Siesta Chamber seeking reduction in county parking requirements for bars and restaurants

Use of trolley, golf carts and ride services resulting in less demand for spaces, Chamber leaders say

Siesta Village is dominated by buildings close to the sidewalk. Most parking areas are in the rear of businesses. File photo

With Sarasota County staff having opened the latest cycle for proposed amendments to the Unified Development Code (UDC) — which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations — leaders of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce are seeking reductions in parking spaces for bars and restaurants.

Additionally, the Chamber group has asked for a modification in off-street parking rules that would take into account the increased use of golf carts for transportation on the barrier island.

In an Aug. 23 letter to county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, Mason Tush, immediate past chair of the Chamber, explained details of both requests.

During each UDC amendment cycle, staff members analyze privately initiated amendments — and generally offer some of their own proposals — for consideration of the County Commission. In other words, as illustrated in late April, staff will provide a list of the amendments it has received with recommendations on how to proceed with them. It is up to the commissioners to give direction to staff in response to those recommendations. Amendments in which commissioners express interest will progress to the formal staff review stage before final adoption is considered.

The most recent cycle began on Sept. 1 and will conclude on Sept. 15, according to an email blast sent out by the Planning and Development Services Department. That notice explains that staff conducts two UDC cycles per year — in March and September.

A February 2018 photo shows Old Stickney Point Road, looking west. This is part of the ‘South Bridge’ enclave. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The first of the Chamber’s proposals calls for the following amendment to Article 7, Section 124-102 of the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD), which contains all of the zoning regulations for the barrier island: In the Commercial General/SKOD district “within the commercial enclave south of Stickney Point Road (identified as the ‘South Bridge Area’ under the Siesta Key Community Plan) Bar and Restaurant parking requirement shall be 1 parking space per 75 [square feet] of indoor and outdoor patron area.”

The letter pointed out that “large numbers of condominium units [are] within walking distance of the South Bridge Area [and] numerous free-ride vehicles [are] operating in the area …” Additionally, it noted, the Siesta Key Breeze trolley has been a success, ferrying riders between Turtle Beach Park on south Siesta and Morton’s Gourmet Market in Siesta Village.

Reducing the parking requirement in the South Bridge Area would allow for more outdoor dining spaces, the letter said.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, Siesta Chamber leaders — joined by those of the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Condominium Council — won county staff approval in August for the extension of a Temporary Use Permit (TUP) program that began in 2020 to facilitate the creation of outdoor dining spaces. The initiative originally was a county response to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising the public that transmission of the virus is not as likely outside as it is in indoor settings. The program ended in June, before the Siesta groups won commission support to revive it.

However, Chamber leaders have told the News Leader they would like to see permanent changes, knowing that the TUP program will end at some point.

A portion of the Florida State Statute that applies to use of golf carts on designated roads includes requirements for their equipment. Image courtesy State of Florida

In regard to the golf carts, the proposed Chamber UDC amendment says, “A credit of one parking space for every one golf cart parking space is permitted for an individual commercial business or multi-business plaza, up to a maximum of four parking spaces or 25 percent of the required parking, whichever is greater. Each golf cart parking space would be 6 feet wide and 18 feet deep.”

The SKOD calls for 1 parking space per 50 square feet of indoor and outdoor patron floor area for both bars and restaurants.

Already, the SKOD does allow for bicycle and motorcycle parking credits, as follows:

  • “A credit of one parking space is permitted per individual commercial business that provides a bicycle parking facility in an accessible on-site location. The bicycle parking facility must comply with the specifications inSection 124-120(p).
  • “A credit of one parking space for every two motorcycle parking spaces is permitted for an individual commercial business, up to a maximum credit of four parking spaces or 25 percent of the required parking, whichever is greater. All motorcycle parking spaces must be located on-site and be clearly designated as motorcycle parking only. Motorcycle space parking dimensions must meet accepted engineering standards.”

Reasoning behind the requests

In his letter, Tush explained that over the past few years, a greater number of golf carts have been in use around the island. The Chamber’s goal, he indicated, is to encourage their continued use without their having to compete for “standard parking spaces and impeding the parking of regular vehicles …”

Three golf cart parking spaces would take up the same area as two standard spaces, Tush pointed out. “The proposed revision is similar to the Motorcycle Credit” stated in the SKOD, he noted.

