Residents contend that ‘Dr. Gary’ should conform to existing zoning standards for commercial construction, citing concerns about inability of Siesta Key to handle extra people and traffic
For the better part of two hours on the evening of Dec. 2, Siesta Key residents offered more comments than questions about a proposed seven-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road and a planned five-story parking garage across the street.
And none of the comments The Sarasota News Leader heard was positive.
Those making points were participating in a virtual Neighborhood Workshop that Sarasota County staff requires for land development projects. A second event is set for Dec. 15 at 6 p.m.
The very first speaker on Dec. 2, long-time community activist Lourdes Ramirez, pointed out that, under the Commercial General (CG) zoning of the property slated for the hotel, 26 rooms would be allowed per acre. Based on the 1.17 acres on the site, she told the project team members, “You’re getting about 30 units.” That number would be adequate, she added, “for a nice hotel that I would consider a boutique hotel. But you’re asking for quadruple what’s currently allowed.”
Attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, one of the two hosts making the presentation, had explained that the concept called for a boutique hotel comparable to those in the Marriott company’s Autograph Collection.
The developer of the hotel and garage is Dr. Gary Kompothecras, the Siesta Key resident known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and referral service.
Ramirez said she did not believe Bailey and the other representative of Kompothecras that evening — Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton — could expect the public to be supportive of their clients’ proposal. “It’s just going to open up the floodgates on mega hotels.”
The island’s infrastructure and road system could not support the hotel and garage, Ramirez continued. “We just can’t handle it.”
The second speaker, Margaret Jean Cannon of the Tiffany Sands condominium community on the Key, agreed with Ramirez.
“I am also very concerned about the density,” Cannon said, concurring that if the hotel project wins County Commission approval, it will be the first of a number of similar projects.
“The idea of adding additional intensity to Siesta Key is not appropriate,” Cannon continued, especially on the southern part of the island. Her expectation, she said, is that two people would share each of the 120 hotel rooms Kompothecras plans. “I think you’re going to kill that corner with traffic and pedestrians,” she added, referring to the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Old Stickney Point Road.
If any county commissioner was listening to the discussion that evening, another resident, Richard Oberdorf, told Bailey and Medred, Oberdorf wanted to assert for the commissioners, “There’s too much density on this island. The residents don’t want more density.”
Along with the parking garage and the hotel, Kompothecras’ team has proposed an amendment to the county’s Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, which would double the density for hotels in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area” of Siesta Key, referencing the drawbridge on Stickney Point Road. A companion text amendment would modify Section 124-305 of the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains all the zoning and land development regulations.
The county allows each hotel room without a kitchen on Siesta Key property with commercial zoning to count as one-half a dwelling unit. Kompothecras wants to change that to one-fourth unit.
“It’s somewhat unusual for residential density to be applied to hotel rooms,” Bailey pointed out during the Dec. 2 workshop. “The City of Sarasota does not do that,” nor do most other jurisdictions, he added.
“For the last 35 or 45 years, at least,” Bailey said, transient accommodations — such as hotel rooms — have been permitted on property zoned CG on Siesta Key. Kompothecras’ application, he added, “will not add one square inch” of commercial property to the barrier island.
Bailey further stressed that the proposed density amendment for transient accommodations would apply to the South Bridge Area only.
Asked whether Kompothecras could have “a viable hotel project and associated garage” by complying with the existing 35-foot height restriction in the CG zoning district, Medred replied, “No,” adding that that is the reason he believes no new hotel has been built on Siesta Key “in 40 years or so.”
However, another workshop participant, Mark Spiegel, who lives on Calle Miramar, questioned Medred’s assertion.
For example, Spiegel said, The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, S.C., has only 41 rooms spread among three floors. It has been ranked the top boutique hotel in the United States, Spiegel added. If that hotel has proved to be a success, Spiegel asked, why do developers want to construct much larger hotels on Siesta Key?
“I don’t know,” Bailey responded. “I’m not the economics guy.”
On its website, The Spectator Hotel says it has “enjoyed rave reviews,” having been ranked “the No. 5 Hotel in the Continental US and No. 98 in the World by Travel & Leisure [magazine]” in its first year of operation. It opened its doors on July 16, 2015, the website notes.
Facets of the Kompothecras plans
During the workshop, Medred explained that the project team will seek Special Exceptions from the County Commission for height above the 35-foot level allowed for new construction in both the CG and Commercial Intensive (CI) zoning districts on Siesta Key.
