Development team hopes the facility will open in late 2017
With a unanimous vote on Sept. 7, the Sarasota County Commission endorsed a proposal for a four-story hotel in Pinecraft behind the Der Dutchman restaurant.
“This is definitely something that’s needed for this community,” Commissioner Christine Robinson said in making the motion to approve the rezoning request that will enable the project to proceed.
Jeff Miller, manager of the Der Dutchman Restaurant — who also will oversee the hotel operations — told The Sarasota News Leader on Sept. 8 that the development team hoped to obtain all the necessary county permits for construction to begin in about a month. The goal, he said, is to open the facility in November or December 2017.
During the Sept. 7 public hearing before the County Commission, Tim Miller, chair of the Pinecraft Board, told the commission he was representing the 12 members of that group in saying, “We are all in favor of the hotel.”
His great-great-grandfather came in 1927 to the Amish and Mennonite community that is bordered partly by Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road in Sarasota, Miller explained. “We know the growing pains that Pinecraft has had, [but] we need this type of place in Pinecraft.”
Unless they have relatives with whom they want to stay in the community, he continued, Amish and Mennonite people from other states are reluctant to travel to Sarasota. If the hotel were built, he told the commissioners before their vote, such potential new visitors would come to Sarasota.
However, speaking for residents on Teate Drive, just north of the hotel site, Evelyn Gray reported their opposition to the project. “The truth is, there’s a lot of very simple people that live in that area,” Gray continued. They do not like to speak in public, she added. “They object [to the plan], but they don’t know what else to do … I hear it from all of ’em.”
In making her motion, however, Robinson pointed out that landscaping and a new stormwater pond will buffer the development from surrounding residents. Chair Al Maio also spoke of how he has owned restaurants and has been a frequent patron of the Der Dutchman dining establishment on Bahia Vista Street. He has been impressed over the years with how well that property is maintained, he added. “It goes to my reliance on the care that will be taken by [the Dutchman Hospitality Group] on the new building.”
Two other residents of the area offered full support of the proposal.
Merle Miller, who said he and his wife grew up in Amish households in Ohio, reprised part of Timothy Miller’s comments. Merle Miller told the board that one of the first questions he hears from loved ones who want to visit Sarasota, is, “‘Where can we stay?’” He added that that “is by far the greatest challenge … in planning a vacation” if someone is Amish. They can travel by bus, he pointed out, but they want lodging within easy walking distance of the amenities they will use.
In his presentation on behalf of Dutchman Hospitality Group, Joel Freedman of Freedman Consulting & Development in Sarasota explained that in 2007, he worked with the previous owners of the property to win approval of a county Comprehensive Plan amendment that would have led to the construction of a hotel. However, because of the Great Recession, he noted, “they did not move forward with the [request for] rezoning …”
Freedman pointed out — as he did to the county’s Planning Commission members in July — that the Pinecraft Master Plan included a reference to plans for the hotel. After the sale of the property to the Dutchman Hospitality Group, he continued, the plan was revived.
The structure will consist of 103 rooms in four stories, he said. Although the rezoning request will allow the height of the building to go up to 57 feet, he added, the majority of it will rise no taller than 49 feet. Furthermore, he continued, oaks that will be kept on the site and other trees that will be planted will help shield the hotel from the surrounding residences. Freedman showed the board photos created with images of existing structures in the area and the superimposition of the hotel’s roofline.
A natural park-like facility will be created around the new stormwater pond to the north of the building, he continued. “It’s going to be quite a nice little area.”
And while the plan is to add about 115 new parking spaces to the site — for a total of approximately 438, plus three parking spaces for buses — the majority of Pinecraft residents and visitors walk or bike in the community, he pointed out. Most of the hotel’s guests would be expected to arrive by bus, Freedman indicated.
Nonetheless, one speaker during the public hearing — John Morris — told the commissioners he believes the hotel will create even more parking congestion and overflow into the surrounding neighborhood. His family owns property on the private Gardenia Road in the vicinity of the Dutchman Hospitality Group site, Morris added.
The county did not require a traffic study in relation to the proposal, Freedman explained, but the Dutchman Hospitality Group hired a traffic engineer to work with county staff on vehicle circulation on the property. As a result, he noted, one driveway into the site — near the front of the restaurant — will be eliminated. The primary accesses will be Love Avenue from Bahia Vista Street and Birky Street from Beneva Road, Freedman added.
Joe Medred of the county’s planning staff also pointed out that the easternmost entrance to the restaurant parking area from Bahia Vista will be restricted to right-in/right-out movements.