Board members unanimously oppose proposed amendment to county land-use regulations that would apply just to hotels in ‘South Bridge Area’ of the Key
After another hearing that lasted close to three-and-a-half hours, the majority of the Sarasota Planning Commission endorsed a second proposed hotel on Siesta Key.
This one would stand 83 feet high, comprising seven stories and 120 rooms on Old Stickney Point Road. The applicants are members of the family of Siesta businessman and chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras, who lives near Point of Rocks, not far from the proposed hotel site.
The majority also recommended that the County Commission approve a companion proposal for a five-story parking garage that would stand 54 feet above base flood elevation — a term used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in regard to construction in floodplains.
During the Sept. 2 hearing, however, the commissioners voted unanimously to deny a proposed amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that would allow for hotel rooms in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area” of Siesta Key to be counted as one-quarter units.
Instead, the planning commissioners concurred that they preferred the proposed UDC amendment that they considered during the first Siesta hotel hearing, conducted on Aug. 19. That one — UDC Amendment 32 — would eliminate any residential density calculations for hotels; instead, hotels would be considered commercial businesses.
The county staff report said that staff “is not in support of [Kompothecras’] proposed amendment as it is limited to a specific area within the Siesta Key Overlay District,” which includes all of the island’s zoning regulations.
“In addition,” the staff report said, the amendment’s shift to counting a hotel room without a kitchen from one-half of a dwelling unit to one-quarter of a unit “would in essence be an increase in density.”
During an exchange with Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper, attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota — a member of Kompothecras’ project team — acknowledged that the number of hotel/motel rooms without kitchens allowed per acre in a Commercial General zoning district within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) regulations is 26. “We’re changing the manner in which they’re calculated,” Bailey said of those rooms.
The parcel where the hotel would stand on Old Stickney Point Road comprises 1.17 acres, the county staff report noted.
“You’re seeking to double the number of hotel rooms,” Cooper told Bailey. ”How does that not increase density?”
“I submit that it’s not density,” Bailey replied. “It’s a commercial land use.”
“I agree with you,” Cooper responded about the use.
Because of the UDC’s limitation in regard to residential density on the barrier islands, Bailey pointed out, “You see nothing but bars and restaurants replacing bars and restaurants [on the island]. … You would have to amass 4 or 5 acres of commercial property on Siesta Key to build a hotel.”
Bailey stressed that the island has only one hotel, the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites in Siesta Village, which, he noted, probably was built “before I was born …” (That hotel dates to the 1950s; its redevelopment from 55 rooms to 170 is the third of four hotel projects that have been proposed for the Key over the past 16 months.)
Referring to the attorney who is part of the Calle Miramar hotel project team, Bailey said, “If Bill Merrill’s watching, I like his [proposed UDC amendment] better. … It makes sense from a land-planning standpoint.”
“I don’t follow that line of logic,” Cooper told Bailey. “You’re saying that [the proposed amendment] doesn’t change the density, but you’re asking to change the density calculation.”
The amendment, Bailey replied, would change “the number of hotel rooms that constitutes a unit.”
“But that changes the entire concept 100%,” Cooper responded.
Planning Commission Chair Colin Pember pointed out, “Density is not changing. The calculation of an individual dwelling unit is being changed. … Times have changed.”
“Density is a residential metric,” Bailey said. “Why on earth Sarasota County has evermeasured hotels [with a residential density metric] I have no idea.” The City of Sarasota does not do that in regard to downtown construction, Bailey added. “Other jurisdictions don’t do that.”
Bailey also noted that the Kompothecras hotel team submitted its proposed UDC amendment before the Calle Miramar hotel team filed its plans in May 2020.
“Here’s how I view it,” Vice Chair Teresa Mast told Cooper: The difference is in how the calculation is determined. “You’re using the same exact amount of space. … The size of the structure all stays the same.”
“So why change it?” Cooper asked.
Mast likened the hotel situation to changes in vehicles over the years. A van in past decades that might have seated 12 to 15 people seats half-a-dozen today, she said, but the van’s size has not changed.
“Why change it?” Cooper asked again of the UDC amendment.
“Because we can!” Mast replied. “You have that choice.”
Planning Commissioner Justin Taylor told Cooper, “I definitely struggled with you, following that logic.”
Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the county’s Comprehensive Plan does not refer just to restrictions on density on the barrier islands, Taylor pointed out, “but also intensity. It spells that out very clear.” Referring to the proposed Kompothecras UDC amendment, Taylor added, “I don’t see how this meets that policy.”
