After being handed two legal defeats preventing Sarasota County from permitting construction of two hotels on Siesta Key, the County Commission on Tuesday will discuss workaround measures to circumvent those decisions.
Rulings by a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings judge and by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court essentially determined county-approved hotels in Siesta Village and at Stickney Point Road on Siesta Key were in violation of the county’s comprehensive plan, siding with plaintiff Lourdes Ramirez in both cases.
Both hotels were approved by special exception.
Ramirez’s case was specifically against Calle Miramar, a 170-room hotel in Siesta Key Village, but the ruling also effectively prevented construction of a second 120-room hotel on the south end of the island at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.
Shortly after the ruling, Benderson Development requested the county study an out-of-cycle, privately initiated comprehensive plan change that would redefine transient accommodations as non-residential uses, eliminate maximum densities and limit hotels as a use to 15% of the total combined acreage of the commercial zoning districts on the island.
By a 3-1 vote with Mark Smith opposed and Joe Neunder absent, commissioners on Nov. 28 approved going forward with the study of the Benderson proposal while rejecting two subsequent requests submitted by Stantec Consulting Services and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. The Stantec Consulting Services proposal would limit densities to a maximum of 52 transient accommodation units per acre. The chamber proposal would limit hotels to no more than 75 rooms without kitchens and limit restaurant and bar seating to 1.5 times the number of rooms.
Unsurprisingly, that circumvention effort was the main topic of discussion at Thursday’s Siesta Key Association meeting.
“What that is, is a workaround to overcome the fine work that two lawsuits and a (Division of Administrative Hearings) hearing that said you can't violate the comprehensive plan,” said Siesta Key Coalition President Bob Luckner. “The ink’s not dry yet on the court decisions. In fact, they're not even final yet. The DOAH decision still has to be approved by the governor, so it seems premature and we were really upset by it.”
Two weeks later, three items have been placed on the County Commission’s Dec. 12 agenda, including:
- A public hearing to adopt Ordinance No. 2023-067 (Unified Development Code Amendment No. 2023-13), relating to transient accommodations. That strikes language that “a transient accommodation located in the Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development District or the Nokomis Center Revitalization Plan U.S. 41 Corridor shall be considered a residential use for density purposes. Each transient unit not having a kitchen shall be equal to one-half dwelling unit.” Also, the measure adds, “Each transient unit not having a kitchen shall be equal to one-half dwelling unit. Each transient unit having kitchen facilities shall be equal to one dwelling unit.”
- A discussion, not a public hearing, to waive the requirement for a Planning Commission hearing.
- A discussion, not a public hearing, to waive the 12-month application filing restriction for a new special exception for both hotels that lost in court. The county has received two requests to waive the prohibition to refile a special exception application within 12 months of the board or a court taking final action on the application. One request is from attorney Bill Merrill, filed on behalf of Calle Miramar. The other request is from attorney Charles Bailey III on behalf the hotel at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.
“They’re going to ask the commission in a non-public hearing to have a discussion and a vote without public input that they can allow sooner than 12 months to come back and ask for a special exception in parallel with the comprehensive plan change," Luckner said.
An amendment to the comprehensive plan would require a 4-1 supermajority of the County Commission. Any such changes must be administratively approved by the state.