Representatives of Gary Kompothecras explain that only a ‘boutique’ hotel would be allowed, and only three island parcels have the necessary zoning
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Dec. 23 to clarify that the site of the former Fandango Cafe is part of the available Commercial General acreage on Old Stickney Point Road.
Although only a dozen members of the public showed up for a Dec. 7 neighborhood workshop on the subject, speakers were adamant that they do not want to see a hotel bring more density and intensity to Siesta Key.
The focus of the session at St. Boniface Episcopal Church formally was an application submitted to Sarasota County for a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would change Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 to allow for property on barrier islands that are zoned Commercial General (CG) to be redeveloped to provide transient accommodations.
Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning & Development in Sarasota and Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker law firm had scheduled the workshop to discuss the proposal on behalf of their client, Siesta Acquisitions LLC. (According to the Florida Division of Corporations website, the manager of that entity is Dr. Gary Kompothecras; he is a chiropractor best known for his “1-800-Ask-Gary” advertising for medical referrals to his chain of clinics.)
Past County Commission candidate and former Siesta Key Association (SKA) president Lourdes Ramirez, current SKA Director Joe Volpe, two SKA members — Jeanne and Bill Francisco — and another Siesta resident, Rosemary Bloch, all voiced concerns that any hotel project ultimately resulting from the Comprehensive Plan could increase the amount of traffic and demands on other island infrastructure. Ramirez told Bailey that she wanted to convey to him what county staff tells her whenever she complains about the insufficient number of parking spaces at Siesta Public Beach: “‘There’s no way you can ever accommodate all the needs for parking [at the beach].’” Therefore, Ramirez added, “There’s no way you can accommodate all the needs for hotels on Siesta Key.”
Volpe and Jeanne Francisco especially voiced frustration with the fact that no specific site had been identified for a potential project.
Medred explained that only three CG sites on the Key could be redeveloped for a hotel. Siesta Village has approximately 16 to 17 acres, Medred said; the Wells Fargo parcel on Midnight Pass Road consists of about 2 acres; and about 11 or 12 acres on Old Stickney Point Road, including the site where the former Fandango Café building stands.
Medred and Bailey also emphasized that only about 1% of the land on Siesta Key is zoned CG.
“No one wants a hotel in the Village,” Francisco said.
He and Bailey could not disclose a site at this point, Medred replied. “The good news is that at some point, a site will be identified and then you can come in and say, ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ based upon that.”
“Our client does not have an identified piece of property yet,” Bailey added.
“There’s no shortage of rooms on the island, except for maybe a very tiny period [of time each season],” Volpe responded. “There’s too many unanswered questions at this moment,” he continued, for the SKA members “to give our blessing.”
Conversely, former SKA Director Bob Waechter talked of the need for redevelopment from an economic standpoint and to rid the island of what he and Medred both referred to as “blighted” areas, including — as Waechter noted — part of Old Stickney Point Road, especially in the section where Fandango’s operated.
Although he arrived just as the workshop was concluding, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chair Mark Smith offered even stronger support for a hotel project. “It’s better for the Key to have hotels than people renting out their houses or rooms in their houses,” he told The Sarasota News Leader.
The Comprehensive Plan amendment tentatively is scheduled to be on the County Commission’s Jan. 10 Consent Agenda of routine business items, county Planner Brett Harrington explained at the beginning of the workshop. That will enable the board to decide whether to allow its review to go forward instead of its having to await the normal spring timeframe established for such amendments to start the approval process.
It then would have to go through Planning Commission and County Commission public hearings — as well as state review — before it could be adopted, he added. That typically takes four to six months, Harrington said, “if everything goes smoothly.”
Bailey and Medred stressed that only if the amendment won approval could a hotel project be proposed. Then that plan would have to be discussed in a neighborhood workshop and undergo Planning Commission and County Commission public hearings.
“From last night, it was evident that the stakeholders would like more information,” Bailey said in a Dec. 8 telephone interview with the News Leader. “What we want to do is flesh out the details,” he added, noting that he would be in contact with the SKA about scheduling a presentation to its members in the future.
