The town of Longboat Key’s charter is clear when it comes to how density can be modified Key-wide.
It states: “Present density limitations provided in the existing Comprehensive Plan, as adopted March 12, 1984, shall not be increased without the referendum approval of the electors of Longboat Key.”
But here’s what’s also clear: The referendum approval process the town has used for more than 25 years is now useless, at least for now.
That’s because the Florida Legislature approved at its spring session a two-page bill that nixes the referendum process statewide and also renders any referendum performed on or after June 1, 2011, moot.
For Longboat Key, that means two referenda questions that the island’s registered voters approved Nov. 6, 2012, which allowed two properties to convert from commercial to residential use for a maximum of six dwelling units per acre, are null and void — at least for the time being.
The properties that received approval last year for residential use are the 0.76-acre plot, owned by Victor Levine, in between the Public Safety Complex and the Centre Shops at 5440 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the 0.44-acre plot, owned by First America Bank, at 521 Broadway, adjacent to the Barrier Island Realty Group office in the Longbeach Village.
Levine sought the zoning change so he could divide the lot into four separate lots, each with a single-family home, while First America Bank sought to develop the Broadway property into two separate lots, which would each have a single-family home with water access to the canal behind them to the north.
Land-use consultant Peter Dailey, who represented both property owners during the referendum process, said both of his clients have had difficulty selling their properties because of the current zoning.
“Tons of time and effort went into this, and all my clients can hope for at this point is to see if the decision can be reversed or if the referendum that was approved can be grandfathered,” Dailey said.
Town officials say they are aware of the time and cost that those property owners put into receiving the zoning changes for that referendum.
“That referendum, the Legislature says, wasn’t legal,” said Mayor Jim Brown. “We’re well aware of that and sympathetic to those property owners.”
Town staff is now scrambling to figure out what to do next.
Town Manager Dave Bullock and town attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale have received direction to work with lawmakers who sponsored the bill to try and get the Legislature to reverse its course when it meets again early next year.
“All we know now is it won’t be resolved until the next Legislature session,” Brown said. “We have learned we have to start working with the committees that work on these bills to get changes proposed before the next session begins.”
Those committees start meeting in the fall, and town officials are already discussing the issue with state officials and lawmakers.
The town, at least, doesn’t have problems with any other past referendum approvals, which were all approved before the June 1, 2011, deadline. So, referendums such as the town’s beach project and even the 250 tourism-unit pool are safe.
But, although the town hopes for changes in Tallahassee, any plans for future density issