County commissioners point out that issues will receive full public airing, including hearings before them and Planning Commission
On Jan. 26, the Sarasota County commissioners heard four Siesta Key residents urge them to remove from their Consent Agenda of routine business matters three different proposals that could affect residential density and intensity not just on the Siesta but also on the other barrier islands within the county’s jurisdiction.
However, after listening, as well, to remarks from the director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department (PDS) — Matt Osterhoudt — the board members voted unanimously to approve the three requests.
“I want to be very clear,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said: “This is a vote just to move forward with the process to consider these options or proposals. This is not a vote on the final projects.”
Each of the Consent Agenda items called for County Commission approval for the PDS staff to begin work on proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendments outside the normal cycle for such work.
Ziegler asked that all three be pulled from the Consent Agenda for discussion on Jan. 26. He said he understood, before the meeting began, that members of the public would be present to address the issues.
Commissioner Mike Moran first sought clarification from County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht that the board can grant such requests regarding Comprehensive Plan amendments, if “staff has adequate time and resources to deal with [them] off cycle.” Further, Moran asked, “The community [will have] plenty of opportunities … to be heard … all in the Sunshine?” He was referring to the state’s open meetings law.
“That is correct,” Elbrecht assured Moran. “This is just a procedural vote,” The commissioners would not be considering the merits of any of the proposals that day, Elbrecht added.
“These are going to be highly contentious [with] lots of public input, lots of conversation about the substance of the issue,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out. “We’re strictly voting on the process.”
Then Detert asked Osterhoudt, “By voting to take [these] out of cycle, does that help the staff with their work or not?”
“The determination that I make … is based on what types of other Comprehensive Plan amendments we’re working on,” Osterhoudt replied. “It’s really a resource allocation question.”
In this situation, Osterhoudt continued, “We do feel that we have enough resources to be able to handle [the reviews] out of cycle,” along with the normal staff workload.
“I think that clarifies it,” Detert said.
The projects behind the proposed amendments
The items on the Jan. 26 Consent Agenda pertained to proposals for three hotel projects on Siesta Key: a 170-room hotel planned on four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, near the intersection of Beach Road and Ocean Boulevard; a 120-room hotel designed for property on Old Stickney Point Road, close to the Midnight Pass Road/Stickney Point Road intersection; and the redevelopment of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites hotel, located at 5311 Ocean Blvd., from a 55-room facility to one with 170 rooms.
To make their projects feasible, each team has proposed a county Comprehensive Plan amendment to county Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. That policy says, “Barrier Islands are designated on the Future Land Use Map to recognize existing land use patterns and to provide a basis for hurricane evacuation planning and disaster mitigation efforts. The intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989, except that, with respect to lands zoned RMF [Residential Multi-Family] as of that date and consistently so thereafter, a non-conforming duplex whose density exceeds the density restrictions of the zoning regulations and restrictions may be rebuilt within the footprint of the structure, or a non-conforming multifamily structure may be demolished and a duplex rebuilt in its place within the prior footprint of the multi-family structure without violating this policy.”
The team behind the Calle Miramar project proposes eliminating residential density calculations for all “transient accommodations” — the term county staff uses for hotels — on the barrier islands. The owner of the Old Stickney Point Road property — Siesta businessman Gary Kompothecras, who is known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service — wants to double the residential density allowed for hotels just in what Kompothecras calls the “South Bridge Area,” just south of the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection.
Finally, SKRS LLC, owner of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, is seeking an amendment that would allow owners of existing resorts, hotels and motels to “have an opportunity to redevelop their properties without density limits because that’s what they have paid for … when they purchased their properties,” as that preliminary application explained. It was filed in late August 2020. As of Jan. 27, The Sarasota News Leader found that a formal application had yet to be submitted to county staff.
SKRS LLC also proposes a companion Unified Development Code text amendment that would apply countywide to any transient accommodation use with 40 or more units that was built before March 13, 1989 and remains in operation as of the date the amendment would take effect. (The Unified Development Code — UDC — contains all the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.)
County zoning regulations for parcels zoned for commercial purposes on Siesta Key allow transient accommodations, but only if the County Commission approves a Special Exception for a hotel or motel use. Additionally, any hotel room without a kitchen counts as half a dwelling unit. County regulations allow a maximum of 13 dwelling units per acre on Commercial General property; thus, the number of hotel rooms allowed on 1 acre would be 26.
Seeking a comprehensive approach
Mark Spiegel, president and chair of the Siesta Key Coalition, was among the island residents who appeared before the commission on Jan. 26 to urge denial of the Consent Agenda items.
The Coalition, which recently won 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS, was organized last year to oppose hotel projects that exceed the existing Siesta Key commercial development regulations.
After the commission votes, Spiegel told The Sarasota News Leader in a Jan. 26 email, “[T]he real message we are trying to say to our County Planning staff and commissioners is that the implications have a major impact on [Siesta Key] and we genuinely want, as stakeholders of [Siesta Key], to have a County-run forum … where we can not only share concerns, but recommend issues to consider and study.”
Spiegel has expressed dismay with the fact that attorneys and representatives of land-development consulting firms handled the county-required Neighborhood Workshops for the Calle Miramar and Kompothecras projects.
