Benderson Development workshop on Comprehensive Plan amendments related to high-rise hotels on Siesta Key postponed to Jan. 8

Failure to comply fully with public notice requirements cited as reason for cancellation of Dec. 21 event

This Benderson Development property in Siesta Village, outlined in purple, is part of the site that the company has proposed for a 147-room hotel. The parcel to the north would be the other section of the hotel site. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

A planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, acting on behalf of Benderson Development Co., has cancelled a Neighborhood Workshop that was planned for Dec. 21 on proposed amendments to Sarasota County policies and regulations to facilitate the construction of high-rise hotels on Siesta Key.

The county’s Planning and Development Services staff provided the following information to The Sarasota News Leader on Dec. 18, via Genevieve Judge, public information and community outreach manager: “The workshop is now tentatively rescheduled for Monday, January 8th. Once that date is confirmed, it will be updated on the [county] website. The applicant will also send updated notices to all the neighboring residents.”

News that the workshop would be conducted at a later time began circulating among residents of the barrier island on Dec. 18, the News Leader learned.

The workshop, which is required by county regulations in advance of staff’s processing of such proposed amendments, was to have been conducted via Zoom on Dec. 21, starting at 6 p.m.

Residents had complained that the event was so close to Christmas week that few people would be able to attend, as a result of holiday travel plans.

In a Dec. 18 email to leaders of various organizations on Siesta Key — which he shared with the News Leader — Robert Luckner, treasurer of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), wrote, “The meeting will be rescheduled per [county Planner] Ana Messina,” who, Luckner indicated, will be responsible for handling the amendments on behalf of the county’s Planning Division.

Luckner added that Messina told SKA leaders that the workshop “cannot be held sooner than 1/8/2024.” Planner Philip DiMaria of Kimley-Horn did not comply with the county’s public meeting notice requirements, Luckner continued.

Luckner also pointed out that his wife, Catherine Luckner, president of the SKA, advised Messina that the St. Boniface Episcopal Church meeting room where the nonprofit conducts its monthly sessions, on Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key, is available for rent, if DiMaria decided to hold an in-person workshop. The SKA directors have advocated for an in-person meeting instead of a workshop via Zoom.

Messina also told the Luckners that conducting the workshop as part of the Jan. 4, 2024 Siesta Key Association monthly meeting would not work, Luckner wrote, as that date also would not provide for sufficient public notice, in compliance with county regulations.

This is the ‘Site Data Box’ containing information about the proposed Benderson Development hotel in Siesta Village. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In a Dec. 18 newsletter to her supporters, Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez, who won two legal challenges against the county this year over 2021 County Commission action regarding high-rise hotels on the Key, wrote of the workshop change, “I can only speculate on the reasons for the postponement. Could it be due to the backlash for having a workshop just days before Christmas? Or could it be that the developer did not fulfill the requirements of public notice when they failed to add signage on their property and [failed to] post a public ad in the local paper seven days before the workshop?”

She concluded her comments by noting, “After the New Year my attorney, Richard Grosso, my fabulous volunteers, and I will get to work. The New Year will bring big news and exciting plans Our focus will be to protect Siesta Key with determination and renewed energy!”

Defining hotel and motel rooms as non-residential uses

Among the Comprehensive Plan amendments that planner DiMaria submitted to county staff in an Oct. 2 letter, on behalf of Benderson, is a proposed amendment that would limit the development of hotel and motel rooms on parcels zoned for commercial purposes on Siesta Key to 15% of the total acreage of those parcels. The two affected zoning districts are Commercial General (CG) and Commercial Intensive (CI) within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).

Yet another proposed change would regard the Comprehensive Plan’s definition of “Residential Uses.”

Using the county term for hotel and motel rooms, which is “transient accommodations,” that proposed modification says, “Transient accommodations shall not considered to be nor interpreted as residential uses and shall not be subject to or limited by maximum densities described within this Comprehensive Plan or any implementing regulations (except as may be expressly required in the BRR/PD [Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development] District or the Nokomis Center Revitalization Plan U.S. 41 Corridor.”

That amendment has sparked discussion among Facebook groups focused on county actions, with group members suggesting that the Benderson Neighborhood Workshop should involve property owners countywide, not just those in the affected areas of Siesta Key.

During the Oct. 27, 2021 County Commission public hearing on the application for the construction of an eight-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels standing between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, Sarasota attorney William Merrill III, of the Icard Merrill firm, contended that a U.S. Census provision considers hotel and motel rooms to be of a commercial nature; thus, they should not be considered dwelling units for residential purposes.

He proposed an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations, to eliminate the consideration of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes in accord with that Census information, except for the BRR/PD District and the Nokomis Center Revitalization Plan. The commissioners approved the amendment on a 3-2 vote.

That amendment was the principal facet of Siesta resident Ramirez’s legal challenges of the Oct. 27, 2021 commission votes of approval of the hotel. She argued that the UDC amendment violated Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the Comprehensive Plan, which limits residential density and intensity on the county’s barrier islands to that in place as of March 13, 1989.

This is the Benderson Development proposed amendment to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In his Oct. 2 letter to Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, DiMaria wrote that Benderson also is calling for amending that Future Land Use Policy to read, “notwithstanding the provisions of this Policy 2.9.1 or any other provisions of the goals, objectives and policies of this Comprehensive Plan that might suggest otherwise, with respect to lands zoned CG/SKOD or CI/SKOD, such lands may be redeveloped to contain

transient accommodations irrespective of density restrictions as of that date or currently, and which may exceed intensity restrictions and other requirements of the zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of that date, without violating or being inconsistent with this policy or any other goal, objective or policy of the Comprehensive Plan.”

1 thought on “Benderson Development workshop on Comprehensive Plan amendments related to high-rise hotels on Siesta Key postponed to Jan. 8”

  1. When businesses – developers and their agents – try to rewrite the fundamental rules of planning, take out your BS-detector and check carefully. How dare Benderson invite our captured Commissioners to change the basis that has enabled Sarasota to thrive and to develop its identity apart from counties that just let the developers take over? We now have in Sarasota the most disastrous board ever. Benderson, Neal, Jensen, Horton, and Beruff are taking full advantage while the getting is good.

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