Benderson revises proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments crafted to permit high-rise hotels on Siesta

County Planning Division staff had recommended changes

The property outlined in red in Siesta Village is where Benderson Development proposes to construct an 85-foot-tall hotel. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As recommended by Sarasota County staff members, Benderson Development Co. has modified proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments written to enable the company’s construction of an 85-foot hotel on Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Key Village, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Other high-rise hotels have been proposed, as well, that will rely on final County Commission approval of the amendments.

Among the more extensive changes in the documents provided to the county’s Planning Division staff on Feb. 28, proposed Future Land Use Policy 2.9.4 reads as follows:

“Lands zoned [Commercial General/Siesta Key Overlay District] CG/SKOD or [Commercial Intensive/Siesta Key Overlay District] CI/SKOD may be developed to contain hotels in accordance with FLU Policy 2.9.1 and ECON Policy 7.1.4, provided:

  • “1. Any such hotel was approved by special exception after July 1, 2024 (herein referred to as ‘new hotels’); and
  • “2. No more than fifteen percent (15%) (6.655 acres) of the total, combined acreage of the CG/SKOD and CI/SKOD zoning districts (44.37 acres total) shall be developed as new hotels; and the acreage of each new hotel shall be the acreage area of the special exception by which it was approved and shall not include any public right-of-way; and
  • “3 In no event shall new hotels be located on the beaches of Siesta Key, or seaward of Beach Road, or seaward of Midnight Pass Road south of Beach Road.”

That amendment adds, “Each such new hotel shall not be limited by maximum densities or maximum room counts, but each such hotel shall be limited in size by required setbacks, buffers, stepbacks, height, access, parking, stormwater facilities, and/or other development standards applicable to CG/SKOD or CI/SKOD.”

The Siesta Key Overlay District comprises all of the zoning regulations for the barrier island. It is part of the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains all of the county land-use regulations, as well.

The previous version of Future Land Use (FLU) Policy 2.9.4 read as shown below:

This is the original version of proposed FLU Policy 2.9.4, which Benderson submitted to county staff in October 2023. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As the News Leader has reported, county Planner Anna Messina questioned facets of the original version of that proposed Comprehensive Amendment in reviewing Benderson’s preliminary application, which was submitted to the county on Oct. 2, 2023. She wrote, “Please provide justification for the proposed 15% area limit … Please keep in mind that when specifying a percentage of area for a certain zone district only the parcel areas will count and not any [right of way] covered per the zone.”

Further, Benderson has changed its proposed revision of Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, which was the basis for litigation filed against the county in 2021 over the County Commission’s approval that year of two high-rise hotels on Siesta Key. Instead of working to amend the Comprehensive Plan for those initiatives, the developer of the first project — the planned hotel on Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village — chose to file only a modification for the county’s UDC. The goal was to eliminate the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes throughout most of the county. (See the related article in this issue.)

County zoning regulations limited “transient accommodations” — the county term for hotel and motel rooms — to 26 per acre on property zoned Commercial General and Commercial Intensive, and that was the maximum count if most of the rooms did not have kitchens.

The new version of the proposed Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, included in the Feb. 28 Benderson application to the county, reads as follows:

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another controversial amendment among the October 2023 proposals was Coastal Objective 1.3, regarding “Safe and Timely Evacuation.”

The original version read as follows:

This is Benderson’s original proposal for amending Coastal Objective 1.3. Image courtesy Sarasota County

This is the new version of Coastal Objective 1.3:

This is the Feb. 28 version of Coastal Objective 1.3. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In early January, during Benderson’s county-required Neighborhood Workshop on the proposed modifications of the Comprehensive Plan, plus the hotel project, Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez referenced Coastal Objective 1.3 in asking the workshop hosts, “How much do [Benderson company officials] think our lives are worth?”

The hosts were Philip DiMaria, a planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, and William Merrill III of the Sarasota law firm Icard Merrill.

Siesta Key Association Vice President Joyce Kouba also questioned that policy.

“We are not proposing to not evacuate visitors,” Merrill told Ramirez.

In terms of monetary mitigation, he added, “We’re proposing for mitigation through either an assisted evacuation or providing shelter.” Merrill emphasized that the proposed changes to that section of the Comprehensive Plan are consistent with language in state law.

Planner Messina noted in her Development Review Coordination (DRC) comments that she saw no need for the revision that Benderson had proposed, since that Comprehensive Plan chapter “does not intend to qualify only certain types of population for evacuation times. Proposed language for mitigation requirements may perhaps be incorporated within the new FLU [Future Land Use] policy proposed for transient accommodation development within CG/SKOD & CI/SKOD zoned areas, as part of the requirements to be deemed suitable for development in SKOD.”

