Quality-of-life concerns once again were the focus of Siesta Key residents’ comments as they participated in the third Sarasota County staff-mandated neighborhood workshop on proposed hotel projects on the island.
On May 10, members of the team behind the planned redevelopment of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites on Ocean Boulevard explained facets of their application and sought questions. Mostly, they heard comments.
In fact, at one point, Michael Barfield of De Novo Law Services LLC in Sarasota, a paralegal representing the hotel owners, asked everyone “to dial it down a little bit.”
That followed a woman’s complaints about the trash that tourists leave in Siesta Village.
The proposal for the hotel at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Calle Miramar calls for demolishing the existing 55-room structure, which dates to 1955, and replacing it with new buildings that could accommodate potentially 170 rooms.
The team also is seeking changes to a county future-land-use policy and zoning regulations, so it can construct the section of the new hotel with guest rooms above two levels of parking. The main building, which will include meeting rooms, would be built to 35 feet above one level of parking.
Island resident John Sudnik told the project team that, in 1970, his grandfather bought the residence he lives in and that he himself has been coming to the island since he was about 10.
“Even in the last 10 years,” Sudnik pointed out, “Siesta Key has transformed into something that I would say most residents, permanent residents like us, don’t find that appealing. … It’s a very stark difference.
“If you were really concerned about the community, you’d be more concerned about our concerns and less about profitability. … I think you need to listen to what the community is saying here.”
Tripling the number of rooms at the hotel, Glen Marimo and other speakers pointed out, will lead to more problems, including increased crime.
“That’s a huge, significant change,” long-time Siesta activist Lourdes Ramirez pointed out of the plans. “Density is the enemy.”
Michael Holderness, one of the hotel owners, and Weiqi Lin of Port and Coastal Consultants in Sarasota explained that the new hotel would be compliant with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
Because of what is known as the “50% rule,” Lin said, any improvements made to an existing structure in a flood zone that exceed 50% of the market value of that structure necessitate that the building be elevated. Therefore, Lin and Holderness pointed out, to redevelop the hotel beyond renovations undertaken in 2019, the owners have no choice but to comply with the FEMA and ADA standards.
Moreover, Lin pointed out, the hotel is functionally obsolete.
“The aesthetics of what we provide to this community will be nothing short of what the hotel felt like when it was brand new 50 years ago,” Holderness said.
“I don’t have a drawing,” he continued, but he talked of “aspirational ideas,” including open-air balconies and open corridors.
“We want to build something very timeless,” he said.
Exacerbating traffic woes
Traffic issues were a major subject that residents addressed during the workshop.
Rodney Linford, who lives in The Terrace, close to the 5311 Ocean Blvd. entrance to the existing Siesta Key Beach Resort & Suites, explained to the team “We have a bird’s eye view of the junction of Ocean Boulevard and Beach Road and the existing problems we have with that intersection.”
He stressed, “It’s one of the most heavily traveled and congested” on the island.
Although the speed limit for Siesta Village is 20 mph, Linford said “Many motorists and bicyclists take that [120-degree curve from Beach Road onto Ocean Boulevard] at high speed.”
The Village’s welcome sign in that area has been knocked down on several occasions during crashes, he continued.
Furthermore, Linford said, the pedestrians and bicyclists who use the two crosswalks at that intersection “can’t be seen [by drivers] till the very last minute. … We’ve seen several near misses.”
With up to 340 people in the redeveloped hotel, he added, “I can only imagine how much worse [the intersection] will be.”
Resident Tom Surprise added, “There’s such heavy traffic at times that it’s bumper to bumper, and you can crawl faster than cars go.”
He further stressed that Ocean Boulevard is one of two main accesses to the island, so it is critical for vehicles to be able to traverse it easily in the event of emergencies.
Holderness responded that more and more people use Uber and Lyft, instead of driving when they come to the island as tourists.
Lourdes Ramirez disputed that, saying she has read that Uber and Lyft drivers try to avoid trips to the Key because of the traffic congestion.
Linford also pointed out that he is a founding member of the Siesta Key Coalition, which was organized last year to fight proposed hotel projects that would exceed the existing height and residential density standards for commercial property under the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations.
He also commented on the plans for another 170-room hotel — an eight-story structure — just down Calle Miramar from Siesta Key Beach Resort.
“From our perspective,” he continued, referring to Coalition leaders, “we can’t deal with one hotel at a time. We have to be conscious and concerned about the implications of two hotels cheek to jowl.”
Replied Holderness, “I am totally against the global change that would allow mega hotels to come on Siesta Key.”
Forty-year island resident Linda Dickinson, who said she has been a real estate agent for 35 years, told the Siesta Key Beach Resort team of her love for the island and her knowledge of it. She voiced concerns about “the impact that [four proposed hotel projects] would have on residential property values on Siesta Key due to the increased traffic and [tourists].”