Sarasota Commission District 2 election: Two Siesta Key residents compete in Republican primary

·5 min read
The Sarasota County Administration Center.
The Sarasota County Administration Center.

The two Republican candidates vying for Sarasota County Commission District 2 shared their opinions on Siesta Key hotel approvals, development in east county and other topics in recent interviews with the Herald-Tribune.

The candidates, Lourdes Ramirez and Mark Smith, will compete in the Aug. 23 Republican primary, and the winner will proceed to the general election on Nov. 8.

Both candidates are residents of Siesta Key. Ramirez is semi-retired and serves as the president of the Republican Women’s Club of Sarasota. Smith is an architect and chair-elect of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Both have also previously lost Republican primaries for the County Commission. Smith ran an unsuccessful campaign against Nora Patterson in 2010, and Ramirez lost to Alan Maio in 2014 and 2018.

Background: Siesta Key activist Lourdes Ramirez enters District 2 County Commission race

More: Siesta Key leader Mark Smith enters District 2 County Commission race

How would you approach future Siesta Key hotel approvals before the County Commission?

The County Commission approved two controversial hotel projects last year, one in Siesta Key Village and the other on Old Stickney Point Road. The commissioners also removed the cap on the number of hotel rooms that can be built on an acre of land in Sarasota County.

Mark Smith, a candidate for County Commission District 2.
Mark Smith, a candidate for County Commission District 2.

Smith and other members of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce co-authored a proposed compromise on the hotel issue. Their proposal would allow boutique hotels to be developed on the island. The hotels would be allowed to have 52 units per acre, and the maximum number of rooms a hotel could have would be 75.

“Our thought is, and mine is, that boutique hotels, smaller hotels would be appropriate,” Smith said.

When asked if he, as a county commissioner, would approve a hotel with a density of more than 52 units per acre, he said it would “be a strong sell.”

“They’re going to have to really sell me on it, because that’s where I think we should be,” he said, referring to the 52 number.

Lourdes Ramirez is running for County Commission District 2.
Lourdes Ramirez is running for County Commission District 2.

Smith’s opponent, Ramirez, filed a lawsuit against Sarasota County last November, alleging that the commission violated its long-range growth plan in approving the hotel in Siesta Key Village. The suit is currently going through the discovery process.

Ramirez said that as a county commissioner, she would approve hotels on Siesta Key if they have, at most, 26 units per acre, which is what the county’s long-range growth plan allowed for before the commission changed it last October.

“Twenty-six units per acre is there for a reason,” she noted. She said the cap is meant to protect Siesta Key residents and ensure that they can reach the mainland when there’s a hurricane evacuation.

Hi Hat Ranch land-use designation change

Nearly 20 years ago, the County Commission adopted the Sarasota 2050 Plan, which allowed for communities to be master planned, but also set aside green space for protection and conservation.

Last September, the County Commission approved changes to the plan that put the Hi Hat Ranch one step closer to being able to develop thousands of acres east of Interstate 75 over several decades.

Specifically, the county changed the land-use designation of 1,258 acres of Hi-Hat Ranch from “hamlet” to “village.” Villages allow for greater density of housing units than hamlets. The county commissioners also moved the countryside line, which delineates the suburban-type development to the west and the rural designations to the east.

Some county residents opposed the Hi Hat proposal and predicted that it will change the rural character of eastern Sarasota County.

When asked if he would have approved the change from “hamlet” to “village,” Smith said he hasn’t had the chance to review the matter.

He said he likes the concept of the 2050 plan, including its focus on preserving green space. He noted that the county has to be careful about urban sprawl.

“I would rather see us try to do infill as much as we can along 41 and the other busy roads before we go out east,” he said.

Ramirez said she wouldn’t have approved the change from “hamlet” to “village.” She also doesn’t believe that Sarasota County needs to urbanize “all the way to the county line.”

“I don’t believe in urban sprawl,” she noted. “It’s very costly. It just increases our government services. I really think we have to be smart on how we grow.”

What do you think Sarasota County government should do to increase the county’s supply of affordable housing?

Smith said the county should look into inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to set aside some units in a building or complex as affordable units when they build in certain areas. In Florida, local governments must provide incentives to developers, such as such as density bonuses or reducing or waiving fees, when they build in inclusionary zones.

Smith thinks this workforce housing should be built in locations that are relatively close to the county’s major roads and to job sites.

Ramirez said that developers sometimes promise that they’ll provide affordable housing as part of a proposed development and the county gives them incentives, and then, at a later date, they say they can’t afford to make the affordable units. She wants to stop this practice.

“I think every resolution that’s an approval for development should have a clause saying that if you don’t provide the affordable housing you promised, then you go back to the original zoning,” she said.

Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at asnabes@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Who is running in the Sarasota County District 2 Republican primary?