Along with repeal of ordinance that allowed high-rise hotels on Siesta Key, County Commission on Dec. 12 to address waiver of policy to allow faster processing of 2 new hotel petitions

Public hearing to be conducted at Anderson Administration Center in Venice

These are the Sarasota County commissioners. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During their regular meeting on Oct. 24, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to proceed with repealing an ordinance approved in October 2021 that eliminated the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential purposes nearly countywide.

The passage of that amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains the land-use and zoning regulations, sparked three legal challenges against the county. Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez won two of them earlier this year — one through the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH); the other, in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. The resolution of the third is predicated on the repeal of the ordinance, the principal attorney for the plaintiffs has told the presiding 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge.

During their regular meeting on Dec. 12, the commissioners are scheduled to formally repeal that ordinance. The proposed language in a new ordinance calls for a return to the previous maximum of 26 hotel or motel rooms per acre on property zoned Commercial General, if no more than 25% of the rooms have kitchens. County staff refers to such rooms as “transient accommodations.”

This is a section of the Unified Development Code showing one of the proposed changes relevant to the repeal of the 2021 ordinance. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the same hearing, the commissioners also will be asked to waive a county policy for the developers of the two high-rise hotels on Siesta Key that won commission approval in October and November 2021.

As a county staff memo in the Dec. 12 meeting packet explains, citing a section of the Unified Development Code, “Whenever the Board has taken final action on an application for the grant of a Special Exception on a property, whether approved or denied, the County shall not accept any further application for any Special Exception on any part of or all of the same property for a period of 12 months from the date of such action, or date of final judicial review or such action, whichever is later.”

However the memo points out, “The time limits of [the applicable] subsection … may be waived by three affirmative votes of the Board when the Board finds, based on new information or changed conditions, that new action may be warranted to prevent injustice or to assure protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.”

The memo was quoting Section 124-43(d)(4)c. and d. of the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC).

Catherine Luckner is president of the Siesta Key Association. File photo

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), which represents the interests of residents on the barrier island, told The Sarasota News Leader on Dec. 6 that leaders of the organization were taken aback when they read of the inclusion of the Special Exception waivers on the Dec. 12 agenda. Members of the SKA board plan to be present for the hearing, she added.

The County Commission votes approving the high-rise hotels on the Key were made possible by the Oct. 27, 2021 UDC ordinance, which Siesta resident Ramirez had argued was inconsistent with a policy in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community. (See the related article in this issue.)

In the first situation, the commissioners approved an eight-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels standing between Beach Road and Calle Miramar. The attorney for the owners of that property and the developer, RE/MAX Realtor Robert Anderson Jr., is William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota.

Charles D. Bailey III is the attorney for the owners and developer of the second hotel, which would be built at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road, on the southern part of the island. Siesta businessman Gary Kompothecras and members of his family own the property; he is the developer.

The county staff memo for the Dec. 12 meeting does notes that, on Oct. 24, the commissioners not only agreed to repeal the Oct. 27, 2021 ordinance, but they also voted unanimously to drop an appeal in the DOAH case that Ramirez won and to halt any further legal action in the Circuit Court case.

Then, in September and October, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, as well as consultants acting on behalf, respectively, of Benderson Development Co. and Siesta businessman Dave Balot — who, in October 2022, won unanimous commission approval for a 112-room hotel proposed on 2.15 acres on Midnight Pass Road — sent letters to county staff, explaining their intent to seek Comprehensive Plan amendments that again would allow for high-density hotels on the Key. Since those requests came out of the normal cycle for privately initiated proposals, the commissioners were asked last week to provide direction to staff in regard to processing them. On a 3-1 vote, the board members authorized staff to work on the Benderson proposal, which —like the October 2021 UDC amendment — would eliminate the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential purposes, but only on Siesta Key.

However, a companion amendment that Benderson also is seeking would limit hotel development to 15% of all property zoned for commercial uses on Siesta Key.

