Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson told the Longboat Key Town Commission Monday, June 7 that the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion project is not a cohesive development site and “too drastically” departs from the town’s zoning code.
Key Club attorney John Patterson, however, called Simpson’s staff report and comments “very subjective.”
“In listening to the staff report, there were elements of objectiveness and some very subjective things (Simpson wrote) about whether this project is possibly overbuilt,” Patterson said.
When the Islandside hearing resumed at Temple Beth Israel, Simpson gave a presentation that reviewed the application and the 21 departures the club is requesting.
“I have no objection principally in the general mix of land uses being proposed,” Simpson said. “But the magnitude of land uses causes me some concern.”
When reviewing an application, Simpson said she always asks herself whether the granting of departures will result in an equal or better development than would otherwise be achieved with strict application of the town’s zoning code.
“The combination of departures will result in overdevelopment,” Simpson said.
Town special counsel attorney Nancy Stroud made the next presentation, warning the Town Commission that Simpson’s testimony should be given “great weight” when considering the project.
“I would advise that if there is competing evidence or interpretation of the code, you really should remember the courts will give greater weight to the staff’s interpretation because the director is considered an expert on the code,” Stroud said.
While noting that she still believes the commission has the right to decide whether the club’s project is consistent with the town’s codes and its Comprehensive Plan, Stroud said she agreed with Simpson’s assessment that the project has consistency issues when compared to the Comprehensive Plan.
“If an approval is challenged, the court will make a final interpretation of the town’s Comprehensive Plan,” Stroud said.
Town attorney David Persson clarified for the commission that Stroud believes the hotel, meeting center and other structures are allowed under the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
“It’s the magnitude of uses that raise issues with consistency,” Persson said.
Stroud agreed with that assessment.
“The courts will use strict scrutiny when reviewing the town’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Stroud, noting that, if approved by the commission, a court of law may not agree that the project preserves the existing character of the Islandside Gulf-planned development.
Mayor George Spoll suggested that a relocation of Longboat Club Road to the north near the golf course would allow Islandside residents to drive toward their homes in a more open area and keep them away from the commercial aspects of the project.
But Longboat Key Club General Manager Michael Welly told the commission that it’s not realistic for the club to move the road.
“Existing easements, additional curb cuts off Gulf of Mexico Drive, the cost of relocating the road and the unknown cost of relocating underground utilities don’t seem to make any sense to pursue a road relocation,” Welly said.
And although Commissioner David Brenner suggested the club could purchase the Chart House property to place a meeting center on the south parcel next to the hotel, Welly called that suggestion “not feasible.”
“We don’t wish to put a meeting center on the bay or pay $12 million for that piece of property,” Welly said.
Brenner, however, said he has other issues with the project as proposed.
“I have other thoughts about the height of some of the buildings,” Brenner said “This is a good place for this project, but its concentration gives me some pause.”
The club also disputed a suggestion by town staff to move the guardhouse to the west of its current location.
A report submitted by Dan Burden, executive director of Walkable Communities, states that Longboat Club Road “is one of the best designed private roads in Florida.”
Burden also states the present location for the guardhouse is “ideal” and the pedestrian crosswalk between the hotel and meeting center is “more than adequate.” Burden also notes that similar crosswalks are used throughout the country to act as a bridge between hotels and amenities at more than 30 resorts, including Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club and Boca Raton Resort & Club.
The commission will resume the Islandside hearing at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 9, at Temple Beth Israel, 567 Bay Isles Road.
The new deadline is June 16.
In order to approve on second reading an ordinance in favor of the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million Islandside application, the Town Commission must approve the ordinance on first reading no later than Wednesday, June 16.
Town attorney David Persson said he doesn’t believe the Town Commission will be ready to approve an ordinance on first reading when the hearing resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 9.
But if the commission approved an ordinance on first reading June 9, the second reading would be held Monday, June 28. If the ordinance were approved on first reading Wednesday, June 16, the second reading would be held June 30. After that date, the commission wouldn’t meet again until the fall.
Club officials have said they will pull the project if it’s not approved by the end of June.
Joe Lesser, the chairman and chief executive officer of Loeb Partners Realty, made his first appearance at an Islandside renovation-and-expansion hearing Monday since he first testified Jan. 8.
“I just wanted to be here to thank you all for giving us the opportunity to make the case for this application and all the hard work you have put in,” Lesser said. “The owners still believe in this development and our investment in Longboat Key, which is significant. Even though we have been through almost four years of recession, where property values have dropped dramatically, we still are committed to doing our best to make this development a reality if the commission approves this.
“We have retained the top planners and architects in the field to create and recreate and recreate our master plan for what we hope will be a world-class development. It’s been an extremely expensive education for me, as I’m now considered an expert on experts.
“We did the final original design in 2008. We heard everyone’s comments and we have listened to criticisms. As a result, we have been through major revisions that have cost us a tremendous amount of money. In spite of that, we are still here, we think this project is an excellent one and we would like to see it fulfilled.
“We now believe after considerable economic analysis this development proposal is the minimum that will succeed both for our club and the Key. The significantly scaled-down plan is one we hope will be financially available, subject to market conditions. We feel it will be successful and hope the town and the commission will share our confidence and approve the application and work with us to revitalize the club and the town of Longboat Key.
“Regardless of the outcome, we are most appreciative of all of the time you and your staff has put in.”
When Lesser refused to disclose economic analysis information about the project to Islandside Property Owners Coalition attorney Michael Furen, the attorney walked back to his seat.
But Lesser continued to speak, which prompted laughter and applause from the audience.
Said Lesser: “Don’t you want to know why I won’t answer your questions? The reason is we don’t know what this commission is going to agree to, and I can’t tell you that until I know what might be approved.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].