Siesta Chamber proposes not only restriction on hotel room density but also development of traffic model for the island

Comprehensive Plan amendment joins others submitted to county staff by Benderson and businessman Balot

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

On Oct. 19, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce submitted the third proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment to Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff regarding the construction of hotels on the barrier island, The Sarasota News Leader learned through a public records request.

Unlike the Chamber’s May 2021 proposed amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s zoning and land-use regulations, the Comprehensive plan change calls for a maximum hotel/motel room density of 52 units per acre on parcels zoned Commercial General (CG) in the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations.

The prior initiative called for a limit of 75 rooms in boutique hotels on the Key. The new proposal does the same, provided that none of the rooms has a kitchen.

Further, the language in the companion UDC amendment would allow “accessory uses such as a restaurant, bar, or shops for retail sale. The number of restaurant/bar seats shall not be greater than the ratio of 1.5 times the number of hotel rooms.” That, too, is comparable to one facet of the 2021 Siesta Chamber filing with the county’s Planning and Development Services Department staff.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan modification aligns closely with the one that businessman Dave Balot recently filed in an effort to keep a cap on hotel/motel room density. His amendments to the Comprehensive Plan — which guides growth in the community — and the UDC call for up to 52 rooms per acre on a parcel comprising at least 1 acre. However, the UDC modification would continue to restrict the number of units to 26 if over 25% of them had kitchens.

Balot is the individual who won County Commission approval in October 2022 to construct a hotel with approximately 112 rooms on a 2.15-acre site located at 5810 Midnight Pass Road.

The county’s regulations for parcels zoned Commercial General (CG) permits up to 26 hotel/motel rooms per acre. However, a developer must win County Commission approval of a Special Exception to place “transient accommodations” — the county’s term for hotel and motel rooms — on property zoned CG.

The Siesta Chamber proposal includes yet another proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, which would affect Transportation Policy 1.3.13 in the Comprehensive Plan. In the Oct. 19 Chamber letter, that modification says, “Develop a Siesta Key Traffic Model that is designed for the unique traffic patterns of the barrier island that has Sarasota County’s number one visitor destination in Siesta Beach with the capability requirements to determine traffic impact analyses for all modes of transportation of proposed rezoning, special exceptions, and critical area plans on Siesta Key and the access evacuation roads.”

During the prior discussions and hearings about developers’ applications for high-rise hotels on Siesta, residents contended that county staff had not taken into sufficient consideration the constrained roadways on the island — especially in light of the need for hurricane evacuations.

Bill Oliver, a Florida transportation consultant, appears before the County Commission in July 2021. He has developed a traffic model that he says would provide a more comprehensive look at how new development would affect the Key. File image

In April, Commissioner Mark Smith — who lives on the Key — talked of the potential for the county to engage a Florida transportation consultant who has come up with a model that the consultant says would provide details about how any new development would affect traffic on the island. During a later discussion — on May 24 — Smith won his colleagues’ approval for the director of the county’s Public Works Department, and other members of that department’s staff, to make a presentation to the commissioners about the creation of a comprehensive traffic model for Siesta Key. Such a presentation has yet to take place.

During the regular meeting of the Sarasota County Commission on Sept. 26, Smith told his colleagues that the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce was working on its own Comprehensive Plan amendment regarding hotels and asked for their consideration in letting it take precedent over other proposals that Smith indicated he was expecting to be filed.

Less than a week later, it turned out, a member of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm staff, acting on behalf of Benderson Development Co., wrote a letter to Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development, to request a pre-application conference to discuss proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and the UDC that would eliminate the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes on Siesta Key.

Graphics that Philip DiMaria, a Kimley-Horn planner, included with his letter showed that Benderson is interested in constructing hotels up to 85 feet in height — with 210 rooms — on approximately 1.14 acres of property that it owns in Siesta Village. “Commercial strip stores,” the letter noted, are standing on the two parcels.

The Benderson amendments mirror the effort that began slightly more than three years ago to construct a 170-room, eight-story hotel on Calle Miramar. Before voting to approve that project — on Oct. 27, 2021 — the County Commission majority approved a UDC amendment that struck the counting of hotel rooms for residential density purposes throughout most of the county.

This graphic, included with the Benderson letter, shows the property the company owns in Siesta Village. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That is the same amendment that was the focus of two types of litigation against the county that Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez won earlier this year — in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) and in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. In those cases, the administrative law judge and the Circuit Court judge both ruled that the county’s passage of that UDC amendment violated Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 of the Comprehensive Plan, which limits residential density and intensity on the barrier islands to that in place as of March 13, 1989.
That is the same policy that the parties proposing the new Comprehensive Plan and UDC amendments are attempting to modify.

Other details of the UDC amendment

Other sections of the Siesta Chamber’s proposal call for a second UDC amendment that deals with the height of the boutique hotels. That language, which would be included in Article 6, Section 124-76(c)(3)g, would add new subparagraphs 5 and 6, the Chamber letter points out. They are as follows:

“5. CG/SKOD [Commercial General/Siesta Key Overlay District] Boutique Hotels: Maximum height allowed above FEMA by Special Exception is determined by the adjacent CG/SKOD and RMF/SKOD zoning districts. Adjacent to RMF-1 & 2/SKOD: 35’ above FEMA, adjacent to RMF-3/SKOD & CG/SKOD: 45’ above FEMA. If multiple zoning districts are adjacent the more restrictive zoning district height is used.”

(“FEMA” refers to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which regulates construction in floodplains, such as those on Siesta Key. “RMF” stands for Residential Multi-Family housing, which also is the typical zoning on parcels with condominium complexes.)

“a. Side and rear setbacks that abut residential districts shall be 20 feet for buildings to a height of 35’ above FEMA elevation. Buildings higher than 35’ above FEMA shall be stepped back an additional one foot for each four feet of building height above the 35’ FEMA elevation.

“6. CG/SKOD Boutique Hotels: Additional Height for In-Structure Parking.

“a. A maximum of two levels of in-structure parking shall be permitted to count toward additional building height in excess of the maximum building height requirement stated in Paragraph 5. above.

“b. The maximum height of the two permitted levels of in-structure parking shall not exceed 22 feet measured from pre-development existing grade to the floor of the first habitable story.

“c. The ground floor parking story shall not exceed 12 feet measured from pre-development existing grade to the floor of the second parking level. The second floor parking story shall not exceed 10 feet measured from the floor of the second parking level to the floor of the first habitable story.

“d. When in-structure parking is used, the maximum height of the building shall be measured from the finished floor of the first habitable story.”

This graphic in the Siesta Chamber letter illustrates how the hotels could be constructed over parking levels. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, the Siesta Chamber proposes an amendment to Article 7, Section 124-102(b)(4)k of the UDC. It would limit the height of parking structures:

“3. Structure Parking: A Maximum of three (3) levels of structure parking (two story structure) shall be permitted not to exceed 22 feet measured from pre-development existing grade to the roof of the parking structure. Exit stairs and elevator structures shall not exceed 35 feet measured from FEMA elevation.”

The narrative accompanying that proposal explains, with emphasis, “By limiting the size of parking garages, the intensity of the development is also limited.

Yet another proposed UDC amendment included in the Siesta Chamber letter reads as follows: “CG/SKOD Boutique Hotels: 1 parking space per sleeping room, plus 1 additional parking space per 10 sleeping rooms.” The accompanying narrative points out, again with emphasis, “The boutique hotel will be required to have enough on-site parking for the room count, not the retail and restaurant/bar as they are for hotel guests.