Messina added, “Since County emergency evacuation standards and plans will not be under the control of the property owner, Emergency Services advises removing language that refers to evacuation procedures. Emergency Services can consider discussing the creation of a fund allowance that proposed development can contribute for future shelter construction if this can be used to show consistency with the Coastal Policy 1.2.2.”

As Benderson proposed last October, Coastal Policy 1.2.2 would have read as follows: “Proposed future land use map amendments in Evacuation Zones A and B hurricane vulnerability zone (storm surge areas) may be considered if such increases in density and intensity do not adversely impact hurricane evacuation times and are consistent with Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 and Appendix A, Article 4, Section 4.6, Residential District Intent Statement, Code of Ordinances of Sarasota County, Florida.”

This is the revised version of Coastal Policy 1.2.2:

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, Messina questioned facets of the Oct. 2, 2023 proposed new Comprehensive Plan amendment 7.1.4, which read as follows:

This is Benderson’s October 2023 proposed Economic Policy 7.1.4. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Messina recommended that it “should not focus on the need for tourism on Siesta Key and the potential economic benefits that this may have for the county, while balancing this with public safety. Initial statements about Siesta Key and lack of transient accommodations are not appropriate and the language that refers to the maximum percentage of land that can be utilized for Transient Accommodation development should rather be left just in the new FLU policy proposed for this use in CG/SKOD and CI/SKOD.”

This is the revised version of that policy:

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another section of the Feb. 28 proposals calls for this definition of hotels:

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Through a public records request, the News Leader obtained the documents with the amendments and the application for the hotel itself. Although they were submitted to county Planning Division staff on Feb. 28, a Planning and Development Services Department representative let the News Leader know, via email on March 13, that Benderson “had not completed all the required steps for the County to accept and process the application until this morning (10:50).”

It was only after that acceptance that the materials could be released through the Public Records request, the Planning and Development staff made clear through county Public Information Officer Cole Washko.

The Billable Fee Payment Agreement included among the public records that the News Leader received shows that the county charges $5,000 for processing Comprehensive Plan amendments; $7,500 for rezoning petitions; and $7,500 for Special Exception petitions.

As he did in October 2023 and January, DiMaria of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm is acting as Benderson’s representative in the handling the formal application.

The name on the county’s Billable Fee Payment agreement is Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, whose office is part of the company complex located at 7978 Cooper Creek Blvd. in University Park.

The hotel plans

The application narrative regarding Benderson’s proposed Siesta Village hotel explains, “The majority of Siesta Key was developed from the 1950s through the 1980s. In 1999, the Siesta Key Community Plan was published after an ‘intensive community planning process’ with residents and community leaders. The Siesta Key Community Plan highlighted the necessity of establishing a zoning overlay district, known today as the Siesta Key Overlay District, which the community wanted established to:

  • “Encourage new commercial buildings to build to the sidewalk, instead of requiring a front yard setback which is typically used for parking,
  • “Limit height and bulk of new residential structures, and
  • ” Promote pedestrian life.”

The narrative adds, “The Siesta Key Community Plan does not specifically address regulations pertaining to hotels. However, it does acknowledge that the [hotel site] is zoned as Commercial General. This zoning designation permits the same range of uses as [on such parcels in] the rest of Sarasota County. Ocean Boulevard has remained primarily commercial in nature, consisting mostly of strip commercial, shops, restaurants, and some small resort uses.”

Then the narrative points out, “The subject Property is currently a one-story suburban-style commercial strip. The existing buildings on the

Property were constructed between 1990 and 1995 and are inconsistent with the purpose, intent, and vision established by the SKOD overlay to promote pedestrian life. Siesta Key has a total approximate population of 6,500 residents and boasts 350,000 visitors each year.”

The narrative adds, “Siesta Key’s largest industry is tourism. Options for tourists to stay in Siesta Key consist primarily of short-term rentals located around the Key. In response to the growing number of visitors to Sarasota County and Siesta Key, the Applicant is proposing a Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment, [a Unified Development Code] UDC Amendment, and Special Exception to promote the redevelopment of the subject Property into a hotel use that would bring tourists directly to their destination.”

The formal application for the necessary Special Exceptions for the hotel points out that it would be erected in place of the parcels located at 5221, 5229 and 5239 Ocean Blvd., which are home to one-story “strip stores” comprising less than 10,000 square feet. The site, the application says, comprises about 0.97 acres.

County Commission approval will be needed to include “transient accommodations” on the site and to exceed the 35-foot maximum height allowed for construction.

The project as proposed would include a 147-room hotel, 9,800 square feet of retail space and a 5,200-square-foot restaurant. Two floors of parking would be provided within the structure, the narrative notes, with a total of 122 spaces.

The hotel would have six habitable floors, the application points out.

Further, the application says that the existing site has 23,217 square feet of impervious area; the hotel would come close to doubling that, with a total of 42,253 square feet of impervious area.