Benderson seeking to construct hotel up to 85 feet tall in Siesta Village, if County Commission will eliminate residential density restrictions for ‘transient accommodations’

County Commission to be asked to allow Planning staff to process proposed ‘out-of-cycle’ amendments from Benderson and owner of Siesta site slated for 112-room hotel

This parcel, outlined in purple, that a Benderson affiliate owns in Siesta Village includes the Bonjour French Cafe. It contains slightly less than one-third of an acre. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website

Benderson Development Co. of University Park has indicated a desire to construct a hotel up to 85 feet in height on property it owns in Siesta Key Village, as detailed in materials that one of its representatives has submitted to the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department staff, The Sarasota News Leaderhas learned.

The information is included in an Oct. 2 letter that also proposes amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Code (UDC) — which contains all of the zoning and land-use regulations — that would eliminate the counting of hotel rooms for residential density purposes on property zoned Commercial General and Commercial Intensive in the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).

The letter is one of two that Planning and Development had received by early this week regarding construction of high-rise hotels on the barrier island. (See the related article in this issue.) The second set of proposed amendments came from a representative of Dave Balot, who won County Commission approval in October 2022 to construct a 112-room hotel on 2.15 acres located at 5810 Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key. As Balot recently indicated to the News Leader, he is seeking a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would allow up to 52 “transient accommodations” units per acre on parcels comprising at least one acre in the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).

“Transient accommodations” is the county term for hotel and motel rooms.

Philip DiMaria, a planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, sent the Oct. 2 letter to Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development, on behalf of Benderson.

DiMaria pointed out that he formally was representing three limited liability companies associated with Benderson, plus one company whose principal is Robert T. Anderson Jr., a Realtor and the developer of the eight-story, 170-room hotel planned on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road.

The News Leader obtained a copy of DiMaria’s letter and the one from Balot’s representative, a principal of the Stantec consulting firm in Sarasota, in response to a public records request.

DiMaria, wrote that his clients are “requesting a pre-application conference to discuss privately-initiated Comprehensive Plan text amendments [and] privately-initiated text amendments to the Unified Development Code to provide that Transient Accommodations are considered a non-residential use throughout Sarasota County, and a Special Exception request to allow transient accommodations in the [Commercial General/Siesta Key Overlay District] zone district and a maximum height of a transient accommodation use of 85 feet.”

The Special Exception application does not involve Anderson, DiMaria noted.

Each of the Benderson-affiliated limited liability companies that DiMaria cited in his letter owns property zoned Commercial General in Siesta Village. Two of the parcels are adjacent to each other on Ocean Boulevard. The third, on the opposite side of the street, stretches between Ocean Boulevard and Avenida Navarra. It includes the Bonjour French Café, which fronts on Ocean.

The maximum height of any structure on a parcel zoned Commercial General (CG) on Siesta Key is 35 feet. To exceed that, the County Commission has to approve a Special Exception. The board members seated in the fall of 2021 approved Special Exceptions for both the high-rise hotels that were proposed on the Key.

The handling of privately initiated amendments

“Privately initiated amendments” are those that come from entities outside of county staff. Whenever Planning and Development staff works on proposed modifications of the Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Code (UDC) originating with staff or the County Commission, those are called publicly initiated amendments.

As noted in DiMaria’s letter, the UDC calls for no more than two cycles per year for consideration of proposed amendments. However, he pointed out, Section 124-38(c)(2) of the County Code — which is part of the UDC — adds, “When amendments initiated by any resident or landowner in the County are not time sensitive and can be factored into the annual cycle, those amendments should be considered as part of the annual cycle. However, the Administrator [in this case, Osterhoudt of Planning and Development] will consider amendments initiated by any resident or landowner in the County on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the amendment proceeds as part of the annual cycle or on its own. When making a determination, the Administrator will consider factors such as timing constraints, context of the amendment, and whether the amendment can be reasonably accommodated from a workload perspective.”

Philip DiMaria. File image

In his letter, DiMaria wrote, “We respectfully request that you forward this request for an out-of-cycle, privately-initiated Comprehensive

Plan amendment to the Board of County Commissioners at your earliest possible convenience with your approval and a recommendation that the proposed amendment be processed and proceed immediately.”