The hotel has been designed to stand 83 feet above base flood elevation, which references Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rules regarding building in flood zones. The garage has been planned to be 54 feet above base flood elevation. On the ground floor of the garage, “a minimum of 6,900 square feet” of commercial space would be provided, Medred added.
Further, Medred noted, a Special Exception will be needed to construct the hotel in a CG zone under the guidelines of the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations.
Finally, a Special Exception must be approved for the proposed shorter street setbacks for the parking garage, Medred said.
The architect has designed the garage to be set back 6.5 feet from Old Stickney Point Road and 8 feet from Stickney Point Road. That allows for 203 spaces within the facility, Medred noted, with 103 of those expected to be available to the general public.
The top floor of the garage would be open, he said.
Seventy-two of the spaces in the garage will be dedicated to hotel guests, Medred added.
In response to a question about access to the garage for people driving west on Stickney Point Road, Medred explained that after they come over the drawbridge, drivers would use the existing deceleration lane for left-hand turns into the structure.
“You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” Janet Emanuel responded.
The project team’s traffic consultant, Kimley-Horn, has talked already with representatives of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, Medred replied. All the ingress and egress details will be considered during county staff’s analysis of the plans, Medred pointed out.
“That’s going to back up traffic trying to go east on Stickney Point [Road],” Emanuel said.
“I dealt with Kimley-Horn with Siesta Promenade,” Emanuel told Medred. “I’m not particularly thrilled” with that firm’s traffic analyses.
Emanuel was referring to the Benderson Development mixed-use project planned for the northwest quadrant of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41. (See the related article in this issue.)
(Kimley-Horn has offices in Sarasota and Tampa, among its locations. County Commissioner Alan Maio was a principal with the firm in Sarasota before his retirement to run for office in 2014.)
Among other details, Medred explained that the hotel has been designed so guests will drive up a ramp from Old Stickney Point Road; they will enter the hotel at the second level.
A valet would take the guests’ vehicles over to the parking garage, he continued, and the guests would be escorted to the seventh floor of the hotel for registration.
Bailey noted that no full-service restaurant has been planned for the hotel. However, he said, a continental breakfast will be provided for the guests.
“The owner would like their hotel guests to be able to use the adjacent restaurants in the Old Stickney Point Road area,” Medred pointed out.
A pool will be on the top floor of the hotel, Medred said, facing the Peacock Road side of the structure.
One workshop participant asked whether the possibility exists that a restaurant would be added to the hotel in the future.
“We haven’t heard of anything like that,” Medred replied.
The same participant also asked, “Are the garage and hotel projects mutually exclusive?”
Medred responded, “They’re needed to go together.”
Then, if one wins approval and the other does not, would the project that was approved move forward, the man inquired.
No, Medred told him.
In response to a question from Siesta Key Association Director Robert Luckner, Medred also noted that the hotel will have “a small meeting room”; nothing big enough to accommodate a wedding reception, for example.
Other participants voiced worries about potential traffic congestion on Old Stickney Point Road, in conjunction with the hotel and garage operations. One resident of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex, Rob Sax, pointed out, “This is a dead-end street, as you know. There’s no other way out” for residents of the condominium complex or the owners of single-family homes on Peacock Road, which the hotel will border, Sax added. “I would urge you to address that.”
During the presentation, Medred also noted that it typically takes six or seven months for a Special Exception petition to make its way through all the county Planning and Development Services Department steps before the County Commission conducts its public hearing on the proposal. If the hotel and garage projects win approval, Medred predicted “another solid six months” for the team to work through site and development issues, plus the necessary permitting, with county staff.
“We’re over a year before we can even think about starting any kind of construction,” Medred pointed out. In fact, he said, he expected an 18-month-long timeline would be more likely.
Bailey and Medred also explained that, along with the Neighborhood Workshops, the county’s Development Review Committee (DRC), which comprises representatives of every department and division involved with land development, has to review the applications. Following satisfaction of any DRC members’ concerns, Bailey and Medred said, the petitions would be presented to the county’s Planning Commission. That body then makes a recommendation to the County Commission on approving or denying the petitions.
The second workshop on Kompothecras’ petitions, set for 6 p.m. on Dec. 15, will be a webinar, Bailey pointed out. More people wanted to participate in the Dec. 2 workshop than the Zoom format could accommodate, Medred added.