By Tom Lyons via Herald Tribune
Given the predicted sea level rise already underway and causing problems in places like Miami, it is remarkable that Sarasota County would even entertain any development plans that would increase density on a barrier island.
Even before climate change became a factor, the county’s comprehensive plan recognized that Siesta Key had issues with evacuation and traffic, and general dismay about the prospect of skyscrapers and similar tall development.
So county code at least limits commercial building heights there to 35 feet.
But as is usual for developers, Siesta Key multimillionaire resident “Ask Gary” Kompothecras wants a special exception, to excuse him from the height restriction for his plan to build a hotel at the end of Old Stickney Point Road.
When his request was shot down by a vote of the Board of Zoning Appeals based on advice from county staff, he was amazed.
And he threatened to sue, of course.
Kompothecras, also now known as creator of a reality TV show based on Siesta Key and sometimes taped at his beachfront mansion, cast the lawsuit thing as a gentle, friendly threat. You know, a mere technical necessity to correct zoning officials’ mistake.
They, according to Kompothecras and his lawyer, Charles Bailey, totally misunderstand the county code’s clear rules for Siesta Key.
The county staff says the code clearly states that to seek a special exception allowing more height, the hotel would have to be set back at least 25 feet instead of the usual two-foot minimum. It is a rule that is supposed to avoid creating a looming high-rise canyon effect that most people would not like to have in once-quaint central Siesta.
Kompothecras does not want that 25-foot setback. It would reduce his hotel’s potential size when the whole point of going higher is adding more rooms for more people.
So Bailey, his lawyer, argues that the code also clearly says that this very clear setback requirement doesn’t apply in what the code book calls the Siesta Key Overlay District, or SKOD.
“We were honestly very surprised by the Board of Zoning Appeal’s action on this in light of the clear language,” Bailey told me.
Well, maybe they were quite surprised. But while SKOD rules do include exceptions to the usual rules, and some seem potentially relevant, I’m not at all sure which side might win in court. I’ve read all the pertinent codes, I think, and I can emphatically conclude that I wish it wasn’t such a jumble.
It reminded me of reading Bible-based arguments about which emphatic and tough Old Testament rules are or maybe aren’t overturned by things said in the New Testament. Maybe the Ten Commandments still apply, but what about the ban on sex during menstruation?
As with the code books, personal preference and wishful thinking easily guide the interpretations, it seems to me.
But if you are thinking the only real surprise for the Ask Gary man was the world-rocking fact that a government entity had told him “no,” well, rest assured that the world was soon put back into its usual order.
The “no” won’t matter a bit, it seems. It barely qualifies as a bump in the road. Kompthecras will, of course, get his way on this, easy as pie.
He simply went to the next county commission meeting and asked the five commissioners to re-write the rules his way and so save him the trouble of that lawsuit.
The commissioners naturally rolled over immediately and ordered the staff to do as Kompothecras asked.
Technically, the rule change we are now waiting for will not make his hotel plan a done deal. Kompothecras still has to win approval for his desired special exception, and later he must get his site plans approved, too. And why assume that whatever Gary wants, Gary gets?
Aside from the way the commissioners acted like lapdogs as soon as he griped, that is.
What they should Ask Gary: Sir, are there any other codes or laws we could change for you?