Planning Commission expected to address the issue on Dec. 7
Editor’s note: This article was updated on the morning of Nov. 10 to correct the name of the condominium complex near the old Fandango Cafe site.
On behalf of the owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille, Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker law firm has filed a proposed Sarasota County zoning text amendment that would give the County Commission final say over how far certain new commercial structures would have to be set back from the road on Siesta Key.
On Dec. 7, the county’s Planning Commission is set to hold the first public hearing on the amendment.
The language Bailey has proposed calls for the County Commission to determine setbacks for buildings taller than 35 feet as part of a special exception petition process. The amendment focuses on just three zoning districts in the Siesta Key Overlay District, or SKOD: Commercial General (CG), Commercial Intensive (CI) and Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI).
The amendment Bailey has suggested says the following: “In the CG/SKOD, CI/SKOD and OPI/SKOD Districts, the minimum
street yard setback shall be two feet for structures up to 35 feet in height. When the maximum height of a structure is increased through the special exception process, the two feet street yard setback shall be determined by the County Commission through the special exception process based upon the standards contained in Section 3.16.6.a.”
Although Bailey sent the request to county staff on behalf of Clayton A. Thompson and Diane Heiden Thompson, owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille on Old Stickney Point Road, Bailey copied a number of other business owners on his correspondence. Among them are Stewart Holdings, owner of Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar; Nancy D. Connelly, owner of Crescent Beach Grocery, also on Old Stickney Point Road; Mark Smith of Smith Architects; and CJB Property Development, whose principal is Chris Brown, owner of The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage, The Beach Club and Morton’s Siesta Market.
“The Thompsons own land located at 1256 Old Stickney Point Road on Siesta Key, zoned CG/SKOD,” Bailey wrote in an Oct. 19 letter to county staff. “While their parcel contains a successful, popular, locally-owned restaurant, this stretch of commercially-zoned properties along Old Stickney Point Road contains a number of tired and, in some cases, blighted buildings which are in great need of redevelopment with new, [Federal Emergency Management Agency] compliant structures, ideally containing business that will revitalize this area.”
Quoting from the SKOD regulations, Bailey added that the overlay district “is intended to promote pedestrian life by encouraging new commercial buildings to build to the sidewalk, instead of requiring a street yard setback.”
On July 12, just before the County Commission began its traditional summer recess, Clayton Thompson, Mark Smith and David Stewart — of Stewart Holdings — were among five speakers who asked the board to consider a change to the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) to provide more flexibility for street setbacks involving commercial structures. Since late last year, Bailey has been representing Dr. Gary Kompothecras — well known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY advertising for his chiropractic clinics — as Kompothecras been working on a proposal to build a new hotel on the barrier island.
On June 12, Kompothecras was thwarted in his efforts when the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 to affirm the opinion of county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson that the general zoning language in the county code supersedes the SKOD restrictions. Any new structure up to 35 feet in height in a Commercial General (CG) zone would have to be set back a minimum of 2 feet from the road, Thompson had written in a letter to Bailey. However, any building taller than 35 feet would have to be set back a minimum of 25 feet, up to a distance equal to half the height of the building. For example, an 85-foot-tall structure would have to be 47.5 feet from the street. Eighty-five feet is the greatest height allowed under the SKOD regulations.
As a long-time island leader, Mark Smith also explained to the County Commission on July 12 that the intent with the creation of the SKOD was to create a more pedestrian-friendly commercial district. Nonetheless, Smith agreed with Thompson’s interpretation of the county’s zoning regulations, he told The Sarasota News Leader. That was why he proposed to the County Commission that the SKOD be amended to provide more flexibility with setbacks.
In response to the July 12 comments, the County Commission directed County Administrator Tom Harmer to work with staff in the Planning and Development Services Department on Zoning Code language.
However, on Aug. 29, during the board members’ first regular meeting after their summer recess, the majority agreed that the zoning text amendment should be the focus of a private initiative, instead of a staff undertaking.
In a report to the board dated Aug. 11, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, and Zoning Administrator Thompson wrote that they believed a privately initiated zoning amendment would be more appropriate than a public one, because “the issue appears to focus on a specific project …”
In his Oct. 19 letter, Bailey wrote, “My clients and other affected commercial property owners on Siesta Key were hopeful that the County, itself, would undertake an amendment of the SKOD to clarify and correct its [Board of Zoning Appeals’] action.”
Harmer also explained on Aug. 29 that the zoning text amendment first would have to be heard by the county’s Planning Commission. Then the County Commission would address the issue.
Planning Commission meetings begin at 5 p.m. However, the Sarasota County Calendar of Events this week did not indicate whether the session would be held in Sarasota or Venice.
A number of Siesta residents have been adamantly opposed to the potential of a new hotel on the island, fearing increased traffic congestion and other problems related to greater density. Former Siesta Key Association and Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations President Lourdes Ramirez has been among the leaders of the opposition.
Following the July 12 County Commission discussion, Ramirez wrote in an email to The Sarasota News Leader, “The residents on Siesta do not want to see our island become as overly built as the City of Sarasota. To have a 2 foot street setback for buildings taller than 35 feet is absurd. We don’t want to see a ‘Vue’ type structure in the [Commercial General] district on Siesta,” she continued, referring to a controversial new condominium tower at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue in downtown Sarasota. “We will fight any attempt to shorten our setbacks.”
A Siesta Key Association survey conducted this summer on a variety of issues found that, by a ratio of 18-to-1, members oppose any increase in intensity or density, beyond what the county’s Comprehensive Plan allows, in regard to proposals linked to a new hotel on the island.
Bailey has said that Kompothecras is interested only in building a boutique hotel. Bailey told the News Leader in December 2016 that Kompothecras has no intention of erecting a tall structure like some of the condominium towers on the Key.
In July, on behalf of Kompothecras, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, appealing the county Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision that upheld Zoning Administrator Thompson’s interpretation of the SKOD setback requirements. However, the Office of the County Attorney has worked with Lincoln and Bailey of Williams Parker to put the case on hold until a zoning text amendment could be considered.
In an Oct. 31 status report on the case, filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Siesta Acquisitions — the limited liability company through which Kompothecras has pursued the hotel project — along with the Board of Zoning Appeals and Thompson reported that the proposed amendment was expected to be heard by the Planning Commission on Dec. 7. The report added, “It is possible that the [issue] will not be heard by the [County Commission] until sometime in February.”
Nonetheless, the report said, “Judicial economy and the administration of justice will be served by continuing the abatement of the current proceedings until the Board has the opportunity to consider the zoning amendment.”
In a Nov. 2 order, Judge Frederick P. Mercurio granted the parties’ request to keep the case on hold. He directed that they submit another written status report on or before March 1, 2018, “advising whether the [County Commission] has taken action approving or denying a zoning amendment that would render the [court] proceedings moot.”