Designated motorcycle parking spaces in Siesta Village are across from the Sandal Factory. File photo

During an Aug. 25 telephone interview with the News Leader, Steve Cavanaugh, chair of the Siesta Chamber, said he and his fellow board members are hopeful that the County Commission will look favorably upon the proposed amendments.

Referring to the pandemic, Cavanaugh added, “It’s been a tough [time]. We’ve just got to do the right thing by our community.”

He pointed out that the Siesta Key Breeze “is going strong.” Between its role in reducing the number of vehicles on the island roads and the rise in the number of golf carts in use for transportation, bars and restaurants do not need as many parking spaces as they did in the past, he said.

During the county Planning Commission’s hearings on the first two hotel projects proposed on the barrier island — conducted on Aug. 19 and Sept. 2 — representatives of the developers also emphasized the walkability of the Key and the rising use of ride services, such as Uber and Lyft, to emphasize that personal vehicle traffic is not as significant a factor for their proposals as it would have been in the past. (See the related article in this issue.)

Meetings with commissioners requested

Steve Cavanaugh. Photo from his LinkedIn account

Chamber leaders were working to secure appointments with the county commissioners, Cavanaugh told the News Leader, to discuss the proposals with them. “The County Commission has been responsive to us … when they see good ideas.”

Cavanaugh added that the discussions also would focus on the proposal the Chamber submitted to county staff in late May, regarding an amendment to the UDC calling for boutique hotels limited to 75 rooms.

In an Aug. 18 email to the assistants for the commissioners, Tush, the immediate past chair of the Siesta Chamber, requested “a short meeting [of Chamber representatives] with all five Commissioners.”

He was writing on behalf of the Chamber’s Government Affairs committee, Tush added.

Then he referred to the UDC amendment proposed for the boutique hotels; yet, he also pointed out that the Chamber would “be submitting a second UDC SKOD text amendment regarding parking on Siesta Key.”

“We are happy to meet at the Ringling Building downtown,” Mason continued, referring to the County Administration Center standing at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

As noted in the May 25 letter written by long-time Siesta Chamber leader Mark Smith, an architect, the proposed UDC text amendment for boutique hotels says none of the rooms would have kitchens. However, the hotels would be allowed to have accessory uses, such as a restaurant and bar “or shops for retail sale.”

The hotels would be permitted only on parcels zoned Commercial General within the SKOD, and only by County Commission approval of a Special Exception.

Their maximum height would be determined by the adjacent Commercial General and Residential Multi-Family (RMF) zoning districts, Smith wrote. For example, next to parcels zoned RMF-1 and RMF-2, the maximum height of a boutique hotel would be 35 feet above base flood elevation.

This graphic, shown to participants during the May 10 Neighborhood Workshop on the proposed redevelopment of Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, depicts the Residential Multi-Family zoning around the hotel property in Siesta Village. Image courtesy Port and Coastal Consultants

Nonetheless, the proposed UDC amendment adds, “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” in regard to the zoning designations of the surrounding parcels.

The Chamber’s goal with the boutique hotel proposal, Cavanaugh explained, is to offer a compromise in regard to the sizes of most of the hotel projects proposed for the Key over the past 16 months. The nonprofit Siesta Key Coalition, which was organized in 2020, has the support of 71 homeowner associations, with a total of about 6,400 residents, in calling for new land-use development on the Key to conform to existing SKOD standards. Those limit hotel rooms without kitchens to 26 per acre on parcels zoned Commercial General, and they can be no taller than 35 feet above base flood elevation.

Two of the hotel applications call for 170 rooms; the third, 120 rooms. A fourth hotel, which would be built at 5810 Midnight Pass Road, would have about 100 rooms.

One proposed structure, planned on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, would have five levels of habitable space over three levels of parking, comprising about 80 feet. A seven-story hotel on Old Stickney Point Road would be 83 feet high at its tallest point, which is an architectural feature, the Planning Commission learned during the Sept. 2 hearing.

“We all can be working collectively for the greater good of the Key,” Cavanaugh told the News Leader.