The Islandside Property Owners Coalition is watching a town legal petition closely, according to a letter IPOC attorney Robert Lincoln sent the town last week.
Town Manager Dave Bullock told commissioners at their Oct. 21 regular workshop that the town is petitioning Sarasota County Judge Lee Haworth to reconsider his ruling that quashed the former Longboat Key Club and Resort Islandside renovation-and-expansion application. That judgment says the town must hold a referendum to increase density.
But the Legislature’s approval of House Bill 537 in its spring session nixes the referendum process statewide and also renders any referendum approved on or after June 1, 2011 moot.
That’s a problem because the town charter states: “Present density limitations provided in the existing Comprehensive Plan, as adopted on March 12, 1984, shall not be increased without the referendum approval of the electors of Longboat Key.”
“Well, now, we have legislation that says we can’t hold a referendum,” Bullock said. “So we have a lack of clarity on this issue and conditions have changed.”
Lincoln wrote that IPOC will “aggressively and strenuously challenge” an attempt to delete or modify two paragraphs of Haworth’s final judgment based on the passage of the House bill.
The letter concerned some commissioners and town attorney David Persson tried to assuage the commission’s concern last week.
“IPOC’s position is they worked very hard to get that judgment and they are working to preserve it and they are concerned the town is trying to do something that weakens that judgment,” Persson said. “The town has offered to work with them (IPOC) to arrive at a stipulated judgment, though, and I think the town should be congratulated to pursue fixing its charter. I think the town should continue doing what it’s doing.”
As the result of the bill, two referenda the island’s registered voters approved Nov. 6, 2012, allowing two properties to convert from commercial to residential use, allowing for a maximum of six dwelling units per acre, is now null and void. All other referenda approved in previous years, are not affected.
Town staff has been working with lawmakers that sponsored the bill to convince Legislature to reverse its course when it meets again in early 2014.
The town has hired a special litigation attorney and is pursuing two separate court actions.
Commissioners have made it clear they want the charter to remain in effect as is, especially in regard to future density approvals from the Key’s voters.
District 71 Rep. Jim Boyd has agreed to sponsor the bill, and District 26 Sen. Bill Galvano has agreed to be the bill’s Senate companion sponsor. Both legislators are Manatee County residents, and Galvano’s district encompasses a portion of northern Sarasota County.
A Tallahassee-based lobbyist who charges $225 an hour has been hired and has already secured Boyd and Galvano as the amended bill’s sponsor to fix the problem. The lobbyist’s services could be anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000.
The town has also engaged special litigation counsel to seek an opinion from a judge that will provide the town declaratory relief. That attorney’s bill is unknown at this time.
The legal move gives the town a legal opinion it can use if any applicant comes forward to increase town density and is unable to do so because of the hindrance in the charter.
Restrictive Density Requirements
The town of Longboat Key’s Charter and 1984 Comprehensive Plan requires that voters approve any density increase.
The Town Charter states: “Present density limitations provided in the existing Comprehensive Plan as adopted March 12, 1984, shall not be increased without the referendum approval of the electors of Longboat Key.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com