New zoning district and redevelopment plan for Stickney Point Road hotel win Planning Commission approval

County Commission to address Siesta Key Palms proposals on May 22

A unit at the Siesta Key Palms Hotel faces Dawn Street. Rachel Hackney

After winning plaudits from the neighbors and from Sarasota County Planning Commission members, a proposal to redevelop an old hotel property on Stickney Point Road near Siesta Key will undergo final review by the County Commission.

With a unanimous vote on April 5, the Planning Commission recommended the County Commission first approve the addition of a new zoning district — Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development (BRR/PD) — and then the rezoning of an acre of property between Stickney Point Road and Dawn Street, so the owner can redevelop the historic Siesta Key Palms Hotel at 1802 Stickney Point Road.

The County Commission is scheduled to hear the petition on May 22, county Planner Steve Kirk told The Sarasota News Leader.

Sarasota developer Henry Rodriguez explained to the Planning Commission on April 5 that he bought the property in 2016. He has become familiar, he said, with “a trend throughout the travel industry [that] encourages rehabilitation of old … hotels into chic, mid-century … experiences.”

The travel industry is going through a bit of an evolution, he continued, moving away from brands such as Marriott and Holiday Inn. His hotel, he added, “provides an “Old Florida experience.”

Since he has been renovating the property, Rodriguez said, it has been winning rave reviews on internet sites. In fact, he added, those comments “have been just phenomenal.”

However, he told the commissioners, when he broached the idea of making further changes to the property, given the existing zoning of the site as Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI) and Residential Multi-Family (RMF) 4, he found no way to proceed with the vision he had. “To my amazement,” he said, the only option was to use the RMF zoning to build a new structure that would be about 110 feet high — 85 feet over parking — and that was not desirable. “I wanted to keep the integrity of the Old Florida experience.”

The Siesta Key Palms Hotel has an ‘Old Florida’ atmosphere, owner Henry Rodriguez says. Rachel Hackney photo

The structures date to the 1950s, Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Bradenton — who has worked on the project on behalf of Rodriguez — told the Planning Commission. “These had gone into a rundown condition.”

“Henry has developed a relationship with the neighbors,” Medred noted, with a number of them having provided letters of support for the redevelopment. “They love what he has done” with the landscaping and hotel units on Dawson Street since he bought the property, Medred added.

Three of those neighbors who addressed the board during the public hearing praised Rodriguez. “It was a dead property that he brought back to life,” said Bob Spinelli, speaking on behalf of the adjacent Key Point Village Condominium Association. Key Point Village is located at 1754 Stickney Point Road.

Judith Winslow, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, she said, found the property “quite undesirable” before Rodriguez bought it. “He’s not looking to over-develop,” she told the Planning Commission. “He’s looking to truly revitalize [it] and be a value add in the area, which very few developers have in mind these days.

Trying to find the best approach

County staff had worked with him and Medred on a proposal to modify a zoning district known as Tourist Resort that was made inactive during a 2003 Zoning Ordinance revision, Rodriguez said. With new the BRR/PD zoning district, he added, he would be able to keep the atmosphere of the hotel and enlarge it without any high-rise structures.

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

As Medred explained it to the board, he and county zoning staff incorporated elements from the Tourist Resort district into the new BRR/PD, making the requirements so narrow that they would apply only to specific older properties on the mainland. The zoning could not be used on any of the barrier islands, Medred stressed. It would allow no more than 75 rooms and no height above 35 feet in the redevelopment of older resort properties.

The staff report prepared for the Planning Commission meeting explained that, in searching the records of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, staff found 62 properties being used as hotels, motels or other lodging with no more than 40 units. Of those, 54 were either in jurisdictions outside county control or on the barrier islands. Thus, the report said, only eight properties are eligible for rezoning to the BRR/PD district.

“We took the body of it,” Medred said of the former Tourist Resort district language, “and began to see how it would fit into the redevelopment of existing properties … As you know, we’re losing a lot of those nostalgic old hotels to redevelopment.”

“In … 30-some years” working on land development issues, Medred noted, as far as he could remember, this is the first time he has been involved in the creation of a new zoning district. “We went through many iterations of it,” he added, referring to his discussions with county Planner Kirk Crane and county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson.

Crane, who made the staff presentation to the Planning Commission, explained that the property has six multi-family units and eight hotel/motel units on adjoining properties between Stickney Point Road and Dawn Street, near Siesta Key. Rodriguez owns a hotel adjacent to the site, Crane noted, but that was not a factor in the issues before the board that night.

“Basically, these are old properties … [that] are very hard to redevelop because they cannot meet setbacks; they cannot meet buffering requirements,” Crane continued.

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

Rodriguez plans to construct one new, three-story building, Crane said, which would be located at the intersection of Avenue B and Dawn Street. Eventually, Crane pointed out, plans call for the demolition of the two-story building on the property so a new pool and spa area can be constructed in that space.

The total number of units in the redeveloped hotel would be 30, he said, and the parking area would be expanded to include 30 spaces.

Further, Crane pointed out, Rodriguez plans to extend the existing 6-foot fence that separates the property from Stickney Point Road. It would go all the way down to the Avenue B and C intersection, Crane said.

One of the stipulations Rodriguez has agreed to as part of the binding site plan, Crane added, is the donation of the space needed for a new Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus stop that will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Medred also noted that the five current access points to the property would be closed, with a new entrance from Stickney Point Road at Avenue B. As part of that process, he continued, Rodriguez had agreed to a staff stipulation calling for the widening of Avenue B in that area to the standard street width, along with the repaving of that part of the road.

During the public hearing, speakers aired only two notes of caution. One asked for a left-turn lane for traffic trying to exit the hotel property onto Stickney Point Road, heading west. Medred told the Planning Commission Rodriguez would try to accommodate that request.

Second, Rhana Bazzini urged the commissioners to keep in mind, “This is not being proposed in isolation.”

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

The site, she said, is directly across from the proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use development, which calls for 479 dwelling units and 140,000 square feet of retail and other commercial space, including restaurants. The biggest issue, she pointed out, is traffic congestion in that area.

After the presentations and public comments, Planning Commissioner Laura Benson asked Zoning Administrator Thompson about the potential for other older hotel properties to seek the new BRR/PD zoning. “If [one] were to ‘check all the boxes,’” Benson said, would a Planning Commission or County Commission member have the flexibility to say, “No” to it?

“You still have your findings of fact,” Thompson replied, referring to the routine staff review about whether a project meets the criteria for the rezoning it is seeking.

Thompson pointed out that staff supports the proposed new zoning district, re-emphasizing Medred’s earlier remarks about the very limited number of properties to which the zoning could be applied. “Most of the individuals I’ve dealt with on hotels need more than 75 rooms to make [them] profitable.”

Planning Commissioner Ron Cutsinger ultimately made the motion to recommend to the County Commission the approval of both the new zoning district and the rezoning of Rodriguez’s property. Commissioner Robert Morris seconded it.

“This is a solution to a longstanding problem,” Cutsinger said. Further, he commended Rodriguez for his outreach to the neighbors.

Morris added, “I think it’s a good thing for the county” to offer such opportunities for redevelopment.

The motion passed unanimously.