SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Aside from its picture perfect beaches, Siesta Key is known for its quaint, small-town feel.
Some locals are worried the island’s unique character could be at risk. Signs reading “Stop High-Density Hotels” can be seen all around the barrier island.
Right now, four hotel proposals are on the table for Siesta Key. Two of the proposals shatter both height and density restrictions that have been in place on the barrier island since the early 1990s.
“It breaks every single rule that we have right now and our code. They have to change our comprehensive plan and change the code that underlies it in order to do this and they are not doing it with the consent of the people who live here. That is a big issue,” said Siesta Key resident Catherine Luckner.
Luckner is the president of the Siesta Key Association. She’s also on the Board of Directors for the Siesta Key Coalition; a group, according to its website that “exists to protect the unique character, environment, and quality of life” on Siesta Key.
One of the proposals near the south bridge on Old Stickney Point Road would bring a seven-floor hotel with up to 120 rooms. Currently, that 1.17-acre property is zoned for 30 rooms and should be no higher than 35 feet above Base Flood Elevation (BFE).
Another proposal near the village would bring an eight-story building — a three-floor parking garage topped with a five-floor hotel with 170 rooms. Under the barrier island’s current code, that 0.96-acre property is zoned for 25 rooms and should be no higher than 35 feet above BFE.
Michael Holderness also has a proposal in with the county to redevelop his existing hotel in the village. He says the plans would increase density, but not intensity. The redevelopment would also make the business FEMA and ADA compliant.
“There is a good development and there is bad development. I am pro-redevelopment versus taking virgin land acres and developing it into a hotel when it is not needed,” said Holderness. “We already have enough increased intensity right now on Siesta Key. We don’t need unlimited hotels that are 90 feet tall on our barrier island. We have one way on and one way off, we have gridlock, our deputies can’t get around as it is. It is not sustainable.”
Visitors News Channel 8’s Allyson Henning heard from say they keep coming back to Siesta Key for its small-town feel. Glenn Brown feels large hotels and parking garages just won’t fit in with the feel of the island.
“I just feel it would take away from the charm of the place that is a very laid-back perfect place to go and escape from, me being from Chicago, the hustle and bustle that is everyday life,” said Brown. “It would remind me too much of home… the parking garages and everything else that goes along with it.”
“We are a small island. There are less than 3 mi.² of development really here and there is actually no ability to widen the road from one end to the next, none. So given that, we need to make sure that we care about what we do within that. We want to be able to enjoy and be safe here,” said Luckner.
All of the hotel proposals will have to go through the planning commission before making their way to the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners. Changes made on the Key could have impacts county-wide.