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Repealed ordinance clears the slate for Siesta Key hotels

Sarasota County commissioners repeal comprehensive plan changes that led to county approval of hotels later ruled illegal in court.

In 2021, developer Gary Kompothecras proposed a seven-story hotel with up to 120 rooms at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.
In 2021, developer Gary Kompothecras proposed a seven-story hotel with up to 120 rooms at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.
Courtesy image
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Fears of a new round of fights against high-density hotels surfaced among Siesta Key residents last week when four agenda items appeared on the docket for Tuesday’s Sarasota County Commission meeting in Venice. 

The items appeared just two weeks after the commission approved advancing a study of a privately initiated, out-of-cycle comprehensive plan amendment proposed by Benderson Development. The developer, who wasn’t involved in either of the hotels rejected in state court proceedings, is seeking the changes to clear the way for a 210-room hotel in Siesta Village, largely by redefining transient accommodations like hotels as nonresidential uses and therefore not subject to density limits. 

The agenda items included:

  • A public hearing to adopt an ordinance that repeals the 2021 comprehensive plan change that redefined transient accommodations as nonresidential in the Boutique Resort Redevelopment/Planned Development District, which essentially covers much of Siesta Village.
  • A discussion, not a public hearing, to waive the requirement for a Planning Commission hearing, the nature of which was unclear. 
  • A discussion to waive the 12-month application filing restriction for a new special exception for two hotels approved by the county in 2021, which were ruled in violation of the county's comprensive plan in court. The county had 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. Those hotels are Calle Miramar in Siesta Village and another at 1260 Old Stickney Point Road.

That had battle-weary Siesta Key residents preparing to go to war with the county once again, four of them admonishing commissioners for what they perceived as rushing to find an end-around to approve the hotels.

The map shows parcels owned by Benderson Development entities on both sides of Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village.
Courtesy image

Their ire was in part fueled by a three-letter word that Director of Planning Services Matt Osterhoudt later said was inadvertently left in the language of the ordinance that otherwise repealed the 2021 addendum and restored the comprehensive plan to its original 1989 form.

“A transient accommodation shall be considered a non-residential use for density purposes,” the passage reads, inadvertently neglecting to strike “non.”

“We did discover this morning in the definition that was included in the new code that I neglected to strike through this word 'non' in the definition that was added in the 2021 ordinance,” explained Assistant Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. “In an effort to get this back for you today, I did overlook that small word. It should be stricken.”

The word is small in stature but big in meaning. It was that 2021 change redefining hotels as nonresidential that the county used in part to approve the hotels.

With that correction, Commissioner and Siesta Key resident Mark Smith explained to those concerned that the repeal of the 2021 changes restores the comprehensive plan to its 1989 language that prohibits high-density hotels on the barrier island. 

He also said the ill-described waiving of the Planning Commission requirement was related only to that ordinance repeal, and that the waiving of the 12-month waiting period for reapplication of the two opposed hotels would be in effect only if the Benderson comprehensive plan amendment is ultimately approved. If so, those applications would instead be refiled under a new comp plan change.

“I just want to reiterate to my Siesta Key folks that the special exception process is moving. It doesn't have to wait for 12 months, but it doesn't mean it's set in stone until the comp plan goes through its process with the public hearings and workshops and comes back to the board for final vote,” Smith said. “The special exceptions will not go into effect until that comprehensive plan process goes through its process. So don't panic. It’s all OK.”

Just in case, though, residents left commissioners with their thoughts.

Policy actions are in response to a need, Catherine Luckner said, and Siesta Key doesn’t need hotel rooms.

“Siesta Key continues to do well for our county,” she said. “I counted all of the places that rent rooms, and there are well over 5,000 rooms available in Siesta Key at any given time.”

Added Eileen Jones on behalf of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, “This is the kind of behavior that costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of unnecessary dollars in legal fees. Therefore, we urge the commission to table adoption of any new amendments until a complete study of the implications of an amendment is scheduled and the community, your taxpayers who are also the stakeholders, are included in the process.”

Resident John Doherty also addressed the matter of need.

“After these hotels have been de facto rejected by the courts, it would be an injustice to Siesta Key residents to proceed,” he said. “Public health, safety and welfare of the residents of Siesta Key should be utmost on your minds and not the need of the hotels that are proposed. I don't have any trouble finding any housing for any of my visitors, so I would submit to you that there should be an establishment of need before you proceed.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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