The modified $400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion plan presented by the Longboat Key Club and Resort Jan. 29 is the closest thing to a guarantee that the Town Commission is going to get that the five-star hotel will be built, according to the club’s general manager, Michael Welly.
The revised plan calls for the 196-room hotel to have 65 residential condominium units on top of it, instead of the original 34 condo units, for an increase of 31 condos that will be used to finance the hotel and the project as a whole.
The additional condos boost the height of the five-star hotel from seven floors to 10 floors, while reducing the number of units and the height of the two proposed condominium towers.
The two condo towers went from having 132 units to 61 units, while reducing the building height from seven floors over two levels of parking to four floors over one story of parking.
“With more condos in the hotel, it makes the hotel vital to the success and sustainability of the overall project,” said Key Club General Manager Michael Welly.
Welly told The Longboat Observer the revised plan presented was a direct result of suggestions offered by the Planning and Zoning Board and issues raised by the Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC).
Planning Board Vice Chairman Al Hixon said the club’s plan was “brilliant,” but called the hotel “a lynch pin in the board’s decision-making process” in November.
Hixon suggested the club consider adding four floors with 68 residential units to the top of the hotel, because the club contends the hotel cannot be built without the money from condominium sales.
“If the real concern is that we are trying to pull a quickie by getting this project approved and walking away, this should assuage the concern,” Welly said. “We are not going anywhere. We have said we will build a five-star hotel and that’s what we will build.”
Welly said that 95% of the club’s approximately 2,081 memberships are made up of Longboat Key residents.
“It would be foolish to say we’re building a five-star hotel and then build a three-star hotel or no hotel at all,” Welly said.
And the scaled back condo towers, Welly said, were presented last week in an effort to assuage concerns from IPOC.
“Moving more condos on top of the hotel is not an ideal solution for us,” Welly said. “But we’re trying to be a good neighbor and we believe the height of the condo towers is IPOC’s main objection.”
In an attempt to reach common ground, club officials and IPOC officials met for a couple of hours Saturday without their attorneys.
Welly and IPOC Chairman Bob White called the meeting cordial and respectful.
“We were able to lay everything out on the table and discuss how we believe this revised project will work,” Welly said. “It’s an expensive olive branch we have extended and we hope it’s considered.”
Welly, who previously stated that the project would not be financially viable for the club if the hotel or any condominium units were removed, has scaled back the project 20% overall in the last year. The project was additionally scaled back recently to address concerns and adjust to the current economy.
“It’s still an approximately $400 million project,” Welly said. “But at a significant expense and significant loss of income, we have corrected what we feel is the one big issue that remained, which is the height of those two condo buildings.”
Welly said the revised proposal means the club is losing more than 20,000 square feet of saleable condominium space overall.
White said the meeting with the club was worthwhile.
“But we are still quite a ways apart,” said White, whose coalition still has issues with the number of condos being built to finance the project and the commercial aspects of the project. “Lowering the height was constructive. But it’s kind of like squeezing the balloon and moving the density further to the south.”
Welly, who also agreed to move the Longboat Club Road gatehouse approximately 127 feet to the west of its current location, hopes the Longboat Key Association and IPOC will work to make that a reality.
“Moving the gatehouse would facilitate the redevelopment,” said White, who also thinks the road itself needs to be moved. “We would express our views to the road association.”
Jaleski wants representation
The commissioner who hates spending town money on consultants says the commission needs one now more than ever.
Longboat Key Commissioner Gene Jaleski asked the Town Commission to consider hiring an independent third-party law firm, which specializes in land-use regulation, to help the commission sift through what’s legally permissible in the Longboat Key Club’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project.
Said Jaleski at the Feb. 1 regular meeting: “I’m uncomfortable moving forward without it.”
Town Attorney David Persson was frustrated with the comment.
“I have told you how this process works both privately and publicly,” Persson said. “I’m not sure how else to explain it.”
Persson said that as the town attorney, he assists the commission in accordance with the town charter regulations and representing it in hearings.
“You have every right to replace me if you like,” Persson said.
Commissioner Peter O’Connor said he understood Jaleski’s concern.
“Everyone in this case has counsel except the seven guys who are hearing the case,” O’Connor said.
Persson, however, said the seven commissioners are indemnified from litigation as long as they play by the rules.
“You are immune from personal liability as long as you are weighing the evidence appropriately,” Persson said. “But if you want to hire additional experts, you have the power to do so.”
Said Commissioner Jim Brown: “Gene, you can get 10 land-use attorneys in here and you still won’t be sure what to do. You have to listen to the testimony and decide what it is you believe.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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