With new concern about size of restaurant proposed in one hotel, plus shock at county staff’s recent interpretation of street setbacks, Siesta Chamber tweaks proposed ‘boutique hotel’ zoning amendments

Siesta Key Coalition leaders hope that business organization’s worries will prompt greater County Commission attention to island residents’ fight against hotel plans submitted to county staff over past year

This is a close-up view of the area planned for a restaurant over the lobby of the proposed hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With concerns about the potential for 7,000 or more square feet of restaurant space in one of the four proposed hotels on the island — and an unexpected county zoning interpretation of street setback regulations — the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce has tweaked amendments it has proposed to the county’s Unified Development Code regarding boutique hotels in the Siesta Key Overlay District.

The Chamber sent its updated suggestions to county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson in a letter via email, Mark Smith, a Siesta architect who long has been a volunteer with the Chamber, told The Sarasota News Leader. The original Chamber proposals were contained in a May 25 letter to Thompson.

In the May letter, the Chamber requested an amendment to Article 7, Section 124-102 of the UDC, which contains the SKOD, to allow for no more than 75 rooms without kitchens in boutique hotels on the barrier island. The letter pointed out that “transient accommodations” — the county staff term for hotel and motel rooms — are allowed by Special Exception in the Commercial General (CG) zoning districts of the SKOD. (The County Commission must approve a Special Exception request.)

Additionally, the original proposal called for boutique hotels to have accessory uses, “such as a restaurant, bar or shops for retail sale.”

Subsequent to making that recommendation, Smith told the News Leader during a Sept. 23 telephone interview, Chamber representatives conducted a conference call with Dave Balot, the principal behind plans for a hotel on the 5810 Midnight Pass Road site where a Wells Fargo bank stood for decades. They talked with Balot about his plans for a restaurant in the building, Smith added.

Balot’s application calls for a dining establishment that would be larger than any other on Siesta, Smith pointed out.

The original county application for Balot’s hotel cited 7,000 square feet of patron space, Smith added.

A revised application that county Planning and Development Services staff received on May 24 raised the total restaurant/bar square footage to 9,350 square feet “for hotel guests and local Siesta Key residents and visitors …” However, the latest version of the Development Concept Plan for the hotel, which DSDG Architects of Sarasota submitted to staff on June 8, again lists 7,000 square feet for the restaurant/bar. A note below that line says, “(Eating, drinking waiting sf).”

The site plan also calls for 71 extra parking spaces for beachgoers or “overflow.”

This box contains details about the Development Concept Plan for the hotel that would stand at 5810 Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar that was built on Stickney Point Road in 2016-2017 has a 6,000-square-foot restaurant area with 152 seats, as co-owner Troy Syprett explained to the News Leader when that project was underway.

Another restaurant developed in recent years — the Summer House, located at 149 Avenida Messina in Siesta Village — has patron space totaling 2,210 square feet, according to the March 2017 engineering drawings submitted to county staff. The total number of seats is 150, one of those documents adds.

In a Questions & Answers document that Balot released this spring, in conjunction with his plans, he wrote, “I believe the proposed hotel, with a much-needed new restaurant on Siesta Key … that has enough parking for all its patrons, would increase the quality of life and experience for the current residents and guests of Siesta Key.”

In a follow-up email to some of the participants in the county-mandated Neighborhood Workshop on the proposed hotel — which was conducted on June 9 — Balot wrote, “”[T]he principal money generator will be the hotel, not the restaurant.”

The hotel, which would have 100 rooms, would stand atop two levels of parking, the May application said. A total of 321 spaces would be within those levels, the application noted. Seven of them would be designated for handicapped parking, with 43 marked for motorcycles, the June 8 Development Concept Plan says.

“Regardless of the square footage of floor space for the restaurant/bar,” the application said, “the applicant will meet the current parking requirements of 1 new parking space for each 50 [square feet] of patron floor area.”

Following their conference call with Balot, Smith told the News Leader on Sept. 23, Chamber leaders agreed on the need “to tie the number of [restaurant] seats to the number of [hotel] rooms” in the boutique hotel text amendment for the Unified Development Code.

The resulting new language says, “The number of restaurant/bar seats shall not be greater than the ratio of 1.5 times the number of hotel rooms.”