The Dec. 12 meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, which is located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trai in Venice. The ordinance repeal and Special Exceptions item is No. 23 on the agenda, following the Open to the Public comment period, approval of the Consent Agenda of routine business items, and two discussions, as well as three public hearings. However, like those hearings, the hotel-related item is listed as Presentation Upon Request, meaning that if no commissioner seeks remarks from staff, the board members can proceed to vote on a motion without any discussion.

Nonetheless, public comments will be heard, if people sign up to address the issues.

The red balloon on this aerial map shows the location of the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice. Image from Google Maps

Because of a change in the procedural rules for County Commission meetings, which gives the board chair the option of moving up agenda items, The Sarasota News Leader is unable to predict when agenda item No. 23 will be considered.

The Special Exception waivers

In regard to the Special Exception waivers, both attorneys for the hotel developers — Merrill and Bailey — sent letters on Dec. 1 to Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department.

Merrill noted that the commissioners in October 2021 approved a Special Exception for the Calle Miramar hotel to stand up to 85 feet in height. He wrote that that action took place “over a year ago,” not more than two years ago.

The county zoning regulations set a maximum height of 35 feet for construction on parcels zoned Commercial General (CG), without a Special Exception.

After referencing the applicable sections of the county’s Unified Development Code, in regard to his waiver request, Merrill then pointed out, “The proposed [new] special exception [application] for a hotel on the [Beach Road/Calle Miramar] Property will be slightly less height and fewer rooms than the previously approved special exception. The former special exception allowed for a height of up to 85 feet, whereas the proposed special exception requests a height up to 80 feet. The former special exception included 170 rooms, and the proposed special exception includes 163 rooms.”

Bailey’s letter to Osterhoudt notes that, on Oct. 18, he filed a pre-application for a new Special Exception for the Kompothecras hotel, which also would exceed 35 feet in height. On Nov. 2, 2021, the commissioners agreed to a structure that would be up to 83 feet in height, because of its architectural details.

Both the Merrill and Bailey letters also incorporated language mirroring a section of the Oct. 2 letter that Philip DiMaria, a planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, wrote on behalf of Benderson Development in regard to its proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments regarding hotel construction on the barrier island.

Charles D. Bailey III. Image from the Williams Parker website

Bailey’s letter said, “Tourism is a pillar industry of Sarasota County and vital to its economy. The [Benderson] Amendments and the New Special Exception would make possible the construction of new, fully compliant transient accommodations on Siesta Key to serve Sarasota County visitors. Siesta Key is a nationally and internationally recognized destination, which annually draws approximately 350,000 visitors. Allowing new development of transient accommodations in areas like Siesta Key, will appropriately concentrate tourists within walking and biking distance of beaches, restaurants, recreational opportunities, and other tourist attractions, thereby serving to reduce the number of vehicles entering and departing Siesta Key each day via the two bridges providing access to the mainland. Further, the Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive Plan underscores the importance of tourism to Sarasota County’s economy. Economic Goal 7 charges Sarasota County to maintain the competitiveness of its international legacy of economic development strength in the form of tourism.

“Applicant’s New Special Exception, coupled with the proposed Amendments will further Sarasota County’s efforts and progress in fulfilling this goal,” Bailey added.

This is the language in consultant DiMaria’s letter, on behalf of Benderson:

“Sarasota County is home to Siesta Key, a nationally and internationally recognized destination, drawing around 350,000 visitors every year. This puts an immense demand on public infrastructure and utilities, and encouraging sensible development of transient accommodations in areas like Siesta Key would concentrate tourists within walking distance of their destinations, reducing the number of cars coming into and off of the Key each day and encouraging a walkable community. The Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive Plan expressly acknowledges and underscores the importance of tourism to Sarasota County’s economy, and Goal 7 charges Sarasota County with maintaining its international legacy of tourism as an economic development strength.”

1 thought on “Along with repeal of ordinance that allowed high-rise hotels on Siesta Key, County Commission on Dec. 12 to address waiver of policy to allow faster processing of 2 new hotel petitions”

  1. Commissioners are kowtowing to developers — and there are harsh names for public servants who do this. These dollar-driven commissioners disgust MANY voters. Please, let’s vote them all OUT!

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