Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2010 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day for a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Jan. 14, 2010
The Longboat Key Club and Resort officials were almost denied the chance to present their $400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion plan to the Town Commission at Temple Beth Israel last week.
Commissioner Hal Lenobel told more than 100 residents, lawyers and town staff in attendance Friday that after reading the town’s Comprehensive Plan (the town’s constitution for land-use regulations), he found it incoherent.
“I firmly believe amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are imperative to prevent future problems and I am asking for legislative amendments before we concern ourselves with this project,” Lenobel said.
Commissioner Gene Jaleski agreed.
“If we proceed, I am afraid the commission will be so cautious that we will make unwise decisions out of caution and I would rather proceed with a much more sure foot,” said Jaleski, who expressed concern the Islandside project would end up being disputed in court if it’s approved before changes are made to the code.
The Comprehensive Plan is what all applicants must adhere to when conforming to town land-use codes and zoning regulations.
Town Attorney David Persson, Town Special Counsel Attorney Nancy Stroud and attorneys for both parties agreed that there are vagueness issues with some language in the Comprehensive Plan.
And Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC) attorneys urged the commission to consider denying the application if it feels the application is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
IPOC attorneys Michael Furen and Robert Lincoln have argued all along that the application is not consistent with the plan and contains density-right issues and several other inconsistencies.
Persson has previously explained to the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission that the Comprehensive Plan could be amended or The Longboat Key Club and Resort could have requested an amendment to make its project fit better within the confines of the town’s regulations.
But Key Club Attorney Brenda Patten, who specializes in land use, called the town’s Comprehensive Plan “completely legal and enforceable.”
“We are comfortable your Comprehensive Plan is legally sufficient and would like you to consider it under this plan,” Patten said.
Stroud also assured commissioners the town has the authority to approve the project.
After an hour-and-a-half of discussion Friday about whether the commission should hear the presentation in its entirety or handle its potential Comprehensive Plan issues first, commissioners voted 6-1 to review the entire project first.
Only Mayor Lee Rothenberg voted against moving forward because he thought any issues the commission had with the plan should be dealt with first.
But Lenobel changed his mind and said the issues should be dealt with after the project was presented.
“We ought to proceed and try to solve it as quickly as we can and worry about the Comprehensive Plan at the end,” said Lenobel, whose words were met with applause from the project’s supporters.
The first two days of hearings continued with much of the same presentation that club officials presented to the Planning and Zoning Board last year.
Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson told the commission she does not recommend approval of the project at this time, while her department confers with club officials to work through traffic and open space calculation concerns.
On The Witness Stand
Key Club general manager
“The new hotel will be the jewel of the island.” Welly told the commission the hotel’s bar and five-star restaurant would be open to the public.
“We are offering this hotel at a critical tipping point in the history of our community.”
“We are breeding a new and healthy club for the future.”
“We are not going to investors for a capital call for this project. The condos are the capital. The residents of these new condo buildings will be future club members. We turn away lots of people who we can’t sell rooms, too, at the Inn on the Beach. The new hotel will attract golfers. Every piece of this project works together.”
Loeb Realty Group president and chief operating officer
“We do make a profit and have positive cash flows at the club and resort. But the profits are reinvested back into the continued improvement and upgrade of the club because of its age and the usage it gets from more than 2,000 members.”
“The size of this project has been scaled back 20% because it’s the minimum number of units and the minimum scope we need in order to show this project is attractive to investors.”
“It’s our intent to follow-up on the development that’s in front of you today.”
“Although development is not our primary business, we have done it in the past. And we typically operate our properties long-term.”
“Over time, places lose their attractiveness without major renovations.”
“I don’t think the club can maintain its coveted four-diamond reputation status without renovation.”
“The club is past its peak because of the club’s inability to attract the guests it used to attract. It also can’t attract meeting groups, and the quality of its golf course is in question.”
“There are linkages between the quality of the resort and the real estate of the town.”
“The resort needs to be upgraded because it can’t survive without some upgrades.”
“In my experience of assisting in developing 25 hotels, hotels are built with a condominium component. No hotels in coastal areas are built without a condominium component.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Comprehensive Plan will be reviewed in 2011 by the Planning and Zoning Board, while three challenges to the Islandside project have been brought forward by IPOC.