Many participants voice concerns about exacerbated traffic congestion and noise from proposed restaurant
The man behind plans for a fourth hotel on Siesta Key heard plenty of complaints and concerns about his project this week, as he hosted a county-required neighborhood workshop.
Nonetheless, Dave Balot did win kudos from the president of a nonprofit organization created last year to oppose projects that have been designed to exceed the current zoning regulations.
Mark Spiegel of the Siesta Key Coalition complimented Balot for leading the June 9 discussion. During four earlier Neighborhood Workshops, involving three other hotels proposed for the barrier island, Spiegel noted that land-use attorneys representing the developers were “front and center.”
In his opening remarks, Balot explained that he moved to Florida in 1997 and is the father of four children. He and his family lived on the Key about 20 years ago, he added, but — especially because of the drawbridge openings — he and his wife and children relocated to the mainland. He and his wife had too many problems trying to get their offspring to school and sporting activities on time, Balot said.
However, he continued, they are building a new home on Siesta that they plan to use on weekends and for vacations. Then, after his children have finished high school, Balot indicated, he and his family again will live on the island full-time.
“I have a great respect for Siesta Key,” Balot emphasized to the workshop attendees, who participated via Zoom. “I understand what I propose may have a lasting effect on the Key.”
Since 2017, he added, he and his brother have been silent partners in the company that owns the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites in Siesta Village. He also is a member of the Siesta Key Association, he noted, and he even has contributed funds to the Coalition as it fights the much larger hotel projects unveiled for the Key over the past year.
Although he and his project team had no renderings to show the participants, they did present conceptual plans for the two levels of parking and the three levels of the hotel, which would stand about 54 feet above grade, at the roofline. The formal request to the county would be for a Special Exception to allow the structure to be 50 feet tall, instead of 35, as allowed in the
Commercial General zone of the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) regulations, Balot’s attorney, Scott E. Rudacille of the Blalock Walters firm in Sarasota and Bradenton, explained.
The team also is proposing an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations, Rudacille added. That would double the density for “transient accommodations” units — what county staff calls hotel and motel rooms — allowed per acre in the Commercial General district of the SKOD. Instead of 13 units per acre if more than 25% of the rooms have a kitchen, the number would rise to 26. For a hotel with up to 25% of the rooms containing kitchens, the figure would climb from 26 to 52 units per acre.
The changes would apply to properties comprising at least 1 acre, according to a document the team filed with county Planning Division staff.
A companion amendment has been proposed to county Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the Comprehensive Plan. That policy was enacted to control residential density and intensity on the barrier islands in the unincorporated part of the county.
The hotel located at 5810 Midnight Pass Road has been designed with 100 rooms, Balot said. The parcel comprises 2.15 acres.
Mark Sultana of DSDG Architects in Sarasota, another team member, pointed out that the site, where a Wells Fargo bank stood for years, is surrounded on all sides by residential multi-family zoning. “This property is kind of an anomaly in the zoning in this area,” Sultana noted.
Showing the participants the concept plans for the parking levels and hotel floors, Sultana said, “We want to keep our height as low as we possibly can.”
The first floor would be mostly parking, he continued, except for the lobby and a valet drop-off area.
The second level also would be dedicated primarily to parking, Sultana said, though the plans also call for a restaurant and bar to be located over the lobby. A meeting/conference room would be placed on that level, too, he noted. It would be close to the kitchen, so catering could be provided, Balot added.
The third floor would have a courtyard design, Sultana said, with a pool and amenities in the center and the rooms on the north and south sides of that area.
That floor would have an open deck with a restaurant and bar, as well, he said.
Levels four and five would have only hotel rooms.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has specified that the base flood elevation at the site is 10 feet, Sultana continued. Regulations require the addition of 1 foot to that, putting what he called the “design flood elevation” at 11 feet.
During exchanges with Spiegel of the Siesta Key Coalition, Balot and Sultana explained that although the hotel would not be quite 50 feet tall, county staff suggested that, for the purposes of the application, the team round up the number to 50.
Originally, Balot’s team was seeking a UDC text amendment that would allow a 35-foot hotel above two levels of parking to be constructed in a Commercial General/SKOD zoning district.
However, after talking with Spiegel and leaders of other island organizations, Balot told the workshop participants that he chose to modify the plans so as not to set such a precedent for the island.
Spiegel noted that the Coalition members have found “plenty of examples of great boutique hotels” in Florida, South Carolina and Southern California that would be compliant with the existing zoning regulations.
Initially, Balot said, his plans called for 112 rooms. After talking with Spiegel and leaders of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Balot said, he settled on approximately 100. “This is what I felt, at the very least, that I could put my money into and make it work.”
In response to a related question, Balot noted, “The other boutique hotels are more high-end, in line with Westin or a Ritz-Carlton.” He wants his hotel, he added, “to be a family-friendly place [where] I could show up in flip-flops, cargo shorts and a T-shirt.” He needs 100 rooms to make the financial plan work, he stressed, because those will not be expensive luxury suites.
