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: June 17, 2010
Stunning representatives of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, the Longboat Key Town Commission approved Monday, June 14, a renovation-and-expansion project that Key Club Resort officials repeatedly warned would not work.
In a 4-3 vote, the majority chose a plan drafted by the town attorney that would require the Key Club to eliminate 70 condominium units from the north side of Longboat Club Road. Club officials said those units are required to finance the project and without them it would not be able to go forward.
Afterward, Key Club and Resort General Manager Michael Welly said, “We’re folding up the tents. There is nothing for us to do at this point. There is no plan B. There’s a strong possibility that our redevelopment is done.”
The Monday morning hearing began with the Key Club presenting third revisions to its plans. They were crafted over the weekend after meetings with the town attorney and planning director and representatives of the opposition, the Islandside Property Owners Association.
For at least two hours commissioners picked at the revisions — including reducing the land mass of the two golf course condo buildings and the meeting center.
But the commissioners did not appear willing to accept the changes. Instead, Mayor George Spoll and Town Attorney David Persson unveiled a redevelopment plan that Persson crafted over the weekend after discussions with Spoll and commissioners. Some of the commissioners had not seen the plan prior to the meeting. It included:
• No residential or tourism units built north of Longboat Club Road
• Giving the club the option to move the proposed spa and wellness center to the north parcel to
accommodate a condominium tower being built on the south parcel. This option would only allow the club to build a maximum of 24 residential units in a seven-story tower over one level of parking and would create a net loss of 46 units for the club.
• A contribution of $4 million by the club for the loss of town recreation and open space.
• Building a sidewalk adjacent to Gulf of Mexico Drive alongside the Islandside golf course.
• The option to leave the gatehouse on Longboat Club Road where it is.
• The option to extend a construction phasing plan with the commission’s approval and a payment of $500,000 for each year the phasing schedule is extended. Those payments would count toward payment of the $4 million contribution.
Persson said he crafted the alternative plan by “trying to come up with something that doesn’t drag two elephants through a keyhole at the same time.”
“This is a jumpstart effort to try and find a solution or open a door when the keys don’t quite fit,” Persson said.
Frustrated with the entire commission trying to redesign the project from the dais for the second consecutive meeting, Commissioner David Brenner convinced the commissioners to call for a vote on the alternative plan just before 1 p.m. Monday.
Mayor George Spoll and Commissioners Lynn Larson, Phillip Younger and Robert Siekmann approved the alternative plan on first reading.
Vice Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioners David Brenner and Hal Lenobel did not support the alternative plan.
Larson, however, immediately looked puzzled when the hearing abruptly ended after the vote. She said it was unclear what the vote was on and expected the hearing would continue.
The club, meanwhile, continued to press that it could not accept Persson’s proposal.
“This is our second time up here and our last time to try and develop this property,” said Key Club General Manager Michael Welly.
And club attorney John Patterson said eliminating residential components altogether on the north parcel “is just not workable for us.”
After the hearing, Patterson said he hopes the commission “will consider what it’s done.”
“It’s quite simply a project the club is not willing to do because it won’t work,” Patterson said.
Welly and Loeb Partners Realty Chief Operating Officer Michael Brody, meanwhile, all but signaled the end of the entire process late Monday afternoon.
After the hearing, Key Club team members — Welly, Patterson, Brody and Sarasota developer Jay Tallman — regrouped in the Key Club’s administrative offices.
“Clearly, we are deeply disappointed in the vote,” Brody said. “We spent a lot of time and money, we got input from the staff, the commission and the community, and we thought we had made a reasonable compromise.
“As for our next step, that’s a much tougher question to answer.”
About that same time, Brody excused himself from Welly’s office to take a call from London-based investors who own shares in the Key Club.
“London expected a yes or no,” Welly said, “and we have to interpret that today’s vote was a no.”
Asked how he felt after he witnessed the 4-3 vote, Welly said:
“I’ve spent five years on this — concepted it, sold it to New York and London, spent $5 million of my company’s money, hired the team all to breathe life into the club over the next 20 years. So I guess you can imagine how I feel.
“I’ve been pitching this project to the town for three years and this is the first time we heard today from the town they didn’t want residential on the north parcel.”
Added Patterson: “We spent four days of doing a major redesign with our architects. Then to find it unacceptable, we are not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to guess.”
Despite the club’s strong objections to the alternative plan, Patterson said the club was OK with most of the conditions the alternative plan proposed, but strongly opposed a suggested $4 million contribution to the town. Instead, club officials countered with a $1 million contribution, or a combined $2.5 million contribution if the town includes money the club plans to set aside for potential road improvements and Gulf of Mexico Drive beautification.
