Siesta Key hotel setback issue that proved controversial last year to be addressed in county staff-proposed amendment to zoning regulations

Second amendment staff will address would modify restaurant and bar parking requirements in ‘South Bridge Area’ of Siesta Key

This rendering of the hotel planned on Calle Miramar shows an 8-foot fence and vegetative buffering planned between the structure and the adjoining condominium building on the east, which stands at 300 Calle Miramar. The building was designed with a setback of only 20 feet from the condominium complex. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the 10 new proposed amendments to Sarasota County’s land-use and zoning regulations, two would affect Siesta Key, as county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson explained to the County Commission this week.

One of those would reduce the number of parking spaces for restaurants and bars in what is called the “South Bridge Area” of the barrier island — the business district south of the Stickney Point Road intersection with Midnight Pass Road.

That was a privately initiated amendment submitted by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.

However, the second one, which staff had suggested — or, as the county terminology characterizes it, the “publicly initiated one” — pertains to an issue about which island residents specifically complained during the Aug. 19, 2021 county Planning Commission hearing on the application for an eight-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road.

A staff chart included in the agenda packet for the commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 25 described it thus: “Clarify setback requirements for side and rear yards within the Commercial General zone district …” If ultimately approved, Thompson pointed out, the amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) would reinsert language in the 1989 county zoning code that was eliminated when a revised version of the code was implemented in 2003. That language would require additional setbacks for the side and rear yards of any structure built in a Commercial General zone that abuts a residential property if the new building is taller than the 35-foot maximum in that zone. For every 4 feet of height above 35 feet, the earlier zoning code language said, an extra foot of setback would be necessary.

Donna Thompson is the county’s zoning administrator. File image

Yet, Thompson told the commissioners, if the requirement were restored, both the hotel on Calle Miramar — which they approved on a 3-2 vote on Oct. 27, 2021 — and a hotel on Old Stickney Point Road — which they agreed to on a 4-1 vote on Nov. 2, 2021 — would become “nonconforming structures.”

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger initially asked for clarification about whether the setback requirements would be retroactive. In other words, would the developers of the two hotels have to abide by them?

The developers, Thompson replied, “wouldn’t have to adjust anything.”

The commissioners ended up voting unanimously to direct staff to continue work on those amendments. The final proposals will be brought back to the board members on a future date for final consideration, Thompson noted.

Issue raised by opponents of Siesta hotels

On July 19, 2021, Mark Spiegel, president of the nonprofit Siesta Key Coalition, sent an email to Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Services Division. Spiegel was focused on requirements for setbacks for construction on Commercial General property when the applicant was seeking a Special Exception.

In the plans for both the Calle Miramar and Old Stickney Point Road hotels, the applicants needed County Commission approval to exceed the 35-foot height restriction, measured above base flood elevation. The Calle Miramar hotel would be 80 feet tall, that project team said, while the agents representing Siesta businessman and chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras in regard to the Old Stickney Point Road development said that design would be 83 feet tall, at the highest architectural point.

In his email to Dary, Spiegel highlighted in yellow specific language in the Unified Development Code that says, “Side and street yards shall be provided at a ratio of one foot for each four feet of additional building height in excess of the permitted maximum height.”

Yet, the Calle Miramar project team had designed the hotel with a 20-foot setback on the side of the property that abuts a residential parcel on the street. The team representing Kompothecras’ hotel also had included a 20-foot side-yard setback from a residential structure to the south of the property.

This is the binding development concept plan for Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ hotel planned for Old Stickney Point Road. The 20-foot side yard setback is noted on the south of the engineering drawing. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Siesta Key Coalition was established in late spring of 2021 to fight proposals for hotels on the barrier island that have design specifications exceeding the zoning restrictions on the parcels where they were planned.

On July 26, 2021, Spiegel issued a press release that focused on numerous concerns the nonprofit had raised about the Calle Miramar and Old Stickney Point Road projects. Among them, he wrote, “[S]ince the [county-mandated] Neighborhood Workshops months ago [on both applications], we have been seeking clarification from the Planning Development Services staff, and the Zoning Administrator on why these developers have not been required to increase their building setbacks when adjacent to residential property, as clearly stated in the code [UDC Article 6, Section 124-76 (3)(g) regarding Commercial General parcels].”

This is the section of the Unified Development Code showing the details about height requirements and setbacks for Special Exception petitions regarding Commercial General property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Neither developer had accounted for the extra, required setback of 1 foot for every 4 feet of height above 35 feet, the release added. “The Calle Miramar/Beach hotel and the Old Stickney Point hotel are seeking 80-feet and 83-feet special exceptions for height, or 45 and 48 feet more than required limits respectively,” the release pointed out. “Therefore, they should be 31.25 and 32 feet away from residential [parcels] respectively.”

The release noted, with emphasis, “We are still waiting for a formal answer that explains any logical way to interpret this issue …”

This is the section of the table in the Unified Development Code showing restrictions for Commercial General zones, including the side and rear yard setbacks. Image courtesy Sarasota County

An explanation for the Planning Commission

During the Planning Commission hearing on the Calle Miramar hotel, Dary of Planning Services and Zoning Administrator Thompson both asserted that Spiegel and other speakers who had read the applicable portion of the UDC were incorrect in how they were interpreting it.

Attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota first addressed the issue in response to a question from Planning Commissioner Justin Taylor. The team had received “a determination from the county” that made it clear that the 20-foot side yard setback was all that was necessary, Merrill said. Referencing the same section of the UDC that Spiegel had noted in his email to Dary, Merrill explained that the language regarding Special Exception petitions would require the extra setback of 11 feet, 3 inches. However, Merrill continued, “The underlying [Commercial General] zoning district requires us to do 20 feet. So that trumps the 11 feet, 3 inches.”

Todd Dary wraps up his comments to Planning Commissioner Teresa Mast on Aug. 19, 2021. News Leader image

Later, Planning Commissioner Teresa Mast asked county staff about the same issue.

Dary told her that the setback requirements are divided into two parts. One section applies to the zoning district, while the other applies to Special Exceptions. In other words, he added, the UDC language “says, ‘This’ or ‘this.’ … We’ve reviewed that.”

Zoning Administrator Thompson ended up coming to the podium, as well. “That is correct, what Todd stated,” she told Mast. She then showed Mast the applicable portion of the UDC. The language regarding Special Exception petitions “does not say these restrictions in addition to the others,” Thompson added.

The other UDC amendment staff will address for Siesta Key

During the Open to the Public comment period of the County Commission’s morning session on Jan. 25, Siesta Key architect Mark Smith noted that the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce had submitted the proposed UDC amendment regarding a reduction in the parking space requirements just for the South Bridge Area of the Key, “which is defined in the [Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations].”

The amendment would call for only one parking space per 75 square feet of indoor and outdoor patron area for bars and restaurants, instead of one per 50 square feet, Smith noted.

The Chamber was requesting the modification, he said, because “so many condominiums are within walking distance” of the establishments in the South Bridge Area, plus the Siesta Key Breeze trolley “is extremely successful” in providing transportation for people, and free-ride services are available, as well.

Moreover, Smith continued, given the “seemingly endless pandemic,” many of the restaurants in the South Bridge Area have been using their parking areas and space along the sidewalk to provide outdoor seating for customers. (In the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance said that transmission of the coronavirus is not as likely outdoors.)

“We just feel like this [parking change] would be a proper step to help with that,” Smith said of the open-air restaurant seating as the pandemic continues.

Outdoor tables and chairs at Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar are seen from South Midnight Pass Road in August 2021. Image from Captain Curt’s Facebook page

A second part of the proposed amendment, he noted, would allow for golf cart credits for parking. Three golf carts could fit into two parking spaces, he pointed out to the commissioners. Therefore, the Chamber proposed allowing a credit of one parking space for every one golf cart parking space “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,” as the county staff chart with details about the amendments put it.

Each golf cart space would be 6 feet wide and 18 feet deep, Smith said.

Finally, Smith noted that the Chamber last year also filed a proposed UDC amendment that would govern the size of any new hotels within the Siesta Key Overlay District. Staff did not include that on the list for the Jan. 25 agenda, he said. “We’re obviously a little disappointed by that.”
As he understood the situation, Smith told the commissioners, that proposal is still under staff review, even though the Chamber submitted it earlier than the proposal for the parking changes.

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

That amendment would restrict boutique hotels on the island to 75 rooms, with the maximum height pegged to the height of adjacent Commercial General or Residential Multi-Family (RMF) zoning districts. Next to RMF-1 and RMF-2 parcels, the proposal said, the height would be a maximum of 35 feet above the base flood elevation required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Boutique hotels next to RMF-3 or Commercial General parcels could stand a maximum of 45 feet above the FEMA elevation.

This is a graphic provided in a May 2021 Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce letter to county staff regarding the proposed height restrictions for a boutique hotel, including the height of parking levels. ‘CG’ stands for Commercial General zoning, while ‘SKOD’ stands for the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Chair Alan Maio noted that he had met with Smith and Smith’s “gang of five people [representing the Chamber] multiple times” to discuss the proposals.

However, Maio did not offer any comment on Smith’s request for action on the boutique hotel UDC amendment.

2 thoughts on “Siesta Key hotel setback issue that proved controversial last year to be addressed in county staff-proposed amendment to zoning regulations”

  1. This illustrates clearly and strongly why Siesta Key needs effective and accountable representation on the County Commission. We have been cajoled and ignored at every turn in the consideration of these non-conforming hotel proposals. We need single member district representation as the County Charter currently mandates. Yet the Commission on its own initiative has put a return to at-large election of Commissioners back on the referendum ballot on March 8. We must VOTE NO on Referendum 2 to oppose going back to at large representation. Siesta Key needs a strong voice of its own in County government, not a non- resident who dismisses the views of the voters he is supposed to represent. Vote NO on March 8 on ballot item #2!

  2. Single Member Districts- VOTE MARCH 8th!!!! YES for SCHOOLS/NO to repeal Single Member Districts!!!!
    Gotta get some accountability with these Commissioners, y’all!!!!

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