Hurricane evacuation concerns and neighborhood compatibility issues among those requiring more details from project team
Sarasota County staff has found a number of deficiencies in the application for an eight-story, 170-room hotel slated for four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
In a Jan. 13 response to the project team — which includes William Merrill III, a partner with the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota — staff pointed out that the materials the team submitted to the county in December 2020 do not address “all associated Comprehensive Plan Goals, Objectives and Policies.”
Along with the construction plans, the proposal calls for amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Code that would eliminate residential density requirements for any hotel on a barrier island within the county’s jurisdiction.
Among examples cited in regard to the deficiencies, the staff document says, “No analysis has been provided regarding potential impacts to hurricane evacuation and evacuation times. Please provide an analysis of anticipated impacts to the evacuation network both in and out of season as tropical and sub-tropical type systems can appear at any time of the year. It is recommended that you coordinate Sarasota County Emergency Management Staff in developing this analysis.”
Further, staff has raised concerns about transportation issues and how the development would comply with policies regarding neighborhood compatibility and smart-growth planning.
The project team was given a Feb. 12 deadline for its responses to the specific issues staff cited, the News Leader learned.
In regard to the coastal construction and hurricane evacuation issues, the county sufficiency document explains, “The Coastal Disaster Management Chapter [of the Comprehensive Plan] is required by statute for coastal counties. The Core Values of this chapter for Sarasota County include (1) Limiting public expenditures in designated Coastal High-Hazard Area to necessary public services and facilities; (2) Encouraging appropriate land uses and densities in the Coastal High-Hazard Area; (3) Ensuring safe and timely evacuation and sheltering of County residents in event of natural disaster; (4) Providing County residents on-going training opportunities and education in emergency preparedness and timely information in case of a natural disaster.”
The document then points to the following relevant sections of the chapter:
- Coastal [Objective] 1.2 encourages “low-density land uses in the Coastal High-Hazard Area (CHHA) to direct population concentrations away from this area.”
The county’s flood zone map shows most of Siesta Key is in Zone AE. That zone, the county website says, consists of “[a]reas subject to inundation by the 1-percent annual chance floodplain that are determined in the Flood Insurance Study by detailed methods of analyses with Base Flood Elevations (BFE) shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.”
- Policy 1.2.1 says, “Land Development Regulations and limits on urban infrastructure improvements shall both be used to limit development on coastal barrier islands and other high-hazard coastal areas to prevent a concentration of population or excessive expenditure of public and private funds.”
- Policy 1.2.2 notes, “Proposed land use plan amendments in hurricane evacuation zones A and B hurricane — which are designated storm surge areas — may be considered if such increases in density and intensity do not adversely impact hurricane evacuation times …”
- Policy 1.2.3 says, “Encourage hotel/motel development in the storm evacuation zones category C, D and E rather than evacuation zones A and B.
- Coastal Objective 1.3 calls for protecting the public safety during emergency evacuation “by reducing or maintaining emergency evacuation clearance time; maintaining an adequate emergency evacuation roadway system; and ensuring adequate shelter space.”
- Policy 1.3.2 points out that Sarasota County has established a Level of Service (LOS) of 12 hours for emergency evacuation time to in-county shelters in the event of a warning about the approach of a Category 5 hurricane. However, the policy adds, the 2010 Statewide Regional Evacuation Study for the Southwest Florida Region modeled an emergency evacuation time to in-county shelter, in the case of a Category 5 hurricane, as being 65 hours.
- Policy 1.3.3 notes that Sarasota County has established a Level of Service (LOS) of 16 hours emergency evacuation time to the county line in the case of issuance of a warning of the approach of a Category 5 hurricane. Yet, it adds, that 2010 state study for Southwest Florida put the time at 69 hours.
Siesta Key residents have decried the project team’s proposal for getting rid of the residential density consideration for hotels on the island in large part because of traffic congestion and the inability of the county to widen the road network.
County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson has pointed out to the County Commission on a number of occasions that Siesta’s roads are constrained, and he has said property owners are reluctant to allow any of their land to be used for transportation modifications.
Commissioners have indicated a reluctance to use eminent domain powers to try to improve areas of particular concern.
During the Jan. 11 Neighborhood Workshop that county regulations required the developers to conduct on their plans for the hotel, some participants stressed their worries about hurricane evacuations, with potentially 340 people — two per room — in the hotel.
