels on Siesta Key.”
Volpe and Jeanne Francisco especially voiced frustration with the fact that no specific site had been identified for a potential project.
Medred explained that only three CG sites on the Key could be redeveloped for a hotel. Siesta Village has approximately 16 to 17 acres, Medred said; the Wells Fargo parcel on Midnight Pass Road consists of about 2 acres; and the site of the former Fandango Café on Old Stickney Point Road has about 11 or 12 acres.
Medred and Bailey also emphasized that only about 1% of the land on Siesta Key is zoned CG. “No one wants a hotel in the Village,” Francisco said.
He and Bailey could not disclose a site at this point, Medred replied. “The good news is that at some point, a site will be identified and then you can come in and say, ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ based upon that.”
“Our client does not have an identified piece of property yet,” Bailey added.
“There’s no shortage of rooms on the island, except for maybe a very tiny period [of time each season],” Volpe responded. “There’s too many unanswered questions at this moment,” he continued, for the SKA members “to give our blessing.”
Conversely, former SKA Director Bob Waechter talked of the need for redevelopment from an economic standpoint and to rid the island of what he and Medred both referred to as “blighted” areas, including — as Waechter noted — part of Old Stickney Point Road, especially in the section where Fandango’s operated.
Although he arrived just as the workshop was concluding, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chair Mark Smith offered even stronger support for a hotel project. “It’s better for the Key to have hotels than people renting out their houses or rooms in their houses”.
The Comprehensive Plan amendment tentatively is scheduled to be on the County Commission’s Jan. 10 Consent Agenda of routine business items, county Planner Brett Harrington explained at the beginning of the workshop. That will enable the board to decide whether to allow its review to go forward; otherwise, it would have to await the normal spring timeframe established for such amendments to start the approval process.
It then would have to go through Planning Commission and County Commission public hearings — as well as state review — before it could be adopted, he added. That typically takes four to six months, Harrington said, “if everything goes smoothly.”
Bailey and Medred stressed that only if the amendment won approval could a hotel project be proposed. Then that plan would have to be discussed in a neighborhood workshop and undergo Planning Commission and County Commission public hearings.
“It was evident that the stakeholders would like more information,” Bailey said in a telephone interview. “What we want to do is flesh out the details,” he added, noting that he would be in contact with the SKA about scheduling a presentation to its members in the future.
The beginning of the process
“The only thing we are proposing tonight … is focused on the addition of this language here,” Medred said during his presentation. He was referring to the proposed change to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. The sentence, as amended, would say, “The intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989, except that with respect to i.) lands zoned CG as of that date being redeveloped to provide transient accommodations, or ii.) lands zoned [Residential Multi-Family] as of that date and consistently so thereafter, a non-conforming duplex whose density exceeds the density restrictions of the zoning regulations and restrictions may be rebuilt within the footprint of the structure, or a non-conforming multi-family structure may be demolished and a duplex rebuilt in its place within the prior footprint of the multi-family structure without violating this policy.” [The proposed new language is underlined.]
If a hotel is built on Siesta Key, Bailey pointed out, “it’s not going to be new development popping out of the ground … It’s not going to be a high-rise, and it’s not going to be on the beach. … It will necessarily be a boutique hotel … that will be replacing some pretty intense existing development.”
Medred also stressed that putting a hotel in a CG zone on the island would necessitate approval of a special exception.
Ramirez pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan allows for transient accommodations to have up to 26 units per acre on the island — without a kitchen — and height up to 85 feet, through the County Commission’s granting of a special exception.
(In response to a question, Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson said that 35 feet is the maximum height allowed in a CG zone, without a special exception.)
If Medred and Bailey checked with firms on the Key, Ramirez said, they would learn that the island has “tons of condos that you can rent by the night.”
“What you’re telling me is that we should get behind this [amendment] to allow you to increase the density,” Volpe said. “Right now, if there is an emergency during peak season, you'd have a hell of a time getting an ambulance off the island.”
Medred explained that in comparing residential density to hotel density, a hotel means a “fraction of the trips” for vehicles compared to those generated by a bar, for example.