Business owners say not much would change if the amendment passes, but they hope it will open new doors.
The County Commission will hear a debate April 11 over setbacks for commercial buildings on Siesta Key — specifically, how close ones taller than three stories can be to the street.
The proposal is to adjust the language of the Siesta Key Overlay District to make street yard setbacks part of the special exception process, not something that the code unilaterally decides for commercial buildings.
Business owners are ready for the change, which they hope will encourage different types of businesses on the Key — particularly in the south bridge area.
Clayton Thompson, owner of Clayton’s Siesta Grille, is the one who is asking for the amendment and who initiated the debate. He said the commercial area at the end of the Stickney Point Bridge on the Key is dilapidated, and he wants to see that change.
“This area has been blighted for the past 10 years,” he said. “I put it akin to living next door to a gas station — just a use that is unacceptable … I think [this amendment] just provides the option, going forward, with the possibilities of variance and agreement as to how you develop a property down there.”
When commissioners put off the discussion in January, they were giving county staff a chance to come back with more specific language for them to consider for an amendment — they thought what was proposed was too vague.
The new amendment from the applicant focuses specifically on the south bridge area, and gives 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.
Residents have also come up with their own amendment: that for every extra foot of height on the building above 35 feet, the setback be increased one foot.
No matter what the commission decides, it would be difficult to discern any changes in the Village or south bridge area, business owners say.
“These folks think we’re going to turn into Miami Beach. It’s humorous, but it’s not possible,” said Mark Smith, architect and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce president. “For the most part, you’re not going to see it. Only when the older structures are ready to come down, and even then there isn’t going to be this mega-building happening.”
But down the line, when new buildings do come to the Key, Thompson thinks Siesta Key “desperately” needs a hotel, and the south bridge area needs an option to build something other than another bar or restaurant. Smith and Chris Brown, owner of several businesses in the Village, agree.
"Is it for-profit corporations … versus 3,000-6,000 people who live here? Which is more important?"
“I do believe that the island would benefit as a whole if we had a couple of very nice boutique hotels,” Brown said. “To me it seems like a no-brainer.”
The setback issue originally arose as part of 1-800-ASK-GARY owner Gary Kompothecras’ efforts to put a hotel on Siesta Key, on a 15,000-square-foot property on Old Stickney Point Road.
Despite reassurances that it would be a boutique hotel, residents don’t want the amendment to make it possible for developers to put large buildings close to the sidewalk. The Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Condominium Council oppose the change.
“I think the commissioners have to decide who they represent,” said Joe Volpe, a member of the Siesta Key Association Board of Directors. “Is it for-profit corporations … versus 3,000-6,000 people who live here? Which is more important?”
This story has been updated to reflect that the most recent version of the amendment was created by the applicant, not county staff.