SIESTA KEY, Fla. — As more people chose Florida as their new destination spot and even a new home, small beach towns like Siesta Key are looking to make room for the newcomers.
Shelby Thompson was born and raised in Siesta Key. She works with her parents, running the popular restaurant Clayton's
"I have been here for years. I always say you can see my footprints in the stone at the hostess stand," she said. "All you see is people moving here, you just see new faces every day."
She's excited about the plans to grow the small beach town.
There's a proposal on the table to build a new hotel not far from Clayton's. The typical hotel fits the Old Florida aesthetic, smaller buildings built in the 1950s.
"From the plans that I saw, I thought the hotel plan was so cute, very retro. It wasn't gaudy, or anything like that," she said.
For decades, Sarasota County's comprehensive plan has kept taller buildings away from Siesta Key. It limits buildings to 35 feet tall while adding a density restriction of 26 units per acre.
Over the last year, a push to change those plans has grown. Siesta Key could soon see hotel buildings much taller, with more rooms.
That's troubling news to Jane West. She's the Policy and Planning Director for 1000 Friends of Florida.
"Our organization has concerns with any sort of vulnerable coastal development given the state of Florida's extremely vulnerable position with sea level rise," she said.
West said that could lead to financial problems down the road.
"In a situation where you have a high-density development in a vulnerable coastal area, should sea level rise, and it will impact this development, that fiscal burden is going to end up falling on existing taxpayers," she said.
According to NOAA, the global average sea level has risen eight to nine inches since 1880.
NOAA found high tide flooding is now 300-900% more frequent than just 50 years ago.
West said it's harder to fight developments in Florida now.
"Back in the 2019 Legislative session, there was House Bill 7103. That was signed into law by Governor DeSantis, which basically provides for prevailing party attorneys fees against anyone who has the nerve to challenge a development."
But Thompson sees it as people discovering the former hidden gem town and wants the town to be prepared.
"I see the growth as like setting stones for the next generation to come."
The county is currently embroiled in multiple lawsuits because of the zoning changes. Residents, the Marina Del Sol Condominiums and Beach Owners Association are all involved in the lawsuit.