“I think this is a perfect example of a step-down in intensity,” Pember said, referring to the plans for Kompothecras’ hotel. The high-density towers of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex would be to the east of the hotel site, “and [heading west], an unsightly marina and then a doughnut hole of residential that was built in the ’50s, right up against Old Stickney Point Road,” Pember continued. (The marina he referenced is Safe Harbor Siesta Key, located at 1265 Old Stickney Point Road.)
The street also has retail businesses, Pember noted. Across Midnight Pass Road are condominiums and then the beach, he added. “The Comp Plan doesn’t prohibit the refinement of the [UDC] to reflect modern-day trends and the way businesses have adapted since the old hotels on Siesta Key … were turned into condominiums … creating permanent population, substantially increasing traffic and a strain on the services.”
On separate 7-2 votes, the planning commissioners agreed to endorse the plans for the hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, as well as the parking garage, which would be constructed between Old Stickney Point Road and Stickney Point Road.
In both cases, new Planning Commissioner Martha Pike, a Venice Realtor, joined her colleague Taylor in casting the “No” votes.
“What I feel comfortable voting on is what’s current policy,” Taylor said, referencing the county’s Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. The County Commission will not conduct its public hearing on the Calle Miramar project team’s proposed UDC Amendment 32 until Oct. 27. Therefore, Taylor said, he could not support the requested Special Exceptions for the hotel and parking garage on south Siesta Key.
Taylor pointed to the fact that Planning Commissioner Cooper earlier had noted that it is not the role of the Planning Commission to make decisions on county policies, except in rare circumstances when it is asked to do so.
“I don’t think it’s good planning,” Taylor added, to recommend that the County Commission approve a project that violates existing policy.
Pike did not offer any comments prior to the votes.
The County Commission hearing on the Kompothecras proposals has been scheduled for Nov. 2. It will be the only business on the agenda, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis has reported.
A twist on the usual recommendations protocols
Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz made all three motions on Sept. 2.
He had asked Deputy County Attorney Joshua Moye whether the board members could endorse the Special Exceptions without approving the UDC amendment.
Because the County Commission will consider the Calle Miramar team’s proposed UDC amendment first, Moye explained, the Planning Commission could recommend that the County Commission approve the Special Exceptions for the Kompothecras projects. Then, if the Calle Miramar team’s UDC amendment wins County Commission approval, the Special Exceptions would be consistent with the modified county regulations, Moye added.
Nonetheless, Moye explained, the Planning Commission needed to consider the eight “Findings of Fact” for both the proposed hotel and the proposed parking garage; those were included in the staff report. If the commissioners determined that even one Finding of Fact was inconsistent with county policies and regulations, Moye said, then the board members would have to deny the affected Special Exception.
Planning Commissioner Cooper, who voted against the proposed Special Exceptions necessary for the Calle Miramar project, emphasized that if the County Commission does not approve UDC Amendment 32 associated with that hotel, then the Planning Commission’s endorsements of the Kompothecras hotel would be moot.
In making the motion to support the Kompothecras hotel project, Stultz said, “We are our own worst enemy.” He and many other Sarasota residents tell friends in other parts of the country how wonderful Sarasota County is, he indicated. “Really, the worst thing we did was invent air conditioning,” Stultz added.
Moreover, he pointed out, Mark Stuckey, executive vice president of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, had testified that night that the airport is likely to set a new record with 4 million passengers in 2022, based on trends seen this year. “We are on track to exceed 3.1 million passengers in 2021,” Stuckey told the board.
“We have definitely been discovered,” Stultz pointed out.
The project team “did a very nice job,” Stultz said. In fact, he added, he likes the plans for the hotel on Old Stickney Point Road better than those for the Calle Miramar project.
Vice Chair Mast told the audience that she “spent several hours” on Siesta, at four different times of day, in preparation for the Sept. 2 hearing.
Of all the vehicles she counted on those trips, she noted, she believed 40% were from service companies — firms that handle landscaping, home cleaning and pool upkeep, for examples.
“Respectfully,” she said, “this is part of life, and, respectfully, we cannot shut the gates; they’ve been opened.”
What county leaders can do, Mast continued, “is guide and manage growth …”
She also pointed to the numerous single-family homes on the island that are being rented to guests through online platforms such as Vrbo.com and Airbnb.
Chair Pember talked about those vacation rentals, as well. “Those are spread throughout the entire Key,” he noted, with “traffic going everywhere.”
Visitors staying in those vacation rentals likely are unfamiliar with the island, Pember pointed out, so they end up on neighborhood roads and have to turn around in residents’ driveways. “I see that as more impactful on traffic [than new hotels].”
