Tall commercial buildings could potentially be built closer to the street near the south bridge to Siesta Key, if commissioners allow it during the special exceptions process.
The County Commission approved Wednesday a change to the Siesta Key Overlay District to allow commercial buildings to be closer to the street on the south bridge area of the Key.
This decision puts an end to a months-long debate between residents and business owners on the Key: should taller commercial buildings be allowed closer to the street to encourage new businesses, or will that destroy the ambience and character of the Key?
After four hours and 33 speakers, commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the change.
“I won’t support the motion, but I do want to say the language that’s been brought forward with the specificity and requirements is much better than it was last time around,” Commissioner Charles Hines said.
After a Jan. 30 meeting, commissioners asked to see revised language for the amendment. Land use attorney Charlie Bailey adjusted the amendment on his clients’ behalf to focus specifically on the south bridge area, and give the commission the authority to decide what the setback should be for new buildings there “if the building is demonstrated to be compatible with surrounding properties and designed for the pedestrian scale,” the amendment states.
The change only affects about 13 parcels — including the one owned by 1-800-ASK-GARY founder Gary Kompothecras. The Old Stickney Point Road property has long been the site of a proposed boutique hotel that has spooked residents and interested business owners on the Key.
Kompothecras also spoke at the meeting, and assured those in attendance they would like the project he would propose after commissioners voted on the amendment — and if not, they would have a chance in the future to raise concerns.
“I love this Key, I would never hurt this Key, my kids are growing up on this Key,” he said. “You need economic growth, but you need smart growth, and I agree with that. The only way you can get there is through the special exception process, where everybody gets some input.”
The proposed hotel is what prompted the commission to discuss the Siesta setback rules to begin with. In July, land use attorney Charlie Bailey appealed a decision by a county zoning administrator, and was denied. Thus began the process of seeking an amendment to SKOD.
“I want to have as much flexibility as possible when the project comes, so we can be creative and visionary and logical,” said Commissioner Mike Moran, in favor of the amendment.
The original zoning regulation said that every commercial building taller than 35 feet must have a setback of 25 feet or half the building’s height, whichever is greater. Bailey originally sought the minimum setback to be two feet, regardless of building’s height, and that commissioner’s have the ability to require a larger setback as part of the special exception process.
Bailey represented Clayton and Diane Thompson, owners of Clayton’s Siesta Grille on the effort to change that piece of the code. On other matters, including his hotel efforts, Bailey also represents Kompothecras.
Per commissioners’ instruction on Jan. 30, the new amendment focuses on one specific commercial pocket on the Key, totaling just about 11 acres; increases the minimum setback from two feet to 25 feet, except when commissioners decide differently; and adds specific criteria for determining what a setback should be.
Bailey and Kompothecras maintain that plans could not be drawn for the hotel until the setback issue was settled, which would dictate what they could put on the property.
Commission Chair Nancy Detert also voted against the amendment, arguing that while it may be time to create a special overlay for the south bridge area of Siesta Key, there is no urgency in identifying ways to help the area flourish.
“This opens us up to being pecked to death by ducks on a regular basis,” she said.
Of the 33 people who spoke at the April 11 meeting, most were residents that opposed the change.
“The residents have spoken long, loud and clear they do not want this change,” Siesta Key resident Marc Julius told commissioners. “In the face of all this, if the commission were to approve this amendment, it would have a very bad smell. It would give the appearance that you’re favoring the interests of one wealthy developer — Gary Kompothecras — over the needs of your constituents.”
Clayton Thompson, who said at the April 11 meeting he is working with Kompothecras on his plans for a hotel adjacent to his restaurant, wants to see the south bridge area redeveloped. In the past, he’s called the area near the Stickney Point Bridge “blighted.”
“We just want some language that provides for you, the County Commission, to do something special for our district,” Thompson told commissioners.