Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan ruled in a Sarasota courtroom last week that amendments the Florida Legislature made last year trump the Town Charter and its ability to uphold two referenda that town voters approved in a 2012 election.
However, the April 9 ruling states the Longboat Key Town Commission has the power to increase density without using the referendum process.
In the meantime, though, town officials, are hopeful that an amended bill that the state House must still review will rectify a bill that caused a major charter hang-up for Longboat Key.
The town’s charter is clear when it comes to how density can be modified Key-wide.
The 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.”
But what is also clear is the referendum approval process the town has used for more than 25 years is currently useless.
That’s because the Legislature approved at its 2013 spring session a two-page bill that nixes the referendum process statewide and also renders any referendum performed on or after June 1, 2011 moot.
For Longboat Key, that means a referendum that was approved by the island’s registered voters Nov. 6, 2012 that allowed two properties to convert from commercial to residential use, allowing for a maximum of six dwelling units per acre, is null and void.
The commission, though, can process the referenda requests while the town works to resolve other issues.
The properties that received approval in March 2012 for residential use are the 0.76-acre plot in between the Public Safety Complex and the Centre Shops at 5440 Gulf of Mexico Drive owned by Victor Levine and the 0.44-acre plot at 521 Broadway, adjacent to the Century 21 Beggins Realty office in the Longbeach Village.
Levine sought the zoning change so that he could divide the lot into four lots, each with a single-family home, while First America Bank sought to develop the Broadway property into two lots, which would each have a single-family home with water access to the canal behind them to the north.
Land-use consultant Peter Dailey, who represented both property owners during the referendum process, said both of his clients have had difficulty selling their properties because of the current zoning.
Town Manager Dave Bullock received commission direction to work with lawmakers who sponsored the bill to try to persuade the Legislature to reverse its course during the current legislative session.
Last week’s judicial determination, meanwhile, confirms the Legislature’s 2013 amendments voided the 2012 referenda and preempted the charter.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com