Host: The first round went to Siesta Key community activists by a margin, but now it’s Round Two as one of the major commercial developers is trying to get Sarasota County to change its rules regarding big hotel construction on barrier islands. Ramon Lopez has more.
Ramon Lopez: It’s now Round Two in what could be a five-round heavyweight bout that will show what Siesta Key will look like in the future. In one corner is heavyweight Benderson Development. In the other corner are opponents of unchecked real estate development on this special barrier island, including Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez.
She previously won a hard-fought, two-year court battle to keep developers in check, and it appeared the issue had reached an end. But not so. Round One ended in a split decision favoring development. Late last year, Sarasota County Commissioners voted 4-1 to move forward a proposal to increase hotel size on Siesta Key to unlimited density. Ramirez and the others believe mega-hotels have no place on Siesta Key for a number of reasons, including public safety. For now, the Benderson proposal to build an eight-story, 210-room hotel on 1.14 acres of land it owns in Siesta Key’s Village remains just that: a proposal.
Round Two, which will take place on Monday, Jan. 8, is a virtual neighborhood workshop, the first county-mandated step in the process. The prize fight continues to the county’s planning commission for a recommendation to build — or not to build. And finally to the Sarasota County Commissioners for a final vote. Should it favor Benderson, opponents promise a court challenge, representing a decisive Round Five.
Lourdes Ramirez: We’re going to have to challenge this in court. Because unfortunately, if they did it before, it can happen again … and we hope that the courts can see what they’re proposing is not good for the people on Siesta
Key. If unfortunately we have to do that, what choices do we have?
RL: The neighborhood workshop was originally scheduled for Dec. 21, but postponed until Jan. 8 because Benderson did not meet the required public notice guidelines. Lourdes Ramirez explains:
LR: It was done purposely, and the only reason they had to change it to Jan. 8 is because they did not put it in the newspaper. You have to announce public workshops seven days before the public workshop in the newspaper, that’s still a requirement for public workshops, and they neglected to do that. So they were in violation of the code which means if they did do it, let’s say they did it on Dec. 21, we can challenge it in court as not legally posted.
RL: Ramirez had hoped for a face-to-face workshop.
LR: I believe that the developers are so afraid of the public, and getting the real feedback, that they prefer the Zoom so that they can control what’s being said versus face-to-face, where they know they’ll hear some hard truths, and they don’t want to. That’s my opinion.
RL: Mega-hotel projects on Siesta Key would require four out of five of the county commissioners to vote in favor of the Benderson project, a so-called super majority. Ramirez counts on Siesta Key Commissioner Mark Smith. He has already expressed reservations about the Benderson request. She hopes Commissioner Joe Neunder will also vote to keep things the way they are.
LR: Mark Smith will likely oppose it, so that’s one for our side, and I believe we can probably convince Joe Neunder to think our way.
RL: Ramirez doesn’t expect much will come out of the zoom workshop.
LR: I don’t think any information coming from the developers is going to be new, it’s a PR job from the developers … they’re going to try to sugarcoat what’s actually happening. So I think for us, I don’t expect to get anything out of it other than to hear what they claim the benefits of the project are going to be, and that’s about it. A workshop is supposed to be about that, it’s supposed to be a conversation with the developer, to see if you can improve and make a change.
RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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