Second lawsuit filed over Siesta Key hotels contends County Commission needed to amend section of Comprehensive Plan that restricts residential intensity on the barrier islands before approving the projects

Four plaintiffs seek to overturn plans for hotels on Calle Miramar and Old Stickney Point Road

This is the cover of the first volume of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, which was updated in October 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Five days after a Siesta Key resident filed a lawsuit over the Sarasota County Commission’s go-ahead for a high-rise hotel on Calle Miramar, four plaintiffs filed a complaint not only over that decision but also over the board’s Nov. 2 approval of a high-rise hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.

The second suit focuses on the commission’s decision to allow what the complaint calls “a dramatic increase of the allowable density and intensity of hotels” on the island without first amending the applicable policy in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which “otherwise prohibits such increase.”

The suit also points out that a supermajority of the commission — four of five votes — is necessary to modify the Comprehensive Plan.

As defined in Florida Statute 163.3177(1), “The comprehensive plan shall provide the principles, guidelines, standards, and strategies for the orderly and balanced future economic, social, physical, environmental, and fiscal development of the area that reflects community commitments to implement the plan and its elements. These principles and strategies shall guide future decisions in a consistent manner and shall contain programs and activities to ensure comprehensive plans are implemented.”

Filed on Nov. 29, the complaint points out that the County Commission on Oct. 27 agreed to an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that eliminates all residential density considerations regarding “transient accommodations” — the county term for hotels and motels. That amendment applies countywide.

Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Services Division, told the members of the county’s Planning Commission in August that Planning staff had been considering the modification to the zoning regulations for some time. “We do believe a floor/area ratio basically … should be used to physically dictate what the maximum is on a piece of property,” Dary said, with the required Special Exception approvals serving as “additional safeguards.”

Staff concurred with the Calle Miramar hotel project team’s assertion that the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) says hotel rooms “are fundamentally non-residential commercial land uses.”

Therefore, staff supported the Calle Miramar hotel project team’s request for the amendment. The hotel has been planned for a site that contains 0.96 acres.

The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.

These are details of the UDC amendment that the County Commission approved on a 3-2 vote after the Calle Miramar hearing on Oct. 27. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Originally, all four of the teams working on proposals for new hotels on Siesta Key had requested amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan to facilitate their plans. Each of the projects would be constructed on property zoned for commercial purposes. However, that zoning previously limited hotel and motel rooms to 26 per acre, provided the rooms did not have kitchens.

In fact, the County Commission in January agreed to the processing of three of those amendments outside the normal staff cycle for such work. The fourth hotel application had not been submitted to county staff at that time.

Four Siesta Key residents urged the commissioners on Jan. 26 not to approve the project teams’ requests for the staff undertaking. In response, Commissioner Christian Ziegler said, “This is a vote just to move forward with the process to consider these options or proposals. This is not a vote on the final projects.”

The Calle Miramar hotel, which won commission approval on a 3-2 vote, would stand just east of the intersection of Calle Miramar and Ocean Boulevard, on the edge of Siesta Village. It was designed to contain five habitable floors over three levels of parking, with a height of 80 feet above base flood elevation. That would put it at 92 feet, according to testimony during the Oct. 27 hearing.

That hotel would have 170 rooms, according to the application.

This chart shows hotel room densities allowed in other Florida communities. ‘SKOD’ stands for the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations in the UDC. Image courtesy of Robert Luckner and the Siesta Key Coalition

The second hotel is planned by Siesta businessman and chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras. It has been designed with 120 rooms in seven stories on 1.17 acres of property at the intersection of Peacock Road and Old Stickney Point Road. The hotel would stand 83 feet above base flood elevation.

Additionally, on Nov. 2, the County Commission approved a five-story parking garage on land between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road. Kompothecras planned that structure to accommodate guest parking as well as public parking, along with ground floor retail space.

The complaint seeks a ruling by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that the commission did indeed violate state law and the Sarasota County Charter in amending the UDC and approving Special Exception petitions specific to the two hotels.

This is the condominium complex at 222 Beach Road on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

Alternatively, the plaintiffs seek leave of the court to amend their complaint to pursue one or more different approaches to overturning the commission action.

The plaintiffs in this second complaint are Siesta Key resident James P. Wallace III, the 222 Beach Road Owners Association Inc., Robert Sax, and the Marina Del Sol Condominium Association Inc.

Marina Del Sol stands just to the east of Kompothecras’ hotel site.

Residents of Marina Del Sol, which stands near the dead end of Old Stickney Point Road, have argued against any hotel being built in that neighborhood. Image from Google Maps

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are David Smolker of Tampa and Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral.

Delving into the state statutes

This complaint focuses on Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan. As the suit puts it, “The policy expressly limits the density and intensity of hotels to that set forth in the zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989, which is far less than what Ordinance No. 2021-047 purports to authorize.”

The latter reference was to the UDC amendment approved on Oct. 27.

Like the lawsuit that Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez filed last week over the Calle Miramar hotel, this complaint contends that the County Commission violated a section of Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes that is called the Community Planning Act. That law requires local government boards to comply with the policies contained within their comprehensive plans.

This is a section of Florida Statute 163.3161, the Community Planning Act. Image courtesy State of Florida

“The purpose of the [Future Land Use Element] FLUE [in a comprehensive plan] is to ‘designat[e] proposed future general distribution, location, and extent of the uses of land for residential uses [and] commercial uses,” according to Section 163.3177(6)(a) of the Florida Statutes, the suit says. (See the related article in this issue.)

This second suit also contends that the commissioners violated provisions of the Florida Constitution (Article VIII, Section 1) and the Sarasota County Charter in approving the elimination of residential density considerations for hotels on the barrier islands.

Further, like plaintiff Lourdes Ramirez in the first complaint, the plaintiffs in this suit contend that the hotels will have an adverse impact on their ability to travel on and off the island.

For example, it says that Wallace, who lives at the “far south end” of the Key, would be hindered in accessing hospital facilities “and doctors during medical emergencies.”

In regard to the 222 Beach Road Owners Association, the complaint argues that the commission’s affirmative vote on the Calle Miramar project “will allow development of a hotel grossly out-of-scale and incompatible with adjacent and nearby developed areas,” including the 222 Beach Road condominium complex, and that it will “create severe traffic congestion and safety problems.”

Similar language describes the effects the hotel would have on Sax and the Marina Del Sol Association.

This is a ‘massing diagram’ that leaders of the Siesta Key Coalition commissioned of a Sarasota architect to show the bulk of the hotel near residences on Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road. Marina Del Sol is to the left of the hotel image. Illustration courtesy Siesta Key Coalition

Then, shifting its focus to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1, the suit says that, according to the guidelines in Section 163.3202(1) of the Florida Statutes, the county must “‘adopt or amend and enforce land development regulations that are consistent with and implement [its] adopted comprehensive plan.’” Therefore, the complaint continues, if the county “wishes to increase the densities and intensities of a particular land use … it must amend [the applicable Future Land Use Element of its comprehensive plan].”

That amendment process, the complaint points out, must include an advertised public hearing on the proposed modification of the Future Land Use Element during which affected persons have the right to provide comments. Then, if the County Commission determines that the amendment should be approved, it must transmit the proposed change to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review. Following that process, the complaint continues, a second County Commission public hearing is necessary.

If the board adopts the amendment, the resulting subsequent steps laid out in state law include the opportunity for an “affected person” to file a petition that formally challenges the amendment’s compliance with the comprehensive plan.

An “affected person,” the suit explains, is one who owns property, resides or owns a business “‘within the boundaries of the local government whose plan is the subject of the review,’” according to the Community Planning Act.