The beginning of the process
“The only thing we are proposing tonight … is focused on the addition of this language here,” Medred said during his presentation. He was referring to the proposed change to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. The sentence, as amended, would say, “The intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989, except that with respect to i.) lands zoned CG as of that date being redeveloped to provide transient accommodations, or ii.) lands zoned [Residential Multi-Family] as of that date and consistently so thereafter, a non-conforming duplex whose density exceeds the density restrictions of the zoning regulations and restrictions may be rebuilt within the footprint of the structure, or a non-conforming multi-family structure may be demolished and a duplex rebuilt in its place within the prior footprint of the multi-family structure without violating this policy.” [The proposed new language is underlined.]
The county’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted prior to Hurricane Andrew’s landfall in 1991, Medred pointed out. The goal of that policy was to reduce issues associated with hurricane evacuation and disaster mitigation, he added. “Now … with 24-hour TV, we know five to seven days in advance [if a hurricane is coming].”
Yet, that policy “[has] been very effective in not increasing the residential densities on the Key,” he said. “What I would suggest to you [is that] it’s had a very quiet and — I would even suggest — … a detrimental effect upon the existing CG areas.” He lived on the island in 1981, he continued. “Very little has changed as far as design and innovation for any building construction within the existing CG areas.”
“Nothing against bars,” Medred continued, “but we don’t want to create ourselves into the next Panama City or [Fort] Lauderdale or the old Daytona Beach.”
Medred also stressed that no beachfront hotel could be built if the amendment were approved.
Moreover, Bailey noted that the island has a number of “tired old structures that don’t conform to [Federal Emergency Management Area regulations], in terms of elevation; don’t conform to [Florida Department of Environmental Protection] requirements, don’t conform to the new Florida Building Code that was adopted after Hurricane Andrew. … So you want to encourage redevelopment.”
If a hotel is built on Siesta Key, he continued, “it’s not going to be new development popping out of the ground … It’s not going to be a high-rise, and it’s not going to be on the beach. … It will necessarily be a boutique hotel … that will be replacing some pretty intense existing development.” He pointed out that it would not even be as tall as the existing condominium towers on the Gulf of Mexico.
Medred also stressed that Future Land Use Policy 2.9.3 in the county’s Comprehensive Plan prohibits rezoning of lands on the barrier islands for commercial or office uses.
Furthermore, he said, putting a hotel in a CG zone on the island would necessitate approval of a special exception.
When Medred and Bailey asked for comments, Ramirez pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan allows for transient accommodations to have up to 26 units per acre on the island — without a kitchen — and height up to 85 feet, through the County Commission’s granting of a special exception.
(In response to a News Leader question, Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson said in a Dec. 8 telephone interview that 35 feet is the maximum height allowed in a CG zone, without a special exception.)
If Medred and Bailey checked with firms on the Key, Ramirez said, they would learn that the island has “tons of condos that you can rent by the night.”
As for the policy Medred had cited as a prohibition against the rezoning of residential parcels for commercial purposes, Ramirez pointed out that the County Commission had taken a number of actions within the past few years to change parts of the Comprehensive Plan that previous boards had insisted never would be altered. Among those was the section regarding the 2050 Plan that governs new development east of Interstate 75, she added.
Noting that he has worked with a number of hotel projects, Bailey told Ramirez, “Hotel [corporations] will tell you that in order to have that synergy … as a rule of thumb, you’ve got to have at least 100 … rooms.” Therefore, he continued, a developer on the island could assemble 4 acres and create a hotel with 104 rooms, without any kitchens.
“That’s fine,” she replied.
“That hasn’t occurred,” he pointed out, noting, “For some reason, Sarasota County has applied a residential metric to a commercial use [in regard to units per acre], and that obviously has not worked.”
“What you’re telling me is that we should get behind this [amendment] to allow you to increase the density,” Volpe said. “Right now, if there is an emergency during peak season, you have a hell of a time getting an ambulance off the island.”
Medred explained that in comparing residential density to hotel density, a hotel means a “fraction of the trips” for vehicles compared to those generated by a bar, for example.
Most hotels have a restaurant and a bar, Volpe replied.
Mike Cloonen told Bailey and Medred he has been visiting Siesta Key for 10 years and is considering purchasing property on the island. “I’ve traveled the whole world. Siesta Key — it just keeps dragging me back. … You’ve got the most gorgeous beaches in the world [and] beautiful sunsets. … It’s quieter; it’s a little quainter.”
“I’m surprised that there are so few people here tonight,” Jeanne Francisco said. When she learned about the hotel proposal, she added, “The first thing I thought about is the ugly, out-of-control mess that’s become downtown Sarasota. … Don’t do that to Siesta Key.”