Meeting guidelines issued to aid public planning to attend 5 p.m. session
In their report for the Aug. 19 Sarasota County Planning Commission hearing on the proposed eight-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar, on the outskirts of Siesta Key Village, Sarasota County Planning Division members say they are “in agreement that hotels should be considered as commercial uses,” meaning hotels should not have to comply with residential density considerations.
The project team has proposed an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that calls for all “transient accommodations” — the term that staff applies to hotel and motel rooms — to be classified as non-residential uses.
The hotel would stand on approximately 0.96 acres comprising four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road. The principal owner of the property is New York City resident Louise Khaghan, the application says. The long-time lessee of the land is RE/MAX real estate agent Robert Anderson Jr.
The staff report explains that, if approved, the UDC amendment would eliminate residential density calculations for transient accommodations “and would instead rely on existing height, bulk, setback and other commercial development standards in the UDC to determine intensity, none of which are being changed by this proposal.”
The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
The staff report notes that the county’s Comprehensive Plan “does not specifically define transient accommodations … as residential or commercial in nature. However, the County Code has typically made calculations relating to the intensification of the transient uses by utilizing residential density as a basis. This could harken back to the days when hotels in the area were built to accommodate long-stay, typically winter season, guests that required full kitchen facilities in rooms to serve as the [guests’] home away from home during their extended stay. Today,” the report continues, “it is more typical in communities” to determine the intensity of transient accommodations by using “code-related standards such as floor area ratio, setback requirements, and in some cases define guest rooms with no kitchen facilities as [one-quarter] units.”
The Calle Miramar project team initially sought a Comprehensive Plan amendment that called for eliminating residential density calculations for hotels. However, after exchanges with county Planning Division staff, the team dropped that petition.
The project team behind a second hotel planned on Siesta Key — on Old Stickney Point Road — initially submitted a proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that called for any hotel room without a kitchen to be counted as one-quarter of a unit. That would have applied just to what the developer — Siesta Key chiropractor and businessman Dr. Gary Kompothecras — calls the “South Bridge area” of the island, which is located just south of Stickney Point Road.
That team has dropped its petition for its Comprehensive Plan amendment, as well and has chosen to rely on UDC changes that it has proposed.
In all of the unincorporated areas of the county, the Commercial General zoning district allows for transient accommodations, with County Commission approval of a Special Exception. The standard residential density permitted in that district is 13 dwelling units per acre; a hotel room without a kitchen would count as two units. Thus, a developer would be entitled to construct 26 rooms per acre, with a Special Exception.
The Calle Miramar project staff report further explains, “The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) description recognizes hotels as commercial businesses and defines the use as one [comprising] establishments primarily engaged in providing short-term lodging facilities known as hotels, motor hotels, resort hotels and motels. The establishments may offer food and beverage services, recreational services, conference rooms, convention services, laundry services, parking and other services. It is not recognized as a residential use.”
In regard to the Calle Miramar hotel project team’s proposed UDC amendment, the staff report does point out that the change “would be applicable to commercial districts county-wide. From a Siesta Key perspective,” the report adds, “that would mean that all [Commercial General/Siesta Key Overlay District] CG/SKOD-zoned properties have the possibility to be redeveloped as hotels. This is not likely to ever occur,” the report says, “but the opportunity for such utilization would exist if the UDC change is made.”
Numerous Siesta Key organizations, representing thousands of residents, have been fighting four hotel projects proposed for the island. Residents — and even business owners — have cited concerns about the increased density and intensity. They have pointed to severe traffic congestion during the height of tourist season and the fact that adding such large hotel structures to the landscape would change the character of the island.
The principal organizer of opposition to the hotel projects as planned is the nonprofit Siesta Key Coalition. Its website notes that a total of 70 island associations, representing more than 6,400 households, have offered support for its efforts.
Coalition leaders have been organizing speakers for the Aug. 19 Planning Commission hearing.
