The Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort is seeking a fifth floor and an additional 15 feet in height as part of its renovation-and-expansion project. The problem is town codes, as written, don’t allow such a request, now that a judge has ruled the town’s outline development application process (ODP) can’t be used to approve such a request until the town makes sweeping code and Comprehensive Plan changes.
It’s becoming a déjà vu problem for Hilton officials, who are trying to break ground on a new project this summer.
To remedy the situation, though, the Longboat Key Town Commission agreed at its Wednesday, March 20 regular workshop to alter its Comp Plan and codes, once again, to allow such a request to be approved through a site-plan process, instead.
“It’s just a new process to approve that fifth floor through another means,” said Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer.
Without the change, which will come before the town on first reading before it’s sent to Tallahassee for review on the state level, the Hilton couldn’t proceed with a fifth floor. The change will allow the Hilton and other T-6 zoning (six tourism units per acre) properties to request to redevelop through another process while asking for more units on another floor.
At the workshop, Town Manager Dave Bullock called the change “a simple, straight-forward process.”
Currently, the Comp Plan process already allows for the distribution of the 250 tourism-unit pool and an additional story of up to 65 feet.
“This would just extend that right to the site-plan process, as well,” Meyer told commissioners.
Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Ltd., owner of the Hilton, seeks 85 of the 250 tourism units that would be used for a new tower on the property. The company also wants to redevelop its existing buildings and the 102 rooms that currently sit on the site.
Recent commission challengers Gene Jaleski and Larry Grossman, though, warned commissioners last week they believe the town is amending any code necessary to help the Hilton move forward with its project.
“Don’t push us back into court like you did with the Longboat Key Club and Resort project,” Jaleski said. “We all want the Hilton to prosper, but not at any cost.”
When commissioners sought legal advice from town attorney David Persson, he said the town was within its right to make the change.
“Here, you are changing rules from which you allocate the 250 tourism units from an ODP process to a lesser process in the site-plan process,” Persson said. “It’s within your right to make that decision.”
The current goal for the Hilton, according to its reservations page on its website, is to shut down for renovations on July 24 and re-open in the second quarter of 2014. The website previously stated the hotel would close May 1.
This isn’t the first hurdle for the Hilton project, which doesn’t have an official application on file at Town Hall.
Ocean Properties Vice President Andy Berger told the Longboat Observer in January that to keep the Hilton flag flying on the property, Hilton-mandated renovations have to begin this summer, and a project has to be approved before the commission and the Planning and Zoning Board take a summer hiatus on approving projects.
The commission took the first step to avoid the Hilton flag being removed by approving an ordinance earlier this month that modifies the process that distributes the pool of 250 tourism units that were approved by Key voters in 2008. The commissioners’ move also allows the Hilton application to proceed while the town hires a planning consultant to perform a complete review and modification of the town’s current codes and Comp Plan.