Last week’s Longboat Observer editorial, “Don’t give up; lessons learned,” has some cogent remarks on the proceedings surrounding the Key Club’s expansion proposal and the recent court rulings overturning the approval.
Particularly noteworthy was the editorial’s conclusion that what was lacking was an approach by the town to “Let us help you figure out what it will take to get you where you want to go as long as it’s within the confines of the law.”
Instead, the town fathers took a different approach: “Let us help you get where you want to go regardless of the law.”
This approach has sullied the town’s governance, resulting in reprimands from both courts, which respectively characterized its actions as a “miscarriage of justice” and stated that “residents have every right to depend on the wording of the code” in their concurring opinions that the town’s approval of this plan violated the law.
Taking no chances, the town hedged its bets against the possibility of an embarrassing loss in court. Not waiting for the decision, the town changed the town code and comprehensive plan specifically to allow more commercial density, higher buildings and more lot coverage in the Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) Key-wide. They also eliminated the requirement for findings of fact or demonstration of hardship to support departures from the code. These changes provide this and future Town Commissions virtually unrestricted power to approve whatever they want, rendering the zoning code of little meaning and ending property owners’ ability to rely on it.
Regarding the Longboat Observer’s editorial, while we agree with its conclusion, we take issue with the portrayal of IPOC as “a small group of the Key Club’s neighbors (who) simply did not want to see the Key Club build what it proposed.” This sounds like it came straight from the Key Club’s PR campaign and begs the facts.
IPOC is supported by eight homeowner associations representing some 730 residences and funded, primarily, by voluntary contributions from individual residents and property owners. In comparison, the so-called Longboat Key Public Interest Committee (PIC), claims a membership of slightly more than 100 (down from 500 in 2003, according to published reports). PIC has been a vocal supporter of the club’s project, but has never been depicted by the Longboat Observer as “a small group of supporters of commercial expansion,” as PIC has become.
It’s true that we didn’t want to see the Key Club build at the scale and intensity the club proposed, but it is not true that we wanted it to build nothing, as the article implied. A survey of our residents found that 93% opposed the club’s plan as proposed; but a majority of the respondents supported reasonable modification of the project, not its elimination.
Alternatives have been offered. Contrary to our critics, IPOC has proposed or agreed to accept five alternative configurations of the Key Club’s project, all have been documented; some have been reported in the press. All have been rejected by the club, claiming they were not economically feasible, despite the fact that proposals were offered involving less than a 15% reduction in the number of total residential or hotel units it proposed.
Its new prospective partner, Ocean Properties Ltd., might be a positive development. Unlike Loeb Partners Realty, which owns only one other resort property, OPL has 14 four-star properties and specializes in waterfront locations, according to its website.
Although its record is not without controversy — it has been fined numerous times for building-permit violations — it at least has a track record of developing and operating many high-end hotels and resorts. Perhaps its involvement will result in a solution to the current impasse in the form of a more appropriate plan that will truly benefit the Key and one that our members can support.
Bob White is president of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition LLC.