By Rachel Brown Hackney
Close to the end of a nearly two-and-a-half-hour Neighborhood Workshop on a proposed 170-room hotel on the edge of Siesta Village, the president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) summed up the proceedings.
Explaining that her organization represents “neighborhoods and neighbors,” Kafi Benz of Sarasota said, “I … would like to note we did not have a single participant who was supportive of the project.”
The New York City owner of the four parcels located between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, and the long-time lessee of the property — RE/MAX real estate agent Robert Anderson of Sarasota — plan a five-story hotel constructed over three levels of parking. That would put the hotel’s height at 80 feet above Base Flood Elevation, which is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) term for construction in a flood zone, project team member William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota pointed out.
A Special Exception will be sought from the County Commission for the hotel to exceed the 35-foot height limit for construction in a Commercial General zoning district on the Key.
The hotel will have a restaurant that will serve breakfast and lunch for guests, plus a bar with the restaurant on the fourth floor and a bar on the roof, along with the pool, Merrill said. In response to questions about whether the bars would be open to the public, Merrill said he would have to check with the ownership group. However, Merrill added, “The intention is that we’re focusing on the guests.” The hotel will be a “very high-end” property, he said. “Everything’s supposed to be top of the line.” Therefore, Merrill emphasized, the goal would be to limit noise so as not to cause problems for the guests or the neighbors.
Further, the project team is calling for an elimination of the county regulations that count each hotel room without a kitchen as half a residential dwelling unit. The team’s proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land-development and zoning regulations, would apply countywide, Merrill explained during the workshop.
A Commercial General zone allows for 13 dwelling units per acre; thus, a hotel without kitchens in its rooms could have up to 26 rooms per acre. The Calle Miramar hotel site comprises 0.96 acres, according to the formal application filed with Sarasota County staff.
Research undertaken by the project team found that Siesta Key is the only barrier island within the county’s jurisdiction with commercial property zoning districts where “transient accommodations” could be built, Merrill said during the workshop.
Lourdes Ramirez, past president of both the Siesta Key Association and CONA, noted that the county’s barrier island residential density policy was put in place in 1989. It “was created by the county commissioners back then because they recognized that the barrier islands could not handle any more intensity.”
Yet, Ramirez continued, the hotel’s residential density essentially would be six-and-a-half times what would be allowed on the Commercial General site.
Another speaker, Frank Jurenka, president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, pointed out that when the Council undertook a survey on the preliminary hotel project application submitted to county staff in May 2020, “One hundred percent of the respondents opposed [the plans].”
Jurenka noted that the Condominium Council represents approximately 90% of the more than 100 condominium associations on Siesta Key, or about 7,000 of the approximately 10,000 condominium and household doors, as Jurenka put it.
The Council sent the survey results to the hotel project team, Jurenka added. “So why did you press forward with something unnecessarily large requesting so many exceptions and revisions to our barrier island protections, when we have yet to meet anyone that is not opposed [to this]?” Jurenka asked Merrill.
“We recognize that there are folks that are opposed to this,” Merrill replied. “We have heard some from folks that are favorable to this, as well. I don’t know what the numbers are, though.”
Concerns of the closest neighbors
Yet another workshop participant was Mark Spiegel, president of the Siesta Key Coalition, which was organized last summer to oppose the hotel on Calle Miramar.
“I’m your closest resident to this property,” Spiegel said, adding that he lives in the condominium building standing at 300 Calle Miramar, which is part of Beach Villas at the Oasis.
The Coalition has about 2,000 member households on the island, he continued, along with the alliance of the SKA and the Condominium Council.
Spiegel noted that a hotel rendering shows balconies on the rooms facing his building. “You’re going to be looming over our pools,” he told Merrill.
Beach Villas resident John Battles added, “There’s going to be an entire wall of balconies and windows basically overlooking … a very private place.”
Merrill said he was uncertain whether the balconies in the rendering are just an architectural design or whether guests would be able to go out on them.
Spiegel also noted that Calle Miramar is “a fairly quiet residential area.” Yet, hotel guests would be coming in by personal vehicle, taxis and Ubers, for example, and that would have an effect on the street’s traffic flow.
County staff requires a traffic analysis, Merrill pointed out, though that had not been completed before the workshop.
Spiegel also noted that the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Beach Road, which is close to the hotel site, is one of the busiest on the Key. Yet, the hotel plans call for 223 more parking spaces.
Those vehicles will not be coming to the hotel all at one time, Merrill responded. Moreover, Merrill said, the project team anticipates that guests will leave their vehicles at the hotel and walk to destinations in Siesta Village. Further, he said, he understands the goal is to have hotel shuttles available to transport guests to places on the Key and to other parts of the county.