When Richard Aginian asked what his “Plan B” is if the County Commission turns down the hotel proposal, Balot replied, “I don’t have a Plan B as of right now.” Potentially, he said, he could construct retail businesses on the property.
“You’ve got a business model problem,” one participant told Balot.
“I personally believe the Key would benefit from a hotel,” Balot pointed out more than once during the workshop, but “maybe not [one with] 170 rooms.
The team proposing a new hotel on Calle Miramar, near Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, wants to construct 170 rooms. Additionally, Mike Holderness, operator of Siesta Key Beach Resort, has applied for an expansion of that hotel from 55 rooms up to potentially 170.
In response to another question, Balot said the minimum age for a guest renting a room would be 21.
Dan Curtin brought up what he called a rumor that chiropractor and business owner Gary Kompothecras, and or Kompothecras’ family members and associates, are investors in Balot’s project.
That is not true, Balot replied, and he has no business interest in Kompothecras’ hotel and parking garage plans, which have been designed for the Stickney Point Road/Old Stickney Point Road area of the island.
However, Balot said he did work for Kompothecras for 19 years, finally leaving that employment in 2015.
As with the three other proposed hotel projects, traffic was the focus of numerous questions and comments during the June 9 workshop.
Lourdes Ramirez, who was president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) for many years, told Balot, “We don’t need one more [unit of] density.”
Referencing his comments about moving off the island, she told him that traffic is even worse now. Moreover, she stressed of the land at 5810 Midnight Pass Road, “You’re in a very congested area of Siesta Key,” near the public beach and Fire Station 13.
When she asked whether his team would conduct a traffic study, Balot said that county staff did not require that, but his team “felt it was prudent to get one anyway …” He just received a copy of it the previous day, he added; it would be turned over to staff, and he would provide it to the SKA, the Coalition and other organizations on the Key.
The hotel would create less traffic, Balot pointed out, than the bank did when it was open. The number of vehicles associated with the hotel also would be “significantly lower” than if he built retail structures on the land, he said.
As a partner in Siesta Key Beach Resorts, Balot added, he has seen that most people stay for three days and do not use their cars. Although traffic congestion is a concern for them, he added, “Parking is a bigger issue. … I’d say 80% of the cars never leave the parking lot.”
He believes the primary contributor to the congestion is “the traffic coming off and on the Key,” Balot said.
Ramirez questioned his assertion that the bank had higher traffic counts than the hotel would.
Balot replied that he had spoken with the person who managed the Wells Fargo branch before it closed. That person told him, he said, that between 150 and 300 cars per day came to the bank site. “That’s per day,” he stressed.
Then Frank Domingo of the Stantec consulting firm in Sarasota, who previously worked with transportation issues as a county employee, talked of studying traffic congestion on barrier islands “for quite some time.”
He learned, Domingo pointed out, that nearly 30% of the traffic in beach communities consists of drivers looking for parking spaces. With plans for about 70 public spaces in the hotel garage, he added, he expects fewer traffic problems on Siesta, overall.
Further, Domingo noted, “The biggest trip generator [on the island] is actually the beach itself.”
Eileen Jones, who said she lives in the Dolphin Bay condominium complex across Midnight Pass Road from Balot’s property, talked of a different traffic concern. She predicted that, in an effort to reach the public beach as quickly as possible, hotel guests will use the center turn lane on Midnight Pass Road to skirt long lines of vehicles. Drivers already make illegal use of that center lane, she added. Residents of Dolphin Bay who use the center lane to try to move into traffic on the road “almost crash into oncoming [vehicles],” she pointed out.
Balot replied that perhaps he could get county approval for students to paint murals of seagulls on the southbound lane of Midnight Pass Road, so hotel staff could tell guests, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
Another participant, Laura Haas, told Balot, “I strongly encourage you to get a shuttle” to ferry guests back and forth between the hotel and the public beach.
“We absolutely plan on having shuttles,” Balot said.
Worries related to the restaurant and bar
SKA President Catherine Luckner told Balot that “the last thing [residents] want to see on the Key is another bar.” County regulations allow such establishments to remain open until 2:30 a.m., she noted. Her concern, she said, is that the hotel is surrounded by residential properties.
Balot indicated that, to be transparent about his plans, he used the word “bar” in regard to his plans. However, he emphasized, his goal is to provide a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, just like the Siesta Key Oyster Bar or Gecko’s. “I have no intention of having a Beach Club. I have no intention of having a Crescent Club. … The No. 1 business there is going to be a hotel,” and hotel guests want quiet at night, he added.
The second-floor restaurant would be enclosed with hurricane windows, Balot said. On the third floor, he noted, “I want [the dining area] to be more of open air space …”
Asked if he planned to have bands perform, he said he did not. However, he indicated the potential of hiring persons to play a piano for the patrons. “I think [that is] fun.”
Moreover, Balot stressed, “I hope to have it quiet by 8:30 [p.m.].”
Several speakers voiced concerns that, while Balot’s intentions seem good, a future owner of the property could change the operations, resulting in problems for the surrounding residents.
Balot explained that he had talked with his attorney about the potential of adding stipulations to his plans to ensure such issues would never arise.