Unlike a school cafeteria, for example, Smith pointed out, where only a certain number of students are seated at one time, a 7,000-square-foot restaurant could be full at any given time — with the resulting traffic.

Smith told the News Leader that he consulted Mike Gatz, the manager of Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill in Siesta Village, about the best ratio of seats per number of hotel rooms. Gatz, who is the incoming chair of the Chamber, was a member of the committee that came up with the boutique hotel UDC amendment, Smith added.

This is the Daiquiri Deck on property between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road. File photo

The fourth cycle for suggested revisions to the Unified Development Code (UDC) ended on Sept. 15, Michele Norton, assistant director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, pointed out to the News Leader in response to questions from the publication. Altogether, she added in a Sept. 23 email, staff received 15 submissions from the public.

At this stage of the process, Norton continued, it is too premature to anticipate a timeline for presenting staff’s recommendations on those proposals to the County Commission.

The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations. The Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) is the section of the UDC that governs development on the barrier island.

The setbacks issue

The other modification of the Chamber’s original boutique hotel proposal relates to side and rear setbacks from the street for structures that abut residential districts.

Smith explained that Chamber leaders were taken aback by county staff comments during the Planning Commission hearing conducted on Aug. 19 on the proposal for a 170-room hotel on four parcels between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village.

This is the updated Development Concept Plan for the eight-story hotel proposed between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, as noted in county staff correspondence in June and July with the project team. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Robert Luckner, vice president of the nonprofit Siesta Key Coalition, pointed out during his comments that evening that the design of the structure did not include sufficient setbacks. He referenced the applicable section of the UDC, contending that the hotel should stand a minimum of 31.25 feet from the adjacent residential property, because the hotel has been planned to be 80 feet tall. The maximum height allowed in a Commercial General zoning district in the SKOD is 35 feet, Luckner noted.

Yet, the hotel team had proposed only a 20-foot setback, Luckner added.

Teresa Mast, vice chair of the Planning Commission, asked Todd Dary, manager of the county’s Planning Division, about Luckner’s comments.

Todd Dary addresses the county commissioners on July 14. File image

“The [setback] provision is broken into two parts,” Dary began. One involves the zoning district standards, while the other pertains to Special Exception petitions, which is what the Calle Miramar hotel project team is seeking in regard to height, Dary said. The language in the UDC, Dary added, “says this or this.” In other words, Dary explained, it does not call for combining the standard 20-foot setback with an additional setback because of the extra height.

Staff had reviewed that portion of the UDC to ensure of the correct interpretation, he told Mast.

Zoning Administrator Thompson added, “That is correct, what Todd has stated.” Thompson then pointed to part of the code to underscore her assertion.

Smith told the News Leader that he did not attend the Planning Commission hearing; he learned of that interpretation from leaders of the Siesta Key Coalition. His initial thought, he said, was, “There’s no way.” Then he looked at the video of the hearing, he added.

Therefore, Smith continued, the Chamber committee members felt the need to propose a change to the UDC to make it clear that additional setbacks should be necessary for structures taller than 35 feet in Commercial General zoning districts, if the buildings will be adjacent to residential zoning districts.

In its original proposal regarding the height of boutique hotels in the SKOD, the Chamber called for the maximum height allowed above the base flood elevation set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be determined by the adjacent Commercial General (CG)/SKOD and RMF (Residential Multi-Family) zoning districts. A boutique hotel adjacent to RMF-1 and RMF-2 properties would stand 35 feet above the FEMA elevation. If a boutique hotel were next to parcels zoned RMF-3 and CG, the amendment added, then the maximum height would be 45 feet above the FEMA elevation.

This rendering of the hotel proposed on Calle Miramar shows an 8-foot fence and vegetative buffering planned between the structure and an adjoining condominium building. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The new addition to that section, as the Chamber has proposed, would read as follows: “Side and rear setbacks that abut residential districts shall be 20 feet for buildings to a height of 35 [feet] above FEMA elevation. Buildings higher than 35 [feet] above FEMA shall be stepped back an additional one foot for each four feet of building height above the 35 [foot] FEMA elevation.”

The parking levels proposal

As noted in its May letter to Zoning Administrator Thompson, the Chamber also has proposed that a maximum of two levels of in-structure parking be permitted “to count toward additional building height” in excess of the above standards.