The club also contends installing a sidewalk along the golf course is unnecessary and not safe.
Islandside Property Owners Coalition President Bob White, who said he could support Persson’s alternative plan, said he was very happy with the commission’s decision.
“If there is a way the club can make this work for them, I will support the ordinance that was passed today,” said White, who noted he would have to see a list of conditions the town wishes to implement first.
Club’s rejected proposal
Brown was the only commissioner Monday who wholeheartedly supported a revised project presented by the club Monday morning that reduced the overall footprint of the golf course condominium towers and the meeting center.
The club proposed turning its two condominium towers into one connected building with two separate heights, with one side having 7 stories over one level of parking and the other side being 5 stories of parking over one level of parking. The same number of residential units would have remained at 70 units.
For the meeting center, the club proposed reducing the overall footprint of the center and the adjacent garage by 125-feet while being able to keep the same amount of meeting space proposed.
But Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson said “not a lot has changed” from the club’s past proposal and told the commission she still has issues with what was proposed.
And IPOC attorney Michael Furen called the club’s proposal, which it worked on through the weekend, “another failed attempt to address IPOC’s concerns.”
Back to the drawing board
Commissioners began to tinker with the club’s revised plan for a second time Monday and Brenner questioned why none of the buildings was moved around.
Patterson and Welly said it made no sense for the club to remove the wellness center across the street from the hotel and build only 24 condominiums instead of 70 units.
Although Brenner stressed the need that the five-star hotel be bumped up in the phasing process, Welly and Patterson would only commit to the possibility that it might be built before the condominium towers depending on the state of the economy when construction began.
A variety of architectural ideas began to flow among commissioners, including a suggestion by Younger that the club consider adding some of its residential units to the top of the meeting center.
The comments frustrated and annoyed Brown, a retired architect, who continued to warn commissioners to stop trying to redesign the club’s project.
“I just can’t see tearing this proposal down,” Brown said. “Either accept it or don’t accept it, but don’t put it in a position where it’s set up to fail.”
Persson and town special counsel attorney Nancy Stroud told the commission they had the power to approve the club’s project as proposed, prompting Brown to move to accept the club’s changes and approve the project as the club proposed.
But Brown was the only member of the commission who voted to support his motion.
Ideas then continued to flow from commissioners who suggested adding stories to the proposed villas to compensate for a loss of the golf course condominiums.
But Welly, again, said the suggestions were not workable for the club.
“We don’t feel adding even a story to the villas makes any sense,” Welly said. “If the golf course condos go, that’s the end of the project.”
Larson, a retired mediator, began proposing several suggestions in an attempt to create a workable project, including the suggestion the club give a $4 million contribution in exchange for allowing the condominium towers back on the north parcel.
Brown became upset with so many of the commissioners now coming to the conclusion residential units shouldn’t be considered on the north parcel at all.
Said Brown: “The argument for opposition has always been this is a residential community. But the only thing we are cutting is residential now. What are we doing?”
Monday evening, commissioners expressed various reactions to what they witnessed.
“The whole meeting and the concluding vote was harmful to Longboat Key,” said Brenner.
Spoll expressed disappointment that the rest of the commission was in such a hurry to bring the hearing to a conclusion.
“I wanted to take the time to review each of the provisions (in the alternative plan proposed by Persson),” Spoll said. “I was astonished at the speed at which this was accomplished.”
Spoll, however, notes that the commission’s decision was not a denial.
Larson called Monday “a sad day for everyone on the Key.”
“This isn’t what anybody wanted,” Larson said. “I had hoped a compromise could be met. I hope it’s not over and we find a way to find some common ground.”
Siekmann said he wasn’t sure how to react to the hearing.
“I was, however, happy to vote to approve something because if the vote had been no, it was over,” Siekmann said. “We put the ball very firmly in the club’s court and if they have a better plan, they will have to bring it forward.”
In Younger’s mind, the commission had to give the club something in return for what the town was looking to take away (golf course condos).
“I interpreted a vote at that point as giving them (the club) nothing,” Younger said.
Lenobel declined to comment.
Brown, meanwhile, continued to show his frustration at the events that unfolded hours earlier.
Said Brown: “I think the commission made a terrible mistake. I don’t know if there’s anything salvageable.
I would be surprised if some of the other commissioners even know what they voted on today.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].
The Islandside project was approved in July.