In response to plans for three large hotels on the island, a coalition of Siesta Key residents has formed in opposition.
When developer Mark Spiegel heard a proposal had been submitted to the county for a 170-room hotel on the lot next to his condo, he was stunned — but not because it could block his gulf view.
The proposal in question is for a 170-room, five story hotel over three levels of parking on four parcels of land between Calle Miramar and Beach Road.
Because the property is within the Siesta Key Overlay District, it would need a special exception to allow its proposed height of 80 feet — the current maximum allowed by right is 35 feet. The owner, Robert Anderson, is also requesting to eliminate a cap on density for the project, arguing that transient units should not be subject to county density standards. If approved, the request could affect regulations on barrier islands countywide.
Currently, the county allows up to 13 units per acre with a kitchen or 26 an acre without a kitchen on the property. Anderson is proposing 170 units on 1 acre.
“I’ve never opposed a development in my whole life, but this is just so over the top,” Spiegel said. “It’s at a sensitive juncture in the Village and out of character for the Village. And worse than all that, it just sets a really dangerous legal precedent for the barrier islands.”
In other portions of the island, hotel owners are seeking similar changes.
Just north of Anderson’s lot, Siesta Key Resort Beach Resort and Suites Owner Mike Holderness wants to expand from 55 to 170 rooms. In south Siesta, Gary Kompathecras hopes to build a 120-room hotel on a little more than an acre at Old Stickney Point and Peacock roads.
These proposals have caused concern among homeowners, condominium councils and island leaders who fear that if approved, the character of the barrier island would be threatened. About 8,500 residents have joined Spiegel’s Siesta Key Coalition, formed to oppose Anderson’s proposal.
“If this is allowed, a lot of other commercial properties are going to start asking for the same exemption,” Spiegel said. “Pretty soon we’re going to wake up and feel more like Fort Lauderdale than like our charming little barrier island.”
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner said SK Coalition members are not opposed to development on the parcels as long as it is consistent with existing zoning regulations. She said many Siesta Key residents fear approval of the proposal means a future where large hotels border the coastline.
“When we became the No. 1 beach, one of the things that was highlighted is public accessibility,” Luckner said. “People can easily come to the beach, enjoy being there in a family-oriented area. That’s one of the things we could lose if these are approved.”
Other island leaders, however, say a few hotels could help the island maintain a balance between residential and transient use.
Architect and Siesta resident Mark Smith said a hotel near the Village could help drive business to the area and fit in better than alternate development options. Rather than a hotel, Spiegel said he would like to see condos or a restaurant on Anderson’s site.
But Smith said a 170-room hotel would probably have less of an impact on traffic than a 150-seat restaurant drawing waves of people throughout the day.
“I don’t believe it’s accurate when you’re talking about hotels to talk about density because no one’s living at the hotel,” Smith said. “I think it’s more of an intensity issue, and what’s more intense of a use: a hotel or what somebody else would put on the property?”
The island doesn’t need 15 hotels, Smith said, but a hotel near the Village and another near the south bridge could help drive up the local economy. Other supporters have said new hotels on Siesta could offset some vehicle trips from tourists who would otherwise stay on the mainland.
Still, Spiegel and Luckner fear that if the proposed projects are approved, it would lead to a wave of similar applications on the county’s barrier islands.