Despite lengthy public testimony in opposition from island residents, the county advisory board supported applications tied to a Siesta Key Village hotel.
The Planning Commission voted today to recommend approval of a pair of applications associated with plans for an eight-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar in Siesta Key Village.
One application, an amendment to the county’s unified development code, seeks to change the development review process for hotel projects countywide by removing limits on density. The second, a request for a special exception, asks to change regulations in a commercial portion of the Siesta Key Overlay District to permit hotel construction. The special exception application also seeks to increase the maximum height on the parcel in question from 35 feet to 80 feet.
The proposals drew opposition from more than a dozen Siesta Key residents who spoke at today’s meeting, with those objecting characterizing the project as inappropriate for the island and noncompliant with county regulations. Representatives for the applicant argued the project was compatible with its surroundings and in line with the county’s zoning code and comprehensive plan, noting county staff recommended approval of the applications.
The site of the proposed hotel, just under one acre of land at the intersection of Calle Miramar and Beach Road, could accommodate 26 units in a three-story building under existing regulations. Although the application seeks an increase in the permissible height and number of rooms, the project team said county regulations allow for a height increase via special exception. Bill Merrill, a land use attorney representing the applicant, said hotels are a fundamentally commercial use and therefore should not be subject to residential density limitations.
Merrill and Kelley Klepper, a vice president at Kimley-Horn, pointed to the nearby 12- and 17-story Terrace East and Beach Terrace buildings south of Siesta Village as evidence the eight-story hotel would be appropriate for the environment. And the developer’s representatives suggested Siesta Key is in need of a hotel, given the island’s status as a tourist destination.
“It blends in with the nature of the Key,” Klepper said.
Siesta Key residents argued the proposal violated a provision in the county’s comprehensive plan that prohibits development on the barrier islands that are a higher intensity and density than standards established in 1989. The applicant originally sought an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan to get around that provision, but withdrew that amendment in May after county staff determined the development proposal could proceed without it.
Speakers at the meeting also said the hotel was out of scale for the barrier island, calling the project an overlarge structure that would exacerbate traffic issues in the area. Although the applicant said some uses that are already permitted on the site would generate more traffic than the hotel would — a point county staff agreed with — residents remained concerned about congestion.
“This hotel is too big, too high, in the wrong place, does not fit with the surroundings, will cause major traffic and parking issues, and overpowers the neighbors,” said Rose Battles, a resident on Calle Miramar.
The Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed unified development code application and 4-2 to recommend approval of the special exception. Justin Taylor opposed both proposals, stating he was not comfortable with revising the process for evaluating hotel proposals throughout Sarasota.
“I don’t think I learned enough about what this could do to the entire county,” Taylor said.
Kevin Cooper joined Taylor in opposing the special exception application. Cooper said he felt the proposal subverted the comprehensive plan provision limiting increased density on the barrier islands, and he did not think the Planning Commission was in a position to change the interpretation of established county policies.
“I have a hard time getting around saying, ‘Well, let’s not call it density anymore,’” Cooper said.
A majority of the board was in favor of both measures, with several commissioners calling a hotel a welcome addition to Siesta Key. And, despite the concerns residents expressed about the effects of the project, commissioners did not anticipate the hotel would meaningfully affect traffic on the island.
“I don’t think that us approving or disapproving of this is going to alter the traffic one iota,” commissioner Teresa Mast said.
The County Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the hotel applications on Oct. 27.
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