“As important,” Spiegel continued in his Jan. 26 email to the News Leader, “we feel we can put forth for benefit of [the] County and … developers what type of true boutique hotel we would support, one that would be better sized and designed in [the] character of [Siesta Key], and have less adverse intensity impact on our roads and beaches, and require less precedent-setting and [fewer] material changes to our protective codes and policies. We want to share what we are for, not just want we are against.”
He added, “This doesn’t need to be highly controversial and adversarial if the County would engage with organizations like SK Coalition, SKCC [the Siesta Key Condominium Council], SKA [the Siesta Key Association] and the [Siesta Key] Chamber of Commerce in [a] proactive forum … I really want to see economic growth and enhancing redevelopment on the Key.”
In response to a News Leader question, Todd Dary, manger of the county’s Planning Division, noted in a Jan. 27 email that the project teams for the Calle Miramar hotel and the Kompothecras hotel already have conducted their Neighborhood Workshops, in compliance with county regulations. Staff tentatively is planning the Neighborhood Workshop on the redevelopment of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites for Monday, Feb. 22, Dary added.
“Applicants are required to hold ONE neighborhood workshop within nine months of a scheduled Planning Commission public hearing,” Dary continued, with emphasis. “We do not anticipate additional neighborhood workshops unless they would exceed the nine month requirement for timeliness.”
The first Siesta Key resident to address the commissioners about the Jan. 26 Consent Agenda items was Spiegel. The Siesta Key Coalition’s members include 21 residential neighborhood and condominium associations representing about 1,900 households, Spiegel said, and the Coalition is “growing weekly.”
Each of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments, Spiegel continued, involves a hotel “that will exceed density and intensity restrictions under our current barrier island policies … It is not appropriate to consider them piecemeal.”
What ultimately happens with the proposed amendments, he pointed out, could have an effect on the 30-plus acres zoned for commercial purposes on the island.
Spiegel also cited part of Chapter 94 of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances, which says only two types of Comprehensive Plan amendments may be considered out of the normal cycle: those involving proposed Developments of Regional Impact and those related to proposed Small Scale Development Activities. “These are defined terms in our ordinances,” Spiegel added, “and these [Consent Agenda] proposals do not qualify.”
The second speaker, Robert Luckner, noted that he is the vice president of the Siesta Key Coalition as well as a director of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).
Luckner reiterated several of Spiegel’s points about the language in the County Code. “I’m not here to debate the wisdom of such change,” he added of the hotel proposals. “That’s for another date.”
The third speaker was Luckner’s wife, Catherine, who has been the SKA president for the past several years. “Anything that I think is this important — and I think [these proposals are] very important — should follow the process, follow the ordinance, follow the statute completely,” Catherine Luckner said. (She was referring to Florida Statute 163.3187(1), which is referenced in the same section of the Code of Ordinances that Spiegel and her husband cited.
“This is a really big deal,” Luckner pointed out.
Two other speakers urged the commissioners to allow the proposed out-of-cycle review of the amendments related to redevelopment of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites: Weiqi Lin of Port and Coastal Consultants in Sarasota, which is acting as the agent for the owners of the hotel; and Michael Holderness, principal of the ownership group.
Lin pointed out that the hotel is “functionally obsolete.” As part of its transformation into a larger facility, Lin said, the owners will be able to ensure that the construction meets Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations for buildings in flood zones, as well as Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Lin stressed that the project team is not seeking additional height above the 35-foot limit allowed by the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning regulations. The other two hotels would be taller than 80 feet, based on the applications submitted to county staff late last year.
(However, the redeveloped Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites would stand higher than 35 feet, because it would be constructed above what FEMA calls “Base Flood Elevation.” In other words, it would be elevated to withstand hurricane storm surge.)
Holderness told the commissioners, “As most of you know, I’m kind of an outspoken native Floridian, passionate about our community and our environment. … We’re not looking to increase intensity much.”
During the board discussion, Chair Alan Maio also noted a comment he had received via email from Siesta architect Mark Smith.
Writing on behalf of the Siesta Chamber, which he serves as a director, Smith pointed out that all three of the Consent Agenda items called for the waiving of “the scoping requirement.”
Smith continued, “Referring to UDC Sec. 94-85 — County initiation of Comprehensive Plan amendments, Subsection (a):
‘Planning Staff will conduct a scoping process for the proposed amendment per Subsection (c) of this section, and present the results of this study at the LPA [Local Planning Agency] meeting along with any written public comments received. The Board may waive the scoping requirement by majority vote.’”
(The county’s Planning Commission is considered the LPA, its webpage explains. In that capacity, the webpage says, that commission “is obligated to interpret and advise the County Commission on the adoption of and amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, as well as land use applications filed, pursuant to state statute or existing county ordinances.”)
Smith then noted in his email that Subsection (c) of UDC Section 94-85 states, “The Planning Department will conduct a two-part scoping process wherein: Part 1 — the proposed amendment will be clearly defined and all pertinent issues identified.”
He added, “Part 2 pertains to the amount of staff time required to process the proposed amendment.
“We believe that [because of] the impact of these three Comprehensive Plan Amendments to … Future Land Use Policies that the scoping requirement NOT be waived and that the proposed amendment will be clearly defined and all pertinent issues identified and presented to the LPA through the scoping process,” Smith wrote.