Participants in latest workshop on Kompothecras hotel proposal decry its timing, without amendments to county’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations already in place to make project feasible

Transportation issues remain another top concern

This is the Binding Development Concept Plan for the hotel that the County Commission approved on Nov. 2, 2021. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Transportation concerns and general opposition to the fact that the event was even taking place were the most common themes expressed by Sarasota County residents who participated in the recent county-required Neighborhood Workshop on the revived plans for a 120-room, seven-story hotel on the southern part of Siesta Key.

With 108 people listening at one point to the Zoom session, agents acting on behalf Siesta Key developer Gary Kompothecras explained that only minor tweaks of the Development Concept Plan for the hotel had taken place since the County Commission approved the project on Nov. 2, 2021.

Two legal challenges that went against the county on that decision — and a similar vote the board members took a week earlier — have made it necessary for representatives of Kompothecras and the developers of a high-rise hotel on Calle Miramar to host new workshops this year.

Nonetheless, as demonstrated by the comments during the March 20 Zoom session on Kompothecras’ proposal, Siesta residents remain adamantly against both those revived projects.

All but one of the remarks made before Howard Weisberg was called on, late during that session, prompted him to tell Sarasota attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm and Robert “Bo” Medred, head of Genesis Planning and Development, in Bradenton, that it “clearly sounds like nobody really wants you to do this.”

“Are you aware that this is something that all people living here don’t want?” Weisberg asked the two men, referring to the hotel proposed at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road.

“I would tend to take issue with that,” Medred responded, adding that he and Bailey have heard people advocating for the hotel as a place where their friends and family members could stay on the barrier island.

“There are people on the Key and off the Key,” Medred added, “that look forward to this.”

“It’s just been my experience that quite a few people are not happy,” Weisberg told Medred.

“Thank you,” Medred replied before calling on the next individual with a question.

Another participant, Cindy Alexander, stressed that the high-rise hotels would change “something that’s very special about Siesta Key. … We do not want the slow-culture, family environment … to become the Palm Beach, the Miami. We don’t need that.”

At the outset of the workshop, Bailey explained that the formal new application for Kompothecras’ hotel would be submitted to county staff in the not-too-distant future; county regulations required that the session that evening be conducted first.

This is a view of the hotel planned on Old Stickney Point Road, looking southwest from the intersection of Peacock Road and Old Stickney Point Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As was the case in 2021, Bailey noted, Kompothecras is seeking Special Exception approval from the County Commission to exceed the 35-foot maximum height for structures built on parcels zoned Commercial General (CG) or Commercial Intensive (CI) in the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) and for the inclusion of “transient accommodations” — the county term for hotel and motel rooms — on such property.

At its tallest, the hotel would reach 83 feet, Bailey said.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” he added, referencing the famous quip of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member Yogi Berra.

The site of the hotel comprises 1.17 acres, Bailey pointed out, a fact also unchanged since 2021.

In response to a question about why Kompothecras settled on 120 rooms, Bailey said, “Our client has been looking at this for 10 years …” In 2015, he added, Kompothecras had a study akin to a market analysis completed in regard to the feasibility of the hotel. However, Bailey noted, the resulting report is “not part of the county review process.”

Parking garage plans remain valid

Further, Bailey reminded the workshop participants that, during the Nov. 2, 2021 public hearing on the hotel project, the County Commission also approved a 54-foot-tall, five-level parking garage on the former Bank of America property located between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road. Designed to hold 203 vehicles, Medred said, that structure would be the space where all of the required parking spots for the hotel would be located except for 58 on the hotel site itself.

The garage approval remains valid, Bailey pointed out, though attorney Susan Schoettle-Gumm — who worked in the Office of the County Attorney for a number of years in the past — questioned the authority for that.

This aerial view shows the proposed new hotel on Old Stickney Point Road and a five-story parking garage on Stickney Point Road, with the Gulf of Mexico west of the sites. The County Commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 2, 2021 to approve the garage and the hotel. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Schoettle-Gumm was referring to the fact that county regulations call for Special Exceptions to remain valid for only two years. That factor prompted both the Kompothecras project team and the one planning the Calle Miramar hotel to ask the County Commission in December 2023 to waive the necessity for their having to wait another year to file new applications for their proposals. (The commission vote on the requests was a unanimous “Yes.”)

“I see no provisions in the [County] Code that would have allowed that [Special Exception approval for the garage] to have been extended by the [county] zoning administrator,” Schoettle-Gumm told Bailey.

Bailey explained that a Florida law allows such an extension in an “emergency situation.” The developer has the ability to advise the affected local government of circumstances necessitating more time for the Special Exception to be used, he added.

When Schoettle-Gumm asked him what emergency was cited in regard to the parking garage project, Bailey responded that multiple weather events comprised the emergencies. He cited Hurricane Ian in September 2022, Tropical Storm Nicole in November 2022 and Hurricane Idalia in August 2023.

She told him she would like to see the documentation.

“So you all cobbled together every month that there was a totally unrelated emergency to delay the expiration of the Special Exceptions,” she continued. “Is that basically what happened?”

“Yes,” Bailey replied. “That’s a fairly common practice,” he said.

“You’ve done something with no notice to the public at all,” Schoettle-Gumm pointed out to him.

Bailey indicated that he would provide the documentation to her.

