By John Morton
The man hoping to build a hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd. is being forced to take a detour with his plans, due to Sarasota County’s desire to save a protected oak tree.
As a result, Dave Balot has postponed his Dec. 2 meeting with the Sarasota County Planning Commission and has gone back to the drawing board.
“We are not allowed to build the hotel under the canopy of the tree,” said Balot, who estimates he lost between 25 to 30 feet of his 2.15-acre lot, causing the new plans to be pushed back from the road.
The property is home to the former Wells Fargo bank, and sits in front of the Gulf & Bay Club.
Added Balot in an email, “I would much prefer to remove the tree (and mitigate on the property), but those requests have been declined and I was told by staff that I couldn’t request that in my special exception. They basically stated, without their (Environmental Services) signing off … I could not move forward my special exception.”
That lost space is causing Balot to shorten the hotel’s footprint and add 5 to 8 feet of height in order to keep his desired number of guest rooms — now likely 112 instead of 101, he said. That necessitates a height increase from 54 feet to as much as 62 feet with more rooms vertically along the sides of the hotel’s courtyard, starting above the parking garage.
Balot scrapped an initial adjustment plan where he would build rooms above the lobby and restaurant, in part because it would diminish the morning sunlight reaching the hotel’s courtyard.
He also considered adding rooms in front of a stairwell, but additional hallways would have been needed to access them. Furthermore, they wouldn’t have a view of the pool.
As of now, the lobby remains on the ground level, along with surface parking and a valet drop-off area.
The second floor still holds a parking garage, kitchen, banquet area, and the first level of a restaurant.
The third level is home to a pool and deck, the second level of the restaurant, a courtyard, and poolside rooms.
No changes in size for those entities were made in the adjustment, Balot said.
Levels four and five consist only of guest rooms on the hotel’s north and south wings, all of which have balconies overlooking the pool.
“This will keep the guests. noise, and towels draped outside, all inside the courtyard and away from the neighbors,” Balot said.
But things got tight in keeping with that layout, hence the need to go up.
“By stubbing up the hotel and keeping with the courtyard design, it made more sense to now add a fourth level of rooms (above the parking garage) on each side to sustain the minimum 101 rooms required under special exception,” Balot wrote. “That is the additional height on the side buildings (rooms), not the lobby or restaurant.
“Building that way, instead of trying to add rooms over the restaurant, will keep the construction costs down (per room) because all the mechanicals will be in line, running up and down, and we can use pre-cast concrete (most likely) to build the majority of the rooms.”
Balot said the new design will keep with his previous promise of the hotel having no more than 52 rooms per acre.
Going forward, Balot will submit his final development conceptual plan to the county for preliminary approval and then hold a required public neighborhood workshop, versus the opposite approach, so he’s not again blindsided by snags at the county level.
Furthermore, the delay allows Balot to wait and see if any legal rulings are made in the aftermath of two other hotels being recently approved by county commissioners where unlimited density was allowed, dropping the need to request a change in the county’s comprehensive plan — something Balot, like the others, originally would have needed.
If there is no change, all Balot would now need is a special exception to be granted to go above the current height limit of 35 feet. The other hotels were given that special exception, as well.
“In light of what has transpired with the ‘unlimited density,’ approval of both special exceptions, and in discussions with the county, we felt it prudent to see what transpires in the next 30 days, as it relates to lawsuit(s) being filed in opposition,” Balot wrote. “At that time, we will circle back and decide if I can then bring forward my comp plan amendment or just special exception.”
Balot purchased the property in March for $4.41 million.