Speaking on behalf of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, Dr. Hank Fishkind, Florida’s most renowned economist, didn’t mince words in his characterization of Longboat Key.
In general, he said, Longboat Key “is in a serious state of decline.” And if the Key Club’s $400 million proposed redevelopment and expansion plan is nixed, Longboat residents can expect the downward trend to continue.
Fishkind was among four more expert witnesses to testify on behalf of the club Thursday, Oct. 22, during Day Two of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board’s public hearing on the club’s proposed plan.
The witnesses marked the second day of pro-Key Club testimony, along with comments — pro and con — from residents who were given the opportunity to speak late in the afternoon.
Testimony from the opposition, primarily representatives of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, was postponed until the hearing resumes Nov. 5. Planning board members agreed to delay an expected three-hour presentation from IPOC’s attorneys when it became apparent there wouldn’t be enough time Thursday.
Fewer than half of the approximately 350 people who attended the hearing Wednesday filled the pews at Temple Beth Israel for the second round Thursday. And after lunch, the crowd thinned out to fewer than 60 people if you didn’t count the attorneys in the room.
The Key Club is proposing to construct a new Rees Jones-designed golf course at its Islandside site on the south end of Longboat Key, along with a new clubhouse; a 196-room, five-star hotel with an additional 34 units to be used either for tourism or luxury residences; a new meeting center; two villa townhomes with a total of 10 units; two condominium buildings with 66 units each; a new wellness center with enhanced spa and fitness facilities; and other recreational amenities for club members and guests.
Below is a compilation and summary of the witnesses who spoke on behalf of the club Thursday:
Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe
Nichols called the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside project “a low-density plan that’s very spread out with big gaps between the buildings.
“All of the (proposed) structures are smaller than the buildings that sit on the beach,” Nichols said. “We have also designed a lot of convention hotels, and this is not that.”
Nichols also disputed the opposition’s contention that the proposed buildings would be too tall, noting the new hotel is only a couple of stories higher than the Chart House restaurant building.
Planning board member Pat Zunz said what bothered her was the two golf condominium buildings on the north side of Longboat Club Road. Zunz also called the buildings along New Pass “massive” because there isn’t much else around them like the buildings along the beach.
“Those two buildings jump out at me,” Zunz said
Planning board member Phineas Alpers agreed, wondering if the club would consider moving the golf course villas over to the southern parcel.
Nichols, however, said that while that option was considered, it was more important to leave large gaps and open space so you can view the water in the area.
Freedman Consulting & Development LLC
Freedman disputed Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson’s reasons for why some of the club’s departures should not be granted.
“First of all, our plan honors the gulf-planned development’s original agreement by keeping the golf course a golf course,” Freedman said.
And Freedman said that the club agrees with Simpson’s assessment that the town has the right to lift restrictions on the north parcel that currently mandates recreational amenities only.
“Many people say the north parcel is restricted to recreational use and any development is illegal,” Freedman said. “But restrictions on that tract can be lifted if this project is approved.”
Freedman said the number of units presented is essential and that the proposed building heights are well within the overall height range of several other buildings in the gulf-planned development.
Freedman also said that if the acreage of the golf course is included in the lot-coverage calculations, any disputes about the departures requested for the project “go away.”
When Islandside Property Owners Coalition attorney Robert Lincoln cross-examined Freedman, he insinuated the town’s gulf-planned development does not permit commercial or mixed-use developments.
Key Club attorney Brenda Patten argued, however, that the developments are already in the gulf-planned development and nothing prohibits those types of developments from being approved there.
Grimail Crawford Inc.
Gulf of Mexico Drive is not close to approaching its traffic capacity, said Stiles, the Key Club’s traffic engineer.
“Traffic on this roadway has been falling for years,” said Stiles, who said the club’s project meets the town’s level of service standards.
Stiles said neither the club nor the town bases its traffic goals on intermittent traffic events such as the drawbridge at New Pass.
“The bottom line is that during peak traffic hours, you will not notice any difference in traffic,” Stiles said. “At project build-out, you will only see one additional vehicle turning in and out of the club per minute.”
Stiles also said the town’s traffic study was based on an aggressive growth rate of 2% per year. The study also factors in the town’s additional 250 tourism units that were approved Key-wide and that The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort’s 234 resort units will re-open.
Dr. Hank Fishkind
Founder, CEO, Economist
Fishkind & Associates
“Without this project,” the Orlando-based economist said, “the loss of tourism rooms on this island will continue, and it’s reasonable to believe Longboat Key will continue to decline as well.”
The economist said the $400 million project would boost property values an average of 7% to 12%, bring jobs to the local economy and help support area businesses.
When planning board member Walter Hackett asked if the project could help recoup some of the businesses that have been lost over the years, Fishkind responded with an emphatic “Yes.”
“I believe with renewal and investment, there will be some recouping of those businesses,” Fishkind said.
“This project would kick Longboat Key back up from the declining to the renewal stage.”
Fishkind also said the project would bring $100 million to the town’s budget over the course of a 30-year period.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments from the public
Longboat Key residents and business owners who will be unable to attend the Nov. 5 Planning and Zoning Board hearing were allowed to make their public comments Thursday, Oct. 22.
Below are some of their comments:
“We have a $400 million development project here ready to go, and I don’t see what the problem is. As a business owner, this is the redistribution of wealth I’m looking for.”
— Kelly Kary, Longboat Key resident and Sarasota business owner
“I have lived on Longboat Club Road for 20 years, and I beg you not to amend the Islandside outline development plan because the owners aren’t willing to negotiate, and this project is too massive.”
— Vivian Ross, Islandside resident
“We have lost 1,200 hotel rooms in the last several years, and businesses here are experiencing a significant decrease in sales. All of this spells disaster for our community.”
— Diana Corrigan, executive director, St. Armands Circle Association
“There is no doubt this project will greatly enhance the island’s luxury lifestyle. The expansion is simply a compatible continuation of Arvida’s plan. Will we turn our back on this and close the door simply because each one of us has gotten our share? We could have said no to L’Ambiance and others, but we looked ahead and said yes. Now is the time to look ahead with courage and foresight to allow our island jewel to grow and survive.”
— Amy Drake, Longboat Key resident
“I want to keep Longboat Key beautiful, healthy and financially sound. We need the club expansion as much as we need fresh air. As you look around, the town is literally dying. Businesses are closing, and The Colony is closing. Without added growth, our services will be cut. I know change is difficult, but we need to do what’s best for the community as a whole.”
— Chuck Nechtem, Longboat Key resident and business owner
“This is an old community now. We have a group of people willing to put $400 million into this island and make it the catalyst for the island’s revitalization.”
— Bill Kary, Longboat Key resident
“The traffic this project could create is a disaster waiting to happen.”
— Gerald Ross
“The community and its airport have a vested interest in the success of this project. Longboat Key and the Key Club have been important drivers of tourism engines that make our airport desirable. A strong tourism component provides benefits to residents and visitors. It’s important to the airport that tourism remains fresh and thrives.”
— Fred Piccolo, executive director, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport