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Residents air concerns about 85-foot hotel in Siesta Village

The 210-room hotel would sit on less than 1 acre. Representatives of the Benderson proposal hear from dozens about traffic, public safety and a potential slippery slope.

Benderson Development is proposing a comprehensive plan amendment that would clear the way to build an 85-foot-tall hotel on this site in Siesta Village.
Benderson Development is proposing a comprehensive plan amendment that would clear the way to build an 85-foot-tall hotel on this site in Siesta Village.
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Some 250 Siesta Key residents and other interested parties tuned in Monday night to hear details and provide input on a proposal for comprehensive plan amendments that would allow an 85-foot-tall hotel to be built in the heart of Siesta Village.

During the virtual neighborhood workshop, Philip DiMaria of consultant Kimley-Horn and attorney Bill Merrill presented the privately initiated amendment proposal to Sarasota County government, changes that would permit — pending likely legal challenge if approved — Benderson Development to build a 210-room hotel on the site of a current strip mall center on Ocean Boulevard

Eventual approval of a hotel under the amendment would also require a special exception from the county in concert with a binding development concept plan.

The effort comes on the heels of adjudication from both the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that denied two previously approved hotels to be built on Siesta Key, both determined to be in violation of the county’s comprehensive plan.

The workshop was the second in a multistep process that will include quasi-judicial hearings before the Planning Commission and County Commission. Changes to the comprehensive plan require a super-majority vote of the county commissioners for transmittal to Tallahassee for review and, if approved at the state level, again for final adoption.

Similar to opposition to the previous hotel plans, attendees objected to a project they call out of scale with the rest of Siesta Village, exacerbating already congested traffic conditions, public safety with regard to evacuations and setting a precedent that could ultimately bring more such projects to the barrier island even though the amendment limits transient accommodations to 15% of the commercially zoned land there.

“You're going set the precedent and there is going to be a domino effect that all these other people who want hotels with increased density and increased heights, they're going to be starting to get approval because the commissioners cannot stop it legally after they give you preference,” said one attendee. “I already see it now during Christmas during Thanksgiving, and it's not even the busy season. People were lined up on the bridges. In the busy season you're backed up a mile sometimes to get onto the island.”

Although plans are still in early design, Benderson is proposing an 85-foot-tall, 210-unit hotel with six habitable floors on just less than 1 acre. The site is currently home to small businesses and retailers as well as Flavio’s restaurant. The Ocean Boulevard site is bounded by Calle Menorca to the east and lies just south of Canal Road.

Preliminary plans include approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.

On Nov. 28 the County Commission voted 3-1 with Mark Smith opposed and Joe Neunder absent to allow Benderson’s comprehensive plan amendment to move through the county’s vetting process.

Most alarming to some is a provision that would reclassify transient accommodations as non-residential, which would, in turn, remove all density caps on any new hotel. 

“This is mid-block of the village area, which is mostly one- and partly two-story buildings,” said resident Larry Hersch. "This is going to have a major impact of the aesthetic value in the ambience of the village. Already Siesta Key has three times the population density of the rest of Sarasota County. The density is increasing dramatically and it's already out of control. How can you justify putting something like this that's going to add another 200 people in that area?”

Tuesday’s neighborhood workshop was the first step of the public process for the comprehensive plan amendment proposals. Merrill told residents they will have a chance to have their say before the planning and county commissions.

“Our residents and others on the call will be able to appear before the Planning Commission and the board to express their concerns, whether they're supporting or whether they're opposing this, and be able to state their reasons,” Merrill said. That's what these processes are for, and we're happy to take those issues and your comments into consideration."



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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