Despite notice error, developer moving on Siesta Key hotel workshop

Timothy Fanning
| Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA COUNTY — Developer Gary Kompothecras is pitching a seven-story, 120-room hotel at Old Stickney Point and Peacock roads that may usher in a hotel renaissance on Siesta Key, and he’s seeking the community’s help to craft his project. 

The problem? Neither Kompathecras or his team has formally indicated when they wanted residents to show up to provide feedback, something that has riled stakeholders and made some legal experts question whether this is a violation of Florida’s open government laws. 

A published notice by the developer indicated the meeting date was to be determined. But according to Sarasota County, the meeting is proceeding as planned on Wednesday.

Florida requires local governments and other public agencies to publish notices of meetings, hearings and workshops seven days before the event.

Workshops are also required in the early stages of the local development process and help county staff formulate suggestions for elected officials to consider before they make a final decision on a development proposal. 

Robert Medred, the head of Genesis Planning and Development, applied for the workshop on behalf of Kompothecras, the founder of 1-800 Ask Gary and prominent Republican donor. 

While Medred did publish a notice of the workshop on Nov. 20 in the Herald-Tribune, the notice only indicated that the meeting “will be held via Zoom on November TBD” at 6 p.m.

A review of the county’s public meeting calendar on its website, which was linked in the notice, did not initially list any information about the public workshop. The county only recently included the workshop on its calendar. 

Michael Barfield, a paralegal and Florida public records expert, says that dates are required on notices and to not include them is a violation of Florida’s open records laws. 

“There are rules for giving a date on the notice,” said Barfield. “Otherwise, how would the public know where to show up and when to go?” 

The county, however, disagrees. 

“This is not a Sunshine violation as this is not an advertisement for a public hearing,” said Michele Norton, the county’s senior planning and zoning manager. “It’s an advertising error that requires the applicant to start that advertisement process over, as a date and time are required.”

Norton said that Medred “erroneously posted the wrong advertisement” and would have to re-advertise that the posted meeting will take place on Wednesday. 

But Medred hasn’t started the advertisement process over again and is pressing ahead with Wednesday, the date he initially included on his application that was filed and approved by the county, records show. 

In advance of the meeting, Kompothecras’ development team is also required to send out mailing notice to property owners within 750 feet of the project.

They are also required to send notice of the meeting 10 days in advance. 

Anecdotally, few, if any, of the stakeholders have received any notice, said Mark Spiegel, who represents the Siesta Key Coalition, one of several groups opposing the project. 

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Medred, a former Sarasota County planner with at least 40 years of public and private land use experience in Florida, did not return several phone calls requesting comment.

Kompothecras referred comments to his lawyer, Charlie Bailey, who did not return a request for comment. 

A growing consortium of homeowners associations, condominium councils and residents on Siesta Key have joined to oppose Kompathecras’ proposed hotel, as well as two other resort proposals that opponents fear would fundamentally change how tall buildings are allowed to be on the barrier islands. 

Opponents have been waiting for an opportunity to share their thoughts with the developer and Sarasota County planners. They’ve also frequently let the developer and the county know that they’re waiting. 

“It’s very concerning,” said Spiegel, who lives next door to another site for which a proposal has been submitted for a 170-room, five -story hotel on an acre lot adjacent to his condo. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Spiegel said of the workshop notice.

Spiegel has spent the last 25 years as a commercial real estate developer. 

“Something this high profile, they would want to go above and beyond to show that they went out of their way to get feedback,” Spiegel said. 

The proposal

Kompothecras is proposing to build a 120-room hotel and five-story parking garage on Old Stickney Point Road, according to a plan submitted to Sarasota County.

The garage is slated for 1237 Old Stickney Point Road, a former Bank of America site. Kompothecras proposes a five-story (54-foot tall) parking garage with about 7,445 square feet of retail space on the ground level. The garage is designed for 203 parking spaces. 

A traffic analysis by Kimley-Horn indicates there would be 48 trips during the afternoon peak drive time from the development. The garage would be 440 feet from Beach Access 12, near the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road. 

The hotel would be on a little over 1.17 acres stretching across two parcels on 1260 and 1266 Old Stickney Point Road — land previously home to the Fandago Cafe and a self-storage facility. 

The structure would be 83 feet, far exceeding the 35-foot height limit the island’s current zoning allows. 

But of greater concern to Siesta Key residents is the proposal to modify residential density restrictions. 

‘We’re in for a tough road’

Siesta Key’s charm has long been protected by a set of policies, restrictions and building codes. 

Those regulations affect hotel accommodations, limit building heights, control building density and setbacks. 

Kompathecras and another developer are asking the county to throw out Siesta Key’s height requirements to make room for their resorts.

Kompathecras is asking for a special exception request for 83 feet height above the base flood elevation (instead of the 35 feet current restriction). He is also requesting to double the density per acre of transient accommodations from what is in the current barrier island codes and policies. 

The 1999 Siesta Key Community Plan, which was a foundational document for the barrier island, led to certain protections within the Siesta Key Overlay District. The proposed changes, if approved by the Sarasota County Commission, could impact protections of other county barrier islands.

The opposition group includes representatives of a dozen homeowners associations, the leadership of the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association. Collectively, the group represents about 8,500 households on Siesta Key. 

For Lourdes Ramirez, a longtime Siesta Key resident who has been involved in local politics and government since 2002, the developer’s failure to properly notify residents is ominous. 

“It’s an indicator of what we can expect the rest of the process will be like,” Ramirez said. This is just the start and deceitful in my opinion. We’re in for a tough road … because when you can be honest from the beginning, how can we expect them to be honest throughout?”

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