Residents argue against rule change that would affect proposed buildings higher than 35 feet.
New construction in commercial areas of Siesta Key could be built closer to the sidewalk than currently allowed if a zoning amendment recommended for approval by the Planning Commission is OK’d next month by the County Commission.
Dozens of Siesta Key residents showed up at the Dec. 7 Planning Commission meeting to oppose the change, which was approved 8-1. County Commissioners are expected to consider the issue on Jan. 30.
The rule change would eliminate a requirement for buildings taller than 35 feet to be set back from the sidewalk either a minimum of 25 feet or half the height of the building, whichever is greater. Instead, the setback of each such proposal would be considered individually as part of a special-exception process.
The Siesta Key Overlay District, which is designed to promote pedestrian traffic in commercial areas, says buildings under 35 feet can have a minimum setback of 2 feet.
Although the setback could be as little as 2 feet, it’s doubtful that an 85-foot building will be permitted to be that close to a sidewalk, Planning Commission members said.
“If it’s a bad application, it won’t get through,” Commissioner Robert Morris said.
“This is being characterized as minor,” said Dan Lobeck, an attorney for the Siesta Breakers Condominium Association. “This is a huge amendment to the zoning code, tailor-made for a developer who has aspirations to build a hotel right against the street.”
Siesta Key resident and activist Lourdes Ramirez said allowing larger buildings with reduced setbacks would change the island’s relaxed nature.
“We never wanted a tall building,” said Ramirez, who was involved in the process of creating the Siesta Key Overlay District. “We fought for reducing height on Siesta Key since 1953, when we created the first zoning code. We’ve been fighting for less intensity, we’ve been fighting for less height and we’ve been fighting for more open space.”
Land-use attorney Charlie Bailey has represented 1-800-ASK-GARY founder Gary Kompothecras on the setback issue before, as part of Kompothecras’ efforts to build a hotel on Siesta Key. According to a memo to the commission, he was representing two other Siesta Key property owners for this zoning code amendment.
County staff said in a memo to the board that specific guidelines on how to establish an appropriate setback in the special exception process would make sense. Bailey said he and his clients would be willing to add the additional language that some members of the commission agreed would be necessary. He emphasized the importance of putting the decision about setbacks in the hands of commissioners, as well as the importance of encouraging new business on Siesta Key.
“There’s no redevelopment occurring on Siesta Key,” Bailey said. “[No businesses] are being razed and replaced with good new commercial redevelopment. Instead they’re bars replacing bars, and restaurants.”