Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Inc. submitted pre-application documents to the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department Nov. 12 that call for the redevelopment of the 102-rooms at the existing Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort and the addition of 85 more rooms that would be built in a new guest tower.
The following week, hotel officials had an appointment to discuss the Hilton project with town staff during a pre-application hearing to move the project forward.
“It’s been canceled,” said town planner Ric Hartman. “Indefinitely.”
That’s because two days after the Hilton submitted its plans to the town, Sarasota County Clerk of the 12th Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth issued a judgment in favor of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC), which challenged the town’s code changes that gave commissioners more flexibility when approving projects.
In short, it means applications for future Longboat Key projects, including an Islandside project or a Colony Beach & Tennis Resort project, cannot be accepted or reviewed by the town anytime soon.
Town attorney David Persson informed the Longboat Key Town Commission Nov. 21 of the news in a letter, confirming that forthcoming applications, such as the Hilton’s project, are on hold.
Persson said there is a Key-wide impact to the finding that the standards for consideration of departures from town codes are inadequate.
Property owners who wish to develop or redevelop and have certain minimum acreage may avail themselves of an Outline Development Plan (ODP) process, which acts as a planning tool to allow the modification of the standards of a zoning district.
“In my opinion, the first order of business should be to repair the process by which departures are considered to achieve a functioning ODP process necessary for future redevelopment and tourism unit allocation,” Persson wrote.
The Hilton project requests departures from town codes and the use of 85 additional tourism units through an ODP; both of those need to be clarified per Haworth’s ruling.
Persson has also suggested sweeping changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan to make clarifications and points to a future public-meeting process that will allow residents to provide input on how the Comp Plan should be changed and how residents want the town to be redeveloped. The town plans to hire a consultant next month to help with this process and provide input on code amendments.
“The way ahead is not without problems, but it seems that the town has been presented with an opportunity for a community discussion on strategic issues that might lead to community consensus without having to defend a prior application,” Persson wrote to commissioners.
Despite the attorney’s opinion, both commissioners and Planning and Zoning Board members have expressed a need to move forward expeditiously with the Hilton project.
“I hope we can put in place whatever is necessary to permit the Hilton overhaul in a timely fashion,” said Vice Mayor David Brenner in an email response to Persson Nov. 22.
Also, at the planing board’s Nov. 20 regular meeting, board members Al Hixon and Jack Daly asked what could be done to speed up the process for the Hilton.
“It needs time,” said Persson at the planning board meeting. “Urgency is what I’m detecting, and it just won’t work.”