The group that owns the land proposed for the hotel is based in New York City, the application says; the principal is Louise Khaghan. The long-time lessee of the property is Robert T. Anderson Jr., a RE/MAX real estate agent whose company SKH 1 LLC is listed on the application.
Land use concerns
In regard to Future Land Use issues that need to be addressed, the staff letter notes the following:
- Policy 1.2.6 discourages the intensification of land uses within Hurricane Evacuation Zones A and B.
- Policy 1.2.17 points out that, “As reflected in Sarasota County Zoning standards, potential incompatibilities between land uses due to the density, intensity, character or type of use proposed, shall be mitigated through site and architectural design techniques including but not limited to any or all of the following: the provision and location of open space, perimeter buffers, landscaping and berms; the location and screening of sources of light, noise, mechanical equipment, refuse areas, delivery areas and storage areas; and the location of road access to minimize adverse impacts, increased building setbacks, step downs in building heights.
During the Jan. 11 Neighborhood Workshop, residents of Beach Villas at the Oasis, which is immediately adjacent to the proposed hotel site, voiced concerns about a number of issues, including the fact that the hotel would tower over their property. Other people expressed worries about whether noise emanating from a rooftop bar would disturb residents.
Attorney Merrill explained that, since the goal would be to ensure the best possible experience for the guests, he was certain the bar would not be a source of noise complaints.
- Policy 2.3.7 says, “In established residential areas, incompatible land uses shall be discouraged if traffic is generated on abutting local streets in amounts that would substantially and adversely affect traffic flow, traffic control and public safety.”
Again, during the Jan. 11 Neighborhood Workshop, Calle Miramar homeowners expressed worries about the traffic associated with the hotel creating congestion on a street that mostly has residential properties. Attorney Merrill responded that he expected guests would arrive and leave at a wide variety of times, thus decreasing the likelihood of problems. Merrill also noted his anticipation that guests would walk or use public transportation or services such as Uber, leaving their own vehicles in the hotel parking garage for most of their stays.
- Policy 2.9.3 points out, “The rezoning of additional lands on the Barrier Islands for commercial or office uses shall be prohibited.
- Future Land Use Objective 3.2, which encourages and incentivizes redevelopment opportunities, “to transform underutilized properties and/or properties struggling with economic viability.”
- Policy 3.2.5 says, “The smart growth principles that will be utilized by the County in encouraging redevelopment are as follows:” provide a mix of compatible uses and activities; create a range of housing opportunities and choices; create walkable communities; provide multiple modes of transportation; public infrastructure provided as a cooperative private-public venture; foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place; make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective; protect and enhance existing neighborhoods; provide open space, natural beauty, and environmental areas; and encourage community and stakeholder collaboration and participation in the development process.”
County staff wrote, “Please explain, where applicable, how the proposed project is compatible with these smart growth principles regarding redevelopment in this policy.”
Other transportation concerns and Fire Department access
In regard to transportation, staff wrote, “As part of the explanation regarding land use patterns and transportation coordination, please also address pedestrian movements and potential safety improvements that might be generated by the ultimate development of a hotel. The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization has identified the area between Tenacity Lane and Hour Glass Way on Siesta Key, including the area where this hotel may be built, as an area of concern for pedestrian and traffic movements and conducted a Desktop Survey of the area in 2018. The survey provided potential opportunities for improvements to make the area safer for non-vehicular and vehicular movements. Please consider how the hotel project could possibly work with the County to incorporate some of these safety recommendations, especially for hotel guests desiring to access amenities on both sides of Ocean [Boulevard] and Beach [Road], including beach access.”
Finally, Sarasota County Fire Department representatives offered a number of comments in regard to details that must be shown on the “Master Utility plan.”
Additionally, that document notes, “Fire hydrant placement and requirements must comply with [national standards],” and “Care shall be taken to locate hydrants at intersections or property corners. Fire hydrants shall be conspicuous and accessible.”
Further, the developer must “[p]rovide turning templates showing traffic flow for fire apparatus having an overall length of 47 [feet] (including platform overhang) …”
According to national standards, another comment points out, “Every building shall be accessible by fire department apparatus by means of roadways having an all-weather driving surface of not less than 20 ft. of unobstructed width, having the ability to withstand the live loads of fire apparatus (32 tons), and having a minimum of 13 feet 6 inches of vertical clearance.”