Three reasons everyone in the County should care about proposed Siesta Key hotels
October 18, 2021 —
Guest editorial in the Herald Tribune by Mark Spiegel
There are four high-density hotel developments proposed on Siesta Key adding over 500 rooms and 1,000 transient guests to a resident population of less than 7,000. Despite universal opposition from Siesta residents, businesses and every major stakeholder organization, the County’s advisory Planning Commission recently recommended moving forward with both a 170-room, 8-story hotel in Siesta Key Village on less than one acre, and a 120-room, 7-story hotel on Old Stickney Point Road near the Key’s most congested intersection. These hotel proposals will proceed for a binding vote at the Board of County Commissioner’s (BOCC) hearings on October 27th and November 2nd respectively.
- Enjoyment of Siesta Key beaches will become even more difficult for you.
These two hotels have no beachfront property and are over a mile from the public beach. Their locations are near other beach access points that lead to privately-owned beach areas (90% of SK beaches are privately owned). Historically, private beachfront owners have generously allowed the public to use their property, but after experiencing record, unmanaged crowding recently, and concerned with the prospect of high-density hotels nearby, they are reluctantly preparing to restrict their beach areas with “NO TRESSPASSING” signs. These 1,000 new guests will have to find their way to Siesta Key’s only public beach and compete with County residents for limited parking and beach space. The goal of certain County leaders to increase tourist revenue will come at the expense of the Key’s already strained infrastructure, limiting beach availability for Countywide residents already experiencing prolonged peak-season traffic delays to the Island.
- Your County’s Planning Commission recommended eliminating all existing room per acre density restrictions for hotels, not only on Siesta, but countywide!
In 1999, the “Siesta Key Community Plan” was developed by County leaders with considerable input from residents and stakeholders. This interactive process led to our existing land use regulations. Our Comprehensive Plan, approved by the then BOCC and State, states: Density and intensity on Siesta Key should not exceed the existing zoning in place in 1989.
At the recent hearings, the Planning Commissioners were guided by their personal biases that Siesta Key needs new hotels, no matter how oversized and inappropriate, rather than using existing codes and the Comprehensive Plan as guideposts. These guideposts include, 1) compatibility of building size, height, and density within the neighborhood, 2) evaluation of detrimental impacts on neighboring uses or traffic flow, 3) clear guidance to avoid intense uses in barrier island hurricane evacuation zones and, 4) consistency in all applicable ways with the policies and guiding principles of the Comprehensive Plan.
Our Planning Commission gave its “as is” recommended approval of 7- and 8- story hotels, seeking 4 to 6.5 times the allowed room density. Zoning staff allowed these developers, requesting more than double the allowed height, to avoid the code-intended increased building setbacks from neighboring residential.
The two hotel plans recommended by the Planning Commission have excessive densities of 104 to 170 rooms per acre. For comparison, current code maximum for Siesta Key is 26 per acre; Holmes Beach is 14 per acre; and Daytona Beach is 40 per acre. It should concern all Sarasota County residents that County Planning staff’s agenda to use these Siesta Key applications to eliminate hotel density restrictions countywide is occurring without proper due process of a public notice and input of County residents.
- Your County’s Planning Staff has accommodated developers and denied due process
For a year, the developers, County Planning officials and counsel, and the BOCC have consistently assured the public that these hotel applications would require an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan that restricts such increasing of density and intensity and would require a super majority by the BOCC (4 out of 5 votes). Weeks before the first Planning Commission hearing, we discovered, through public document requests, that Planning staff had consented to a developer’s legal interpretation and request to withdraw the amendment requirement (now only requiring a simple majority vote of the BOCC). Not only is the legal premise incorrect, but the fact that County staff prejudiced the petitions before the hearings, and outside the required public forum, is a failure of due process.
We are not-anti development and are open to true boutique hotels. Even the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, a business organization favoring a new hotel or two on Siesta Key, is opposed to these specific high-density hotel developments and recently submitted alternative code amendments for County review. We ask County leadership to engage with community stakeholders before proceeding with precedent-setting voting on site-specific developer applications. We are calling for a “pause” in this piecemeal, reactive, and developer-led process.
A comprehensive traffic study should be done to analyze the impact of multiple high-density hotels on beach access, pedestrian safety, and emergency access.
We don’t want to stop redevelopment, smart growth, or even hotels on Siesta. We just want County leaders to honor and follow our existing codes and policies. If modifications need consideration, then first do so with community input, impact studies, and proactive planning.
If you share these concerns, it is not too late to engage. Please go to our website, at www.skcoalition.org and click “How Can I Help” or e-mail your concerns and requests to deny these petitions to the Board of County Commissioners today (their email addresses are on this website).
Mark Spiegel is the President of the Siesta Key Coalition, Inc., a non-profit organization representing 71 neighborhood and condominium associations on Siesta Key comprising over 6,400 households.