Siesta Chamber’s boutique hotel proposal for county land-use regulations put on hold by county commissioners while lawsuits underway

Chamber chair says he looks forward to future board discussion on draft of amendment to Unified Development Code

These are details about the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce proposal for the amendment to the Unified Development Code, as well as staff comments (right). This was a section of a staff document provided to the commissioners in advance of the March 29 meeting. ‘BPG’ stands for staff’s request for board guidance on how to proceed on the amendment. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the spring of 2021, with plans for four hotels having been announced for Siesta Key, leaders of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce said they felt the need to find a compromise that would preserve the character of the island, yet allow for new accommodations for visitors.

One of those four proposed hotels would stand eight stories tall and contain about 170 rooms just on the edge of Siesta Village, on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road. Another, designed with seven stories and 120 rooms, would be built at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road on south Siesta. A third application entailed the redevelopment of the decades-old Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites in Siesta Village, expanding it potentially to 170 rooms, as well. The final application submitted to county staff called for a 112-room hotel on the 5810 Midnight Road parcel where the former Wells Fargo bank operated for many years.

Facing those prospects, the Chamber leaders ended up with a proposal for an amendment to Sarasota County’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that would allow for a maximum of 75 rooms in a boutique hotel. The structures’ maximum height would be dependent on the zoning of surrounding property — Commercial General (CG) or Residential Multi-Family (RMF), the draft amendment noted.

The narrative for that 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.”

“SKOD” refers to the Siesta Key Overlay District, which contains all of the island’s zoning regulations.

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

After the Chamber submitted the proposal to county staff, Steve Cavanaugh of Tropical Sands Accommodations, then the Chamber chair, told The Sarasota News Leader that the amendment would result in less of an increase in traffic on the Key. “We all know that’s out of hand,” he pointed out of vehicle congestion.

The Chamber’s goal, “first and foremost,” he continued, is to keep in place the elements of the island’s character that draw repeat visitors.

In a May 25, 2021 letter to county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, Siesta architect Mark Smith, of Smith Architects — a long-time Chamber director — asked that county Planning and Development Services Department staff consider the proposal as part of the fourth cycle of amendments for the UDC, which contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.

On Jan. 25, Thompson presented a portion of the fourth-cycle, privately initiated UDC amendments to the County Commission, seeking direction about which ones the board wanted staff to process. The Siesta Chamber’s boutique hotel proposal was not on that list.

Mark Smith addresses the County Commission in 2019. File image

“We’re obviously a little disappointed by that,” Smith told the commissioners during that morning’s Open to the Public comment period. As he understood the situation, Smith added, staff still was reviewing the text amendment that the Chamber leaders had submitted.

“I’d like for you all to see if you can get that before you, too,” Smith said.

In the meantime, the commissioners had approved the hotel on Calle Miramar, as well as the one on Old Stickney Point Road. Staff still is reviewing the applications for the other two hotel projects, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant confirmed for the News Leader this week.

In the aftermath of hotel votes last year, two lawsuits have been filed against the county in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota. Both have trial dates scheduled for 2023. However, Circuit Judge Stephen Walker conducted a March 18 hearing on the county’s motion to dismiss the second one, which involves both hotels. The first suit filed focuses just on the Calle Miramar project. (See the related article in this issue.)

At the conclusion of the attorneys’ March 18 arguments, Walker announced that he would issue a ruling after considering all of the factors of the case.

A quick consideration

On March 29, Zoning Administrator Thompson was back before the commissioners with more of the privately initiated amendments from the fourth cycle batch. This time, the boutique hotel proposal was among them.

As she pointed out to the commissioners, in regard to the Siesta Chamber’s UDC text amendment, “We are in two litigations … We also feel that this would have the same impact.”

Nonetheless, she added, staff wanted the commissioners’ direction on how to proceed.

Only three of the commissioners responded with their thoughts.

Commissioner Nancy Detert. News Leader image

“I would say ‘No’ [on the Siesta Chamber amendment],” Commissioner Nancy Detert said, because of the court cases. “I think there’s some gems of good ideas in the proposal,” she added. Still, Detert continued, “We don’t want to affect ongoing legal cases. … After the fact, that’s when we would have an opinion.”

Chair Alan Maio agreed with her.

Then Commissioner Michael Moran said, “I’ve no interest in adding a new dimension to that …”

On a unanimous vote, the commissioners agreed to put the proposal on hold.

Mike Gatz, general manager of Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill on Siesta Key, who is the new chair of the Siesta Key Chamber, had appeared before the board members during the Open to the Public comment period that morning.

Mike Gatz. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Even with the proposed restriction of no more than 75 rooms, he emphasized to them, a boutique hotel on Siesta Key still could be profitable. The goal of the amendment, he added, is making accommodations available to visitors, “but keeping [them] in the Siesta Key spirit.”

When the News Leader contacted Gatz after the board vote, he described the decision as “not a big loss today.” The commissioners’ comments about their willingness to consider the amendment at a later date is “important for us,” Gatz said. “We’ll be excited to have our day up there … when the time is right.”