Balot also is seeking County Commission approval to allow the Planning and Development staff to process his amendments outside of the normal cycle.

In response to a News Leader question about when the County Commission will be asked to consider the requests, Planning and Development staff wrote in an Oct. 19 email, “Currently, Sarasota County does not have a confirmed date when formal requests will be given to the BCC regarding the processing of proposed privately initiated comprehensive plan amendments. At this time, Sarasota County Planning and Development is compiling information to move forward to the BCC for consideration. This will not be in October but the date has not been confirmed.”

In an Aug. 29 memo to the county commissioners, which covered the two legal rulings this year that went against the county in regard to the previous commission’s 2021 approval of the two Siesta high-rise hotels, County Attorney Joshua Moye pointed out that a “legislative fix” would be an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community.

Both the Stantec consulting firm representative of Balot and DiMaria have targeted Future Land Use Policy (FLU) 2.9.1, which limits residential density and intensity on the county’s barrier islands to the level in place as of March 13, 1989.

That was the focus of two 12th Judicial Circuit Court cases opposing the Siesta high-rise hotels, as well as a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) challenge that Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez filed in late 2021. Both the administrative law judge presiding over the DOAH case and the judge handling the Circuit Court complaints ruled in favor of Ramirez, as the News Leader has reported.

In his letter, DiMaria explained that Benderson believes county staff should “rely on existing height, bulk, setback and other commercial

development standards and requirements” in the UDC, instead of residential density calculations, to determine whether a project is appropriate.

Further, DiMaria pointed out, “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. The proposed text amendments would further Sarasota County’s efforts and progress in that regard.”

He added that the proposed amendments also “would allow for the redevelopment and replacement of older, nonconforming structures located on properties in commercial zoning districts within the Siesta Key Overlay District. Older structures are particularly vulnerable to damage or destruction by even minor hurricanes and would be replaced with new structures designed and constructed in full compliance with all current regulations, including the Florida Building Code, [Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations, [Florida Department of Environmental Protection] regulations, Sarasota County Unified Development Code, and other regulations.”

This is another Benderson parcel in Siesta Village, outlined in purple. It is one section of a plaza on the east side of Ocean Boulevard. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website

Other aspects of the Benderson proposals

Benderson is proposing other Comprehensive Plan amendments in conjunction with the changes it is seeking to Future Land Use Policy (FLU) 2.9.1. Among them, it calls for FLU Policy 2.9.4 to read as follows:

“Lands zoned CG/SKOD or CI/SKOD [Commercial Intensive/Siesta Key Overlay District] may be redeveloped to contain transient

accommodations in accordance with FLU Policy 2.9.1 and ECON [Economic] Policy 7.1.4, provided:

  • “1. No more than fifteen percent (15%) of the total, combined acreage of the CG/SKOD and CI/SKOD zoning districts shall be developed as transient accommodations; and
  • “2. In no event shall new transient accommodations be located on the beaches of Siesta Key.”

Economic Policy 7.1.4, which also would be new, would state the following, the letter points out: “Tourism is one of the primary and most significant contributors to Sarasota County’s economy. Siesta Key is a premier national and international tourist destination largely due to Siesta Key Beach. However, few transient accommodations exist on Siesta Key. Transient accommodations shall be allowed by special exception in the CG/SKOD and CI/SKOD zoning districts as a favored land use to expand available tourist accommodations, enhance the tourism experience, and maintain the competitiveness and legacy of Sarasota’s tourism on Siesta Key; provided, however, that no more than fifteen percent (15%) of the total, combined acreage of the CG/SKOD and CI/SKOD zoning districts shall be developed as transient accommodations. Notwithstanding any provisions of the goals, objectives and policies of this Comprehensive Plan that might suggest otherwise, in no event shall new transient accommodations be located on the beaches of Siesta Key.”