Of the other two hotel proposals, one calls for rebuilding the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites from a 55-room complex, on Ocean Boulevard and Calle Miramar, to one encompassing up to 170 rooms. The fourth project, planned for the 5810 Midnight Pass Road site where a Wells Fargo bank stood for years, would have up to 100 rooms.
In May, the leaders of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce submitted to county Planning Division staff their own petition for a UDC amendment that would create a designation for boutique hotels with no more than 75 rooms. That would apply just to property on the island that has been zoned for commercial use.
Residents also have raised questions about the increasing efforts of owners and managers of condominium complexes to stake out “private beach” areas, which are landward of the Mean High Water Line. Under state law, the “wet beach” portion of a shoreline, seaward of the Mean High Water Line, is open to the public. With such restrictions having limited space for the public on Siesta’s shoreline, residents ask whether the thousands of hotel guests would even be able to find space to enjoy Siesta’s beaches.
Storm evacuation concerns
Further, residents have stressed that the county Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, enacted in March 1989, prevents increased residential density out of concerns related to hurricane evacuations and other disaster situations involving island residents.
The staff report for the Calle Miramar project does acknowledge that county “Coastal Policy 1.2.3 ‘encourages’ hotel/motel development in the storm evacuation zones C, D, and E rather than evacuation zones A and B, but does not prohibit such development. The intent of the policy was to encourage hotel development away from the most susceptible areas for storm/flood damage and to lessen impacts on potential evacuations from natural events affecting those particular zones.”
The Calle Miramar hotel would stand in Zone AE, the application says. A chart in the report explains that designation:
However, the staff report points out that the proposed Calle Miramar hotel “will be designed and built to meet the latest local, state, and federal development and flood protection standards and should be able to withstand most nature-driven events.”
The report says that the project team’s application “notes that modern forecasting technology along with various media sources could allow for better preparation and more timely evacuation for natural events than has occurred in the past. Overall that statement is true,” the report continues, “but occasionally a natural or man-made event could occur that leaves minimal preparation/evacuation time. To aid in providing important information, Coastal Policy 1.5.3 supports having an annual disaster planning guide that should be made available to hotel guests,” to help them understand and plan for “the possibility of an evacuation.”
Preparations for the Aug. 19 public hearing
The county webpages about the Planning Commission include a document that outlines procedures for “large public hearings to be held throughout the fall and winter of 2021-2022.”
The Planning Commission hearing on the Calle Miramar hotel project will begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 19, in the Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. Each person wishing to address the board must fill out a speaker’s card and give that to a county staff member. Although statements typically are limited to 5 minutes, if the number of cards submitted reaches a high count, the planning commissioners could elect to reduce the time to 3 minutes per person.
Among other procedures, the document emphasizes in bold, “The use of medical masks is highly recommended for all visitors to the hearings due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This use is recommended for all applicants, legal counsel, staff members, commissioners and anyone else in the building during a large hearing.”
The document adds, “Depending on the status of Florida rates of infection on the dates of the large meetings, guests may be asked screening questions regarding Covid-19 upon entry to the building.” (See the related articles in this issue.)
Members of the public will be allowed to enter the main entry hall at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 19, the document notes. “Please do not enter the Commission Chambers until the doors have been opened,” it says.
If the Chambers fills up with guests, the document continues, persons will be seated “in an ancillary meeting room.” Then, if that room becomes full, the document points out, staff “will seat guests in [other ancillary rooms], one room at a time. If the ancillary meeting rooms are used, live video will be streamed to monitors in each room.”
The document further points out that the county Fire Marshall “will be on hand to make sure that the meeting proceeds safely at all times. Visitor capacity has been officially determined for each room by the [Fire Marshal], and that number will be posted outside each meeting room door.”
Parking for persons planning to attend the hearing will be available in the main lot at the County Administration Center; in two “very large parking lots” across Morrill Street from the 1660 Ringling Blvd. building; and in one parking lot on Pine Place, across from the County Administration Center, the document says.