Because of county requirement to save ‘grand tree’ on Siesta Key parcel slated for another hotel, Dec. 2 Planning Commission hearing cancelled

Owner of property at 5810 Midnight Pass Road will need to conduct new Neighborhood Workshop after county staff receives and reviews updated application

A graphic shows the site of the former Wells Fargo bank on the parcel located at 5810 Midnight Pass Road. The grand tree is between the building and Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Because a “grand tree” stands on the 2.15-acre parcel located at 5810 Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key, the property owner has had to modify his plans for a hotel on the site, Siesta Key Association Director Robert Luckner told members during their Nov. 4 meeting.

In response to a public records request, The Sarasota News Leader learned that in late October, Dave Balot — who purchased the former Wells Fargo bank parcel for $4,410,000 in early March — had his agent contact county Planner Hannah Sowinski about the need to revise the Development Concept Plan that the project team had submitted in May for the hotel.

As a result of that revision and other adjustments to project details since late October, Balot also will have to conduct a new Neighborhood Workshop, Michele Norton, assistant director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, told the News Leader in a Nov. 9 email. That means that the Dec. 2 public hearing that had been scheduled before the county Planning Commission on Balot’s hotel plans has been cancelled, Norton added.

In the email exchange with Sowinski, Balot had asked whether he could proceed with the Dec. 2 hearing. Balot’s agent for the project, Weiqi Lin of Port and Coastal Consultants in Sarasota, had forwarded Balot’s questions to Sowinski.

A new Planning Commission hearing date cannot be set, Norton explained to the News Leader, until after Balot and his project team have provided an updated application to county staff and then held the workshop.

As for the grand tree issue: The county’s Environmental Permitting Division webpages explain that the county’s Trees Code — Chapter 54, Article XVIII, “recognizes the county’s exceptional tree resources and the associated benefits of trees, provides standards on public and private lands, grand trees, and canopy roads to ensure that our trees can be enjoyed by future generations. Our department serves the unincorporated areas of Sarasota County and the city of Venice for tree permitting.”

This county document explains how to determine whether a tree meets the ‘grand tree’ criteria. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Further, the webpages point out, “Native mature trees meeting the parameters for ‘Grand Tree’ designation are an important part of our local canopy and provide unique and intrinsic values to the general public because of their age, size, and ecological value. As such, Sarasota County has standards for protecting and managing (e.g. trimming) Grand Trees to maintain their value. New developments are to be designed to avoid impacts to Grand Trees.”

In the email exchange with Sowinski, Balot noted that his cost of construction had “increased significantly” as a result of the need to protect the oak.

Further, Balot wrote, he had “no option” but to request an extra 10 feet in height, so another floor with about 15 to 30 rooms could be added to the hotel.

Balot will need approval from the County Commission for that extra height, Norton of Planning and Development pointed out to the News Leader in her email.

The original plans called for five levels, with 321 parking spaces on the first two floors. The room count was 100.

The new Binding Development Concept Plan shows that the revised room count is 112, with a total of 315 parking spaces on the first and second floors. The grand tree is shown in those plans.

This is the revised Binding Development Concept Plan for the ground floor of the hotel, which is a parking level. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the original Binding Development Concept Plan for the proposed first level of of the hotel. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the June 9, county-mandated Neighborhood Workshop he held on his original proposal, Balot explained that the hotel would be not quite 50 feet in height. It would be constructed with a base flood elevation of 11 feet, Mark Sultana of DSDG Architects in Sarasota, who is working with Balot, told the workshop participants.

Originally, Balot’s project team filed a proposed amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations, for a Special Exception for a 35-foot hotel above two levels of parking. However, after talking with leaders of several island organizations — including the Siesta Key Coalition — Balot told the workshop attendees that he did not want to set such a precedent.

This is the revised ‘data box’ for the hotel proposed at 5810 Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the original ‘data block’ for the hotel project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Modifications following Oct. 27 County Commission vote

In the email exchange involving Lin of Port and Coastal Consultants, Balot did note that he no longer had to be concerned about seeking any change to county regulations regarding the number of rooms in his planned hotel.

In his and Lin’s correspondence with Sowinski, Ballot wrote about the County Commission’s 3-2 vote on Oct. 27 to approve a UDC amendment that eliminates residential density consideration for hotel rooms countywide.

William Merrill III, an attorney with the Sarasota firm Icard Merrill, explained that day — as did county Planning Division staff members — that national standards do not call for residential density calculations for “transient accommodations,” which is the term county staff uses in referring to visitor lodging. Instead, a floor-area ratio is used.

Previously, the county’s zoning regulations limited hotel rooms without kitchens to 26 per acre on property zoned Commercial General, including such parcels governed by the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations.

Balot’s property at 5810 Midnight Pass Road is zoned Commercial General, though it is surrounded by parcels zoned for Residential Multi-Family housing.

A graphic shows the Residential Multi-Family zoning districts around the proposed hotel site, which is in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Balot and his team also had proposed an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan to enable his project to go forward, but that part of the application no longer is needed in the wake of the Oct. 27 decision, the News Leader learned from reviewing correspondence between Balot and his team and county Planner Sowinski.