If a boutique hotel were built next to parcels zoned RMF-1 and RMF-2 in the SKOD, they could be no taller than 57 feet above the pre-development grade. If such a structure were to be erected next to property zoned RMF-3 or CG, that May letter added, then the maximum height above pre-development grade would be 67 feet.

This is the graphic provided in the May Siesta Key Chamber letter regarding the proposal for the parking levels of a boutique hotel. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

The two levels of parking “shall not exceed 22 feet measured from the pre-development existing grade to the floor of the first habitable story,” the amendment adds.

Further, the ground floor parking level “shall not exceed 12 feet measured from the pre-development existing grade to the floor of the second parking level,” and the second level must be no higher than 10 feet, as measured from the floor of that story to the floor of the first habitable story of the structure.

Siesta Key Coalition response

Mark Spiegel, president of the Siesta Key Coalition, responded via email to the News Leader’s request for comments on the Chamber’s revised proposals.

Noting that Coalition representatives have had “periodic and constructive conversations” with the Siesta Chamber leaders since January, Spiegel wrote that the organizations share concerns “about the excessive nature of the currently proposed high-density hotels.” Like the Chamber, he continued, “our Coalition is not anti-growth,” and Coalition leaders “believe smart redevelopment is an important necessity for Siesta Key’s continued success. We also agree that if [a] new hotel is to be developed on our barrier island, that a true boutique hotel would be a better fit,” Spiegel added.

“We have shared some of our examples and research on the characteristics of successful, smaller, independent boutique hotels” with the Chamber, he continued.

This is the mission of the Siesta Key Coalition, as shown on its website. Image courtesy Siesta Key Coalition

Spiegel did express support for the revision regarding side and rear setbacks. “This has been a major issue raised by our Coalition” during the neighborhood workshops conducted on the hotel proposals, county staff application reviews and Planning Commission hearings on the hotels proposed for Calle Miramar and Old Stickney Point Road, Spiegel pointed out. “Like the Chamber, we disagree with the County’s recent ‘interpretation’ benefiting the current developers and allowing them to go to 80-83 feet without any additional setback beyond the minimum 20 feet next to residential neighbors,” Spiegel wrote.

Further, Spiegel pointed out, the Coalition agrees that putting a 75-room cap on any hotel on the island “would assure the ‘boutique’ scale is not exceeded.”

“Although we may differ on the amount of [residential] density per acre, we both agree that that the recent Planning Commission and County Planning Staff’s recommendation to eliminate room per acre density restrictions is not appropriate,” Spiegel continued. He was referring to a UDC text amendment included with the Calle Miramar hotel application, which would classify hotels as commercial enterprises with no residential density calculation, even on the barrier islands.

This is a graphic the Calle Miramar project team showed the county’s Planning Commission on Aug. 19 that explains criteria for granting a Special Exception. The team is seeking Special Exceptions, which the County Commission must approve, for exceeding a height restriction in the Siesta Key zoning regulations and for allowing a hotel use on a parcel zoned Commercial General. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Yes, hotels are a commercial use,” Spiegel wrote, “but in the hospitality industry, especially in suburban and resort locations, which certainly include a barrier island, it is common to measure and restrict density and intensity on a room per acre basis.”

Finally, Spiegel pointed out, “We hope that our County leadership will have a key takeaway and questions as a result of the [Siesta] Chamber proposal, more than just its specifics: What does it say when a business organization on Siesta Key, which clearly favors the idea of a new hotel, is not in support of the current applicants’ plans? Why would this stakeholder group feel so compelled to take the unusual step to propose an alternative” in advance of the County Commission hearings on the hotels?

(The hearing on the Calle Miramar proposal is set for Oct. 27; the hotel plans put forth by a team representing Siesta business owner and resident Gary Kompothecras will be the focus of a Nov. 2 hearing. The latter project is planned on Old Stickney Point Road.)

“The Coalition and other stakeholder organizations have been calling for months for the County to pause, to follow our Comprehensive Plan, to do real impact studies of the cumulative effects of already congested roads and overcrowded beaches, and seek real community input and engagement before allowing two one-acre landowners to pursue plans so inconsistent with our Comprehensive Plan and Siesta Key Overlay District regulations,” Spiegel wrote.