Benderson also is focused on amending Coastal Objective 1.3, which pertains to hurricane evacuations. Below is the proposed modification of that policy, as indicated by the underlining: “To protect the public safety during emergency evacuation by reducing or maintaining emergency evacuation clearance time for residents; maintaining an adequate emergency evacuation roadway system; ensuring adequate shelter space; and/or providing appropriate mitigation. Appropriate mitigation shall include, without limitation, payment of money, contribution of land, construction of hurricane shelters and transportation facilities (including without limitation contributions for hurricane hardening of existing and proposed schools designated as hurricane shelters), implementing operational standards for early evacuation, meeting or exceeding current hurricane construction standards, and providing vehicular shelter for EMS, fire, law enforcement, utility and other emergency vehicles and personnel during hurricane events and hurricane recovery events. Required mitigation may not exceed the amount required for a developer to accommodate impacts reasonably attributable to development. A local government and a developer shall enter into a binding agreement to memorialize the mitigation plan, as necessary.”

Moreover, Benderson is calling for the elimination of Coastal Policy 1.2.3, which says, “Encourage hotel/motel development in the storm evacuation zones category C, D and E rather than evacuation zones A and B.”

Evacuation Levels A and B are those most vulnerable to storm surge during a tropical storm or hurricane. All of Siesta Key is in A.

This graphic, included with Philip DiMaria’s letter, shows the Commercial General and Commercial Intensive zoning districts on Siesta Key, in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet other changes Benderson has proposed involve definitions in the Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community.

In regard to residential uses, the company would add this: “Transient accommodations shall not be 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 [Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development] BRR/PD District or the Nokomis Center Revitalization Plan U.S. 41 Corridor).”

That definition adds, “Transient accommodations include rooms which include sleeping accommodations and other optional amenities, and which are rented, leased or sub leased for less than monthly periods or which are subject to time sharing pursuant to general law for less than monthly time share periods. ‘Monthly’ shall mean either a calendar month or 30 days, whichever is less. Transient Accommodations are allowed only in those zoning districts which list such uses as a permitted use or a special exception use.”

Among the proposed changes to the UDC, DiMaria provided copies of the language in sections related to dwellings, dwelling units, residential use, and transient accommodations. In each case, his modifications would make it clear that transient accommodations would not be considered as or interpreted to be dwellings, dwelling units or residential uses.

Over the past couple of years, DiMaria has represented Benderson in filing a number of applications with county staff and with the City of Sarasota’s Development Services staff. He was part of the team that handled the recently approved modifications to the plans for the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development that will stand in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Balot’s proposed amendments

Katie M. LaBar, a principal of Stantec and its senior project manager, sent her letter to Osterhoudt of Planning and Development on Sept. 28. Formally, she is representing ABC Sub 2 LLC, the company that won County Commission approval last year to construct the 112-room hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key. That property, which is close to Siesta Public Beach, formerly was home to a Wells Fargo Bank.

LaBar pointed out that Balot, the principal of that limited liability company, is proposing a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would “support the redevelopment of certain sites on Siesta Key into new boutique hotels with ancillary uses, such as a restaurant/bar. The proposed Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment only allows for this type of redevelopment when very specific site conditions, such as zoning and size, are met. This request will allow for the redevelopment of historically commercial parcels on Siesta Key and provide tourists

additional lodging on Siesta Key which will be a benefit for local businesses that rely on tourism,” she added.

The accompanying UDC amendment she included in the letter calls for transient accommodations on Commercial General parcels in the Siesta Key Overlay District to have a maximum of 26 units per acre if over 25% of those units have kitchens. If up to 25% of the rooms have kitchens, then the 52-unit maximum would apply, she noted.

This is the property, outlined in purple, where Dave Balot plans his 112-room boutique hotel on Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Property Appraiser William Furst

Balot held numerous discussions with leaders of organizations on Siesta Key before he and other members of his project team appeared first before the county’s Planning Commission and then before the County Commission in regard to his hotel plans.

During the Oct. 26, 2022 public hearing before the County Commission, Balot repeated what he had told attendees of the county-mandated Neighborhood Workshops he had conducted on his plans, as well as the Planning Commission members: “I’m not a developer.”

He added that he had been a county resident for 20 years, noting that he co-owns and manages three other businesses on the island, one of which is the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites.

“My goal is to build a hotel that keeps the character of Siesta Key,” he said.

His project, Balot pointed out, with plans for only 52 rooms per acre, has “significantly less density” than the two high-rise hotels that the commissioners approved in 2021.

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