This graphic, presented to the County Commission in November 2021, showed existing conditions as a driver used Stickney Point Road to travel west onto Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response to questions posed by Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), and her husband, Robert, acting treasurer of the nonprofit, Bailey also acknowledged that the ultimate approval of the revived high-rise hotel on the southern portion of the Key is dependent upon the County Commission’s approval of proposed new county Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Code amendments submitted to the county Planning Division staff on Feb. 28 on behalf of Benderson Development Co. (The Unified Development Code — UDC — contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations for the county. The Comprehensive Plan is the guide to how growth can take place in the county.)

In 2021, the Calle Miramar hotel project team won County Commission approval of a UDC amendment that eliminated the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes throughout most of the county. That allowed the hotel developers to exceed the 26-room cap that had been in place for most parcels zoned CG and CI, as long as the majority of the rooms had no kitchens. Like Kompothecras’ site, the four parcels planned for the Calle Miramar hotel are zoned Commercial General.

It took only three commission votes to modify the UDC to make that change, as plaintiffs in the litigation involving the two hotels pointed out. Instead, to approve a change to the Comprehensive Plan, four of the five commissioners would have had to cast “Yes” votes. The UDC amendment won approval on a 3-2 vote, with then-Commissioners Nancy Detert and Christian Ziegler in opposition. (Commissioners Alan Maio, Michael Moran and Ron Cutsinger cast the “Yes” votes.)

“Wouldn’t it be wise to wait until those [new, proposed Comprehensive Plan and UDC] amendments are actually set,” before applying again for the approval of the hotel, Neal Schleifer, a south Siesta resident who is vice president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, asked Bailey and Medred. “Isn’t it premature to ask for [the Special Exceptions]?”

“It’s premature to have them acted upon,” Bailey replied, but it was not premature to submit the new proposal to county staff for formal review.

Transportation woes

During the workshop, Bailey also pointed out that another traffic impact analysis involving the hotel’s operations must be undertaken, with the results made part of Kompothecras’ formal application for the project.

Schleifer of the Siesta Key Condominium Council stressed the need for that study to focus on the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road, as well. Noting the number of businesses already existing in close proximity to that site, he called the intersection “overused at this point.”

Bailey already had talked about the fact that the closest beach accesses to the hotel site are county Accesses 12 and 13, which are west of the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road. Guests at the hotel would have to cross Midnight Pass Road if they planned to use one of those accesses.

Vehicles prepare to turn right onto Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point Road in late December 2016. File photo

That intersection was part of the traffic analysis for the project as proposed in 2021, Bailey told Schleifer. “We’ll look at that again,” Bailey said, adding that the project team wants pedestrians and bicyclists to be safe.

Tom Surprise, a director of the Siesta Key Association, pointed out that the traffic study undertaken for the previous project application was conducted at a time of day and day of a month that did not reflect how busy the Key could become during the height of tourist season.

Medred explained that county staff members have to approve the methodology for the traffic study. “They set the parameters and the intersections,” as well as the times for the traffic counts, Medred noted; peak traffic times will be the focus, he indicated.

Surprise also took the opportunity to criticize the planned height of the Kompothecras hotel: “Eighty-three feet is not maintaining our little slow, quiet Village atmosphere.”

Medred replied that he was the planner for the Marina Del Sol condominium complex, which stands directly east of Kompothecras’ hotel site. That structure is close to 80 feet in height, Medred noted. Moreover, he continued, the hotel will not be as tall as The Anchorage condominium structure that is north of the hotel site, north of both Old Stickney Point Road and Stickney Point Road.

During a later exchange between the hosts and Joyce Kouba, vice president of the Siesta Key Association, Bailey and Medred talked of the expectation that many of the hotel guests would not use their vehicles during their stay on Siesta Key. Guests will walk, take bicycles or use the Siesta Key Breeze trolley or Uber, for examples, to visit other areas of the island, Bailey and Medred said.

Kouba expressed disbelief that the majority of guests would not want to drive to the mainland to visit attractions while they are in the county.

Yet another workshop participant, Bob Watters, expressed concerns about the potential for traffic accidents because vehicles leaving the hotel property will have to exit onto Peacock Road, and most of them will end up having to make a U-turn, essentially, to get back onto Old Stickney Point Road to head west. (Old Stickney Point Road has a dead end at its eastern limit.)

Bailey reminded Watters that only 58 parking spaces will be provided on the hotel property, adding that valets will park the vehicles driven by guests.

Watters also voiced concerns about potential problems associated with guests having to make a left turn off Stickney Point Road onto Midnight Pass Road and then, almost immediately, a left turn onto Old Stickney Point Road, to reach the hotel. “You’re going to have gridlock at that corner,” Watters pointed out, and that assumption — he stressed — did not take into account the need for vehicles to stop for pedestrians who routinely push the button to allow them to cross the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection.

Bailey again said that the traffic study would incorporate an analysis of that intersection.

Accommodating beach users

This aerial view shows the Kompothecras house, located at 6910 Point of Rocks Road. Beach Access 13 is immediately to the north of it. Image courtesy Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Yet another participant, Eileen Jones, pointed out that Beach Access 12, which is the closest to the hotel site, is mostly surrounded by private property.

(Under Florida law, the only public part of a beach is that seaward of the Mean High Water Line. In recent years, a number of condominium complex managers and homeowners on Siesta’s beaches have erected “No Trespassing” and other signs to delineate the boundaries of their property.)

Jones also inquired whether public restrooms would be added at either access.

Medred responded, “We talked to the client about that …” Kompothecras had pointed out that he owns 200 feet of beach frontage at his home near Beach Access 13, so hotel guests will be able to use that area, Medred said. Further, Kompothecras has “a vested interest in making sure [restrooms] are provided. We talked about that today,” Medred added.