Kompothecras’ hotel and garage plans to be second of four Siesta hotel projects to undergo Planning Commission review
Editor’s note: This article was updated early in the afternoon of July 19 to include new information from county staff saying that the Calle Miramar project team has withdrawn a proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that was part of its original application.
Because Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Services Department staff failed to keep an online document updated, The Sarasota News Leader erroneously reported in its July 2 issue that Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ proposal for a hotel and parking garage south of Stickney Point Road on Siesta Key would be the first of four such applications to undergo county Planning Commission review.
Instead, the News Leader learned, the project with that distinction will be the one involving an eight-story, 170-room hotel proposed between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, on the outskirts of Siesta Village. The principals behind that proposal are RE/MAX real estate agent Robert T. Anderson Jr., who long has leased the property; and the primary owner of the land, Louise Khaghan of New York City. Anderson’s company, as listed on the project application, is SKH 1 LLC.
The Planning Commission public hearing date is Aug. 19. The proposal for Kompothecras’ seven-story, 120-room hotel and five-story parking garage will be heard by the Planning Commission on Sept. 2. Both sessions will begin at 6 p.m. in the Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, which stands at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
Additionally, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis won County Commission approval this week for that board to conduct its public hearing on the Calle Miramar proposal on Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Kompothecras’ plans are scheduled to be the focus of a Nov. 2 County Commission hearing.
During the County Commission’s regular meeting on July 13, Lewis alluded to the controversy over both proposals. That was the reason, he indicated, that each hotel hearing before the County Commission would be the solitary agenda item on the appointed date.
The commission has taken such action in the past, when community activism indicated that dozens of speakers would want to address the board on a particular issue. One of those day-long proceedings involved the proposal for a construction and yard-waste recycling facility adjacent to the Celery Fields in the eastern part of the county. Another example was the hearing on Siesta Promenade, a mixed-use development planned for the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
The proposed Anderson-Khaghan hotel that would be built between Calle Miramar and Beach Road would encompass five levels, constructed over three levels of parking, attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm, told participants during a Jan. 11, county-mandated Neighborhood Workshop.
The project team is seeking a Special Exception for the hotel to exceed the 35-foot height limit allowed in Commercial General zoning districts in the county, including those within the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD).
Originally, the project team also asked for an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that would treat “transient accommodations” — the term county staff uses for hotels and motels — as a non-residential use. In the preliminary project application, attorney Matthew Brockway of Icard Merrill wrote that that “is consistent with the true nature of the use. After all, from a land use, planning, and zoning perspective,” he added, “hotels are a commercial use critical to tourism and our local economy. To that end Transient Accommodations are only permitted (either as Permitted Uses or by Special Exception) in certain commercial zoning districts [Brockway’s emphasis].”
Under county regulations for Commercial General (CG) zoning, a hotel room counts as half a dwelling unit if it has no kitchen. Residential density on CG property is limited to 13 residential units per acre. Thus, a hotel could have up to 26 rooms per acre. The site of the planned hotel on Calle Miramar comprises 0.96 acres.
The News Leader learned from a July 19 county staff “fact sheet” on the proposal that the project team has decided simply to seek amendments to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which encompasses all the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
Siesta residents have been adamant in opposition to the hotel plans, as well as the proposed amendments. During the workshop, many told Merrill that the project is too intense for the island, particularly because of the increased traffic congestion with which residents — and visitors — have been contending over the past couple of years. (See the related article in this issue.)
Lourdes Ramirez, a past president of both the Siesta Key Association and the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), pointed out to Merrill that the Comprehensive Plan policy that the project team wants to amend was put in place in 1989. It “was created by the county commissioners back then because they recognized that the barrier islands could not handle any more intensity,” she added.
Another workshop participant, Siesta Key Association (SKA) Vice President Joyce Kouba, told Merrill, that, according to county policies and regulations, the hotel plans must comply with specific standards to win the Special Exceptions the team is requesting, including one to allow transient accommodations on the site. Among those relevant provisions is Article 5, Section 124-43 of the UDC, she noted. That says in part, “The proposed use, singularly or in combination with other Special Exceptions, must not be detrimental to the health, safety, morals, order, comfort, convenience, or appearance of the neighborhood or other adjacent uses by reason of any one or more of the following: the number, area, location, height, orientation, intensity or relation to the neighborhood or other adjacent uses;” and “The proposed use must be adequately buffered to effectively separate traffic, visual impact and noise from existing or intended nearby uses.”
Kouba added that she finds the proposal “is detrimental [to those standards].”
Trying to make the case for the project
In updated application materials he filed with county staff in May, Merrill responded to a staff question about how the project complies with county Coastal Objective 1.2, which says, “Encourage appropriate densities in the [Coastal High-Hazard Area] to encourage low-density land uses … in order to direct population concentrations away from this area.”
“[T]h proposed special exception use and UDC text amendments are specific to a Hotel use (transient accommodations), which is a non-residential use,” Merrill wrote. “Hotel use is not a new use on Siesta Key,” he added, noting that it is allowed as a Special Exception in all Commercial General (CG)/[Siesta Key Overlay District] SKOD zone districts, “including the CG-SKOD zone district on the [hotel site].”
Merrill further maintained that the plans are consistent with the county’s Future Land Use Map designation for barrier islands in the Comprehensive Plan.
He added, “There are no permanent residences or permanent populations associated with the proposed Hotel use. Therefore, the proposed Hotel use and associated UDC text amendments do not create residential density and do not direct population concentrations to the Barrier Island. Neither rezoning nor comprehensive plan amendment is required to develop a Hotel on Siesta Key or on the Property.”
In regard specifically to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, which regulates residential density and intensity on barrier islands within the county’s jurisdiction, Merrill wrote, “The stated purpose of the Barrier Islands Future Land Use Designation as contained in the first sentence of FLU Policy 2.9.1 is ‘… to recognize existing land use patterns and to provide a basis for hurricane evacuation planning and disaster mitigation efforts.’”
“‘Hurricane evacuation,’” he continued, “is the immediate and rapid movement of people away from the threat or actual occurrence of a hurricane.”
“‘Disaster mitigation,’” he wrote, “is the act of reducing or eliminating the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters, such as a hurricane (e.g., planning for hurricane evacuation of persons and enhancing the resiliency of commercial and residential property).”
Merrill pointed out, “Hotels are commercial uses, and unlike residential uses, there will be no residents to evacuate when a hurricane event threatens or when residents choose to stay and ‘ride out the storm,’ and thus no additional risks and hazards exist for first responders. Hotels are typically among the first to notify onsite and arriving guests, cease operations, secure the property, and evacuate guests in the event of an imminent Hurricane strike.”
He also noted, “To carry out the stated purpose for the Barrier Islands Designation, [Future Land Use] FLU Policy 2.9.1 recognizes the existing, long-established land use patterns on Barrier Islands and, in its second sentence, provides: ‘[t]he intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989 …’”
Then Merrill pointed to Future Land Use Policies 2.9.2 and 2.9.3, which “immediately follow FLU Policy 2.9.1 in the Future Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan. Those policies, Merrill wrote, “establish the manner by which the County controls the intensity and density of future development so that it does not exceed that allowed under 1989 Regulations and is not in conflict with established land use patterns.”
Moreover, Merrill emphasized, the parcels slated for the new hotel were zoned Commercial General before March 13, 1989, and Commercial General zoning allows transient accommodations, by Special Exception, as of March 13, 1989.