New county zoning district approved to allow rehabilitation of older hotel and motel properties

Board also approves rezoning of Siesta Key Palms Hotel property on Stickney Point Road

(Editor’s note: The original version of this story said in one paragraph the property fronts on Old Stickney Point Road. It fronts on Stickney Point Road.)

This unit at the Siesta Key Palms Hotel is close to Dawn Street. Rachel Hackney photo

Altogether, it took only seven-and-a-half minutes on June 13 for the Sarasota County Commission to unanimously approve the implementation of a new zoning district and then agree to allow the owners of property on Stickney Point Road to make use of that district to rehabilitate the Siesta Key Palms Hotel.

During the public hearing, Chair Nancy Detert asked a few questions about the zoning district, which has been crafted to allow the redevelopment of older hotels and motels. One member of the public also had a question, though it related to traffic patterns.

Detert was absent because of illness when her colleagues heard a staff report during their first public hearing on the proposed new district. Held on May 22, the hearing also focused on developer Henry Rodriguez’s plans to preserve what he called the “chic, mid-century experience” for his guests at his 14-unit hotel.

Robert “Bo” Medred, president of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton — who has worked on the project on behalf of Rodriguez — explained to Detert on June 13 that Rodriguez’s approximately 1-acre site is split into two zoning districts: Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI), and Residential Multi-Family 4. The latter allows up to 18 units per acre.

Neither would allow Rodriguez to redevelop the property as he desired, Medred continued, and Rodriguez did not want to apply to have the parcel rezoned to a commercial designation.

After talking at length with county staff, Medred explained, the decision was made to propose a new zoning district: Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development — BRR/PD.

An aerial graphic shows the location of the hotel property, outlined in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“It was to account for those [transient accommodations] properties that were ripe for redevelopment” but whose zoning would hinder the transformation, Medred added. Because of setback, buffer and other requirements implemented in their zoning districts since their construction, he explained, they have ended up being nonconforming properties.

Only about eight or nine hotels or motels in the entire county would qualify for the BRR/PD designation, he said. If any of the other owners wished to redevelop those properties, he continued, they also would have to request County Commission approval.

On May 22 — during the first public hearing on the proposed new zoning district — Medred also explained that the BRR/PD district could not be used on the county’s barrier islands. The maximum height of buildings would be 35 feet, he noted, and the maximum number of rooms allowed would be 75.

Furthermore, an applicant would have to demonstrate that the redevelopment would be compatible with neighboring land uses before gaining County Commission approval for the rezoning, Medred told Detert on June 13.

“You probably won me on that,” she responded.

Referring to Rodriguez’s proposal for further changes to the Siesta Key Palms Hotel property, Detert added, “It’s not out of the box; it’s not crazy; it’s compatible.” Her concern, she said, had been focused on the proposal for the new zoning district.

“You’ve answered my concern,” she told Medred.

Other facets of the proposal

An engineering drawing shows plans for redevelopment of the property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his May 22 presentation, county Planner Kirk Crane explained to the commissioners that Rodriguez also owns the adjacent property on Stickney Point Road. However, that was not a factor in the BRR/PD requests.

The Siesta Key Palms Hotel has six multi-family units and eight hotel/motel units, Crane continued. The southern boundary of the property is Dawn Street, he noted, while other access points are on Avenue B.

Rodriguez wants to build one new 18-unit, three-story structure, Crane told the board, but it would not exceed 35 feet. After that has been completed, he said, Rodriguez plans to remove one of the two multi-family structures on the property and put in a new spa and pool. The site plan also calls for 30 parking spaces, along with a total of 30 units.

Furthermore, Crane said, Rodriguez plans to eliminate the current five access points and create a new entrance from Avenue B.

Additionally, Rodriguez will extend the 6-foot-tall wall along Stickney Point Road, Crane said, so it will shield the full length of the property from that street.

Bamboo serves as a screen for the fence on the Dawn Street side of the hotel. Rachel Hackney photo

Finally, Crane noted, Rodriguez has agreed — as requested by Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff — to give the county a permanent easement measuring 2.5 feet by 16.5 feet for a bus stop with a shelter on Stickney Point Road. “That is very tight,” Crane added of the site, “but he was able to do that.”

After Crane concluded his remarks, Rodriguez addressed the commissioners, telling them that he and his wife bought the hotel property in 2016. The travel industry nationwide has put a focus on rehabilitating older properties, he pointed out.

On The Today Showthe previous week, he continued, the editor of Travel + Leisuremagazine was talking about destinations and mentioned Sarasota. The only hotel she discussed was his, he added. “I had nothing to do with this,” he added laughingly. “So we’re actually full this weekend.”

The Siesta Key Palms Hotel also has held the No. 1 or No. 2 spot among 52 Sarasota accommodations on TripAdvisor, he pointed out. “It consistently ranks above the [Ritz-Carlton in downtown Sarasota].”

Public and board support

During the May 22 public hearing, three adjacent property owners endorsed Rodriguez’s plans for the hotel.

“Mr. Rodriguez has just been a godsend,” Bernadette Tirpsira told the commissioners. “His existing vacationers are polite and quiet,” she added. “He has stopped noisy parties, constant flow of traffic in and out at all hours and, especially, rat infestation.”

Margot Linn said that before Rodriguez bought the property, it was the scene of prostitution and drug dealing. “Almost everybody I know is in favor of [his] project.”

Henry Rodriguez. Photo from his LInkedIn account

During the June 13 public hearing, Wayne Rasmussen, who lives in the subdivision to the south of the property, did voice the need for a left turn lane at the Stickney Point Road intersection with Avenue B and C, if a new traffic signal is installed there. (The signal has been sought by Benderson Development Co. in conjunction with its proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use project at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.)

A canal closes off his neighborhood’s access to other streets, he pointed out. “Avenue C ends up being the only way out for hundreds of homes.”

One person waiting to turn left from Avenue B and C onto Stickney Point road could block other traffic through several cycles, Rasmussen added. “I just wanted to bring that up.”
“I appreciate you taking the time to come today,” Detert replied. “Our staff hears you.”

After the public hearing, Commissioner Charles Hines made the motions to approve both the creation of the new zoning district and to approve the rezoning of Rodriguez’s property to that district. Commissioner Alan Maio seconded it. The motion passed 4-0, with Commissioner Michael Moran absent because of a death in the family.

On May 22, Maio referenced the speakers’ approbation for Rodriguez’s plans, including Tirpsira’s comment that Rodriguez has been a “godsend” to the neighborhood. “Nothing else needs to be said,” Maio said.

“I’ve just never seen, to-date, such a rehab” as Rodriguez already has achieved on the site, Moran added that day. He characterized the hotel atmosphere as “that Old Florida feel,” noting that he and his wife had toured the property.

“I think the lesson here is that the scale is completely appropriate for this area,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo pointed out.