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Siesta Chamber seeking three amendments to Siesta Key Overlay Zoning District regulations

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce has asked the Sarasota County Commission to consider three amendments to the county’s Unified Development Code “as [the latter] applies to the Siesta Key Overlay District.”

In an Aug. 16 letter to Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, Siesta architect and long-time Siesta Chamber Director Mark Smith explained each of the proposed amendments. During the Chamber’s Aug. 21 quarterly meeting for members, he said he believed two of the three cases entailed oversights that occurred when the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) was being drafted.

The first of those involves Section 4.10.4, which says, “Accessory structures shall not exceed the height of the principal structure.” That regulation did not take into account the need for new buildings on the Key to conform to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain restrictions, Smith noted during the Chamber meeting.

The narrative in the letter regarding the proposed amendment points out, “All of Siesta Key is in a FEMA Flood Zone. All new structures are required to be built to meet the FEMA Base Flood Elevation.”

As the SKOD section is written, Smith told the Chamber members on Aug. 21, a ’70s ranch house constructed at grade cannot have an accessory dwelling unit, because the latter could not be taller than the house.

The Chamber letter described the situation this way: “[I]t is impossible to build to the required higher FEMA elevation and keep the roof height below the height of the principal structure.”

Thus, the amendment, as proposed, would read, “Accessory structures shall not exceed the height restrictions for the principal structure.”

The other section where Smith believes the final language was an oversight prohibits upper-story residential units in districts zoned Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI) and Commercial General (CG). Such dwellings are permitted everywhere else in the county in those districts, Smith said on Aug. 21. “Upper-story residential is all part of the nature of a commercial district.”

Smith pointed out that if the owner of a restaurant, for example, lived above the establishment, the owner would have a much greater sense of the need for compliance with the county’s Noise Ordinance when bands are playing.

People living above shops and restaurants also would mean “more eyes on the street for crime,” Smith noted.

“It just makes sense,” Smith added. “I’m not sure why [the upper-story residential provision] was excluded …”

The narrative in the Aug. 16 Chamber letter regarding that proposed SKOD change also points out, “To live above your place of business or have employees live above where they work eliminates commuting …”

The proposed new SKOD language calls for live-work and upper-story residential uses in the OPI, CG and Commercial Intensive (CI) districts to be allowed when the SKOD parking requirements can be met.

Finally, the third proposed amendment would allow the use of sandwich or A-frame-style directional signs “for parking and valet. Such signs shall not contain any commercial advertising.”

The narrative accompanying that proposal points out, “Parking is at a premium on Siesta Key. Visitors to Siesta Key need help finding both parking spaces and valets. These signs would be an aid in navigation and a public service to help get drivers off the road and safely parked. There are plenty of ‘No Parking’ signs on Siesta Key. We need positive signs that help visitors.”

The Unified Development Code, which went into effect the first of this year, combines the county’s land use and zoning regulations. County Planning and Development Services Department staff has established a schedule for privately initiated amendments to be submitted to staff for consideration.