People who stay at a hotel have the option of walking, using bicycles, or taking public transportation, such as the Siesta Key Frog Hop, which the project team said Kompothecras owns.
“I’ve lived here the majority of my life,” Mast added — “50-some years.” Siesta, she said, “is a barrier island … and we want everybody to have an opportunity to share in our gem.”
Less than 0.01% of the county’s residents live on Siesta, Mast emphasized.
“I totally respect that it’s your home,” she told island residents in the audience. Yet, she pointed out, “Do not forget that this is part of Sarasota County. It’s not your private island. … I hope that we can share it with respect and courtesy and thoughtfulness, and that’s what we’re trying to do up here.”
In his motion recommending that the County Commission approve the parking garage planned between Old Stickney Point Road and Stickney Point Road, Planning Commissioner Stultz did note that he had asked the project team about the potential of eliminating the top level, which would reduce the height above base flood elevation from 54 feet to 35 feet; the latter is allowed by right on a parcel zoned Commercial Intensive, as that one is, the team said.
However, Stultz added, after he learned that the extra height was designed so the garage could provide about 100 spaces for public parking, he felt the design should be allowed. Stultz noted the project team’s testimony about the ongoing need for extra parking spaces on the Key.
Attorney Bailey had explained that former County Administrator Jim Ley is part of the project team. Ley talked with County Engineer Spencer Anderson and members of the county’s Transportation Planning Division staff, Bailey continued. “We thought that [the additional spaces] would be viewed by the public as an extra benefit … in the South Bridge Area.”
“I know that in years past we have looked at different nuggets of parking all along Siesta Key,” Stultz added.
Siesta residents raise numerous concerns once again
Whereas 17 speakers on Aug. 19 pleaded with the board members not to recommend County Commission approval of the proposed eight-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road — on the edge of Siesta Village — 19 addressed the Planning Commission on Sept. 2. Many of them revisited issues raised two weeks earlier: concerns about increased traffic congestion, incompatibility of the projects with its surroundings, and the growth in condominium complexes’ protection of private beach property, which has led to less space for the public on the Key’s shoreline.
Additionally, environmental issues were part of the mix on Sept. 2. Speakers pointed to routine flooding on Peacock Road, which would be the hotel’s eastern boundary, and contended that the wetlands including Sabal Lake, to the south of the hotel site, would suffer negative effects if the hotel were built.
When Stultz asked about stormwater management for the hotel site, Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton, a project team member, explained that during what county staff calls the “site and development process,” after a project has won County Commission approval, the team has to provide a detailed drainage analysis to both county staff and staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). The team has to prove that no negative effects will result upstream or downstream of the site, Medred added.
“I can assume the reason Peacock floods,” Chair Pember said, is that stormwater regulations did not exist in the county when the homes were constructed on that road, “and [property owners] didn’t know the elevation that they needed to be at to stay out of the water.”
Bill Conerly, senior project manager with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, another project team member, responded that Pember was correct. SWFWMD was not established until 1984, Conerly said. The Peacock Road area, Conerly added, is “considerably lower than the surrounding areas.”
County and SWFWMD staff require a detailed analysis of stormwater conditions for any project, he pointed out.
As for Sabal Lake: Vice Chair Mast said, “Those of us who’ve been here a little while know that this wasn’t always this lovely estuary that it currently is.”
“Right,” Conerly told her. Sabal Lake, he continued, “doesn’t function properly as it is today,” but it is not the project team’s place “to fix that. What [the team members have to] demonstrate is that they’re not going to make it any worse. … It looks like chocolate milk on one side of the lake,” he pointed out, “so the turbidity is pretty bad in that area.”
(Neal Schleifer, vice president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council who lives in Paradise Cove on Peacock Road, stressed that the Sabal Lake area is a functioning wetlands that draws wildlife, including 174 species of birds that have been documented.)
Peacock Road residents also voiced worries about delivery trucks using their street, which is a canopy road.
“We saw some very beautiful canopy trees down Peacock Road [in photos presented by speakers],” Stultz noted. “So those would not be in jeopardy from the operations of the hotel?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” architect David Wallace replied.
Wallace used engineering drawings of the hotel to show the planning commissioners that all vehicles making deliveries to the facility would be confined to a loop on the property that would keep them off Peacock Road.
Moreover, attorney Bailey told the board members, “You’re not going to see semis; you’re not going to see big trucks coming here.” Instead, Bailey said, he envisioned service vehicles comparable in size to those used for Amazon Prime deliveries.