Siesta Chamber working on county Comprehensive Plan amendment regarding boutique hotels

Commissioner Smith asks his colleagues to consider that amendment ahead of others that may be proposed

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

During his report to his colleagues as part of their regular meeting on Sept. 26, Commissioner Mark Smith said he wanted to make them aware of action that the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is pursuing relative to hotel development on the barrier island.

The leaders of the Chamber would appreciate the commissioners’ consideration, he added, when the application was completed.

In May 2021, prior to his election to the commission, Smith — as an architect and long-time leader of the Siesta Chamber — submitted a proposal to county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson regarding new county regulations pertaining to boutique hotel design on the Key.

At that time, with three applications for 100-plus-room hotels on the barrier island under review by county staff, the Siesta Chamber asked that the commissioners consider an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) to allow no more than 75 rooms in hotels, with maximum building height to be determined by the location. Next to parcels zoned for Residential Multi-Family (RMF) 1 and RMF-2 construction, the maximum height would be 35 feet above the base flood elevation required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The amendment would have applied only to the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations, and it would have necessitated an applicant’s receiving Special Exception approval from the County Commission for hotel construction.

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

FEMA defines base flood elevation (BFE) as the “elevation of surface water resulting from a flood that has a 1% chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year.”

Those boutique hotels next to RMF-3 or Commercial General (CG) parcels would have a maximum height of 45 feet above the FEMA elevation. The prosed UDC amendment language also said, “If multiple zoning districts are adjacent the more restrictive zoning district height is used.”

This is a graphic provided in the May 2021 Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce letter to county staff regarding the proposal for the parking levels of a boutique hotel and the height of habitable floors above the parking. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

However, the proposed amendment added, “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 narrative for that part of the amendment emphasized, “The maximum height of a boutique hotel over parking is 57 feet above pre-development grade when adjacent to [RMF-1 and RMF-2 zoning in the SKOD] and 67 feet above pre-development grade when adjacent to RMF-3/SKOD and CG/SKOD.”

During his Sept. 26 remarks, Smith explained that he commissioners seated in March 2022 halted staff work on the amendment because of litigation filed against the first two hotels to receive board approval for the island; both those hotel votes took place in the fall of 2021.

Now that the lawsuits “are coming to a conclusion here,” he continued on Sept. 26, the Siesta Chamber is working on a proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendment, instead of trying to revive the UDC amendment.

“Basically, because they were the last to be stopped [in efforts related to new hotels on the Key],” Smith said of the Siesta Chamber leaders, “they would appreciate consideration on being the first one to be considered by [the commissioners for a Comprehensive Plan amendment].” (See the related article in this issue.)

Commissioner Mark Smith asks a question during the Sept. 27 board meeting. News Leader image

Smith pointed out in another board discussion this week that two legal rulings this year have gone against the county in regard to the 2021 commission’s approval of the two high-rise hotels. Both came in response to complaints that Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez filed. One involved a challenge through the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), while the other came in response to a 12th Judicial Circuit Court complaint that Ramirez filed in November 2021.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, County Attorney Joshua Moye told the commissioners in an Aug. 29 memo that he believes they will have “an uphill battle” in pursuing appeals of those decisions.

Yet, Moye did note in that memo,There is the possibility of a legislative fix which amends the County’s comprehensive plan.”

However, Moye cautioned, “Such an amendment would require a supermajority vote of the Board.” That means at least four of the five commissioners would have to vote in favor of the amendment for it to go into effect.

Earlier this year, all of the commissioners except Smith approved an appeal of the DOAH Final Order issued in early April. Discussion of an appeal of the 12th Circuit Court ruling is expected to follow the filing of the Final Judgment in that case.

None of Smith’s colleagues commented on his remarks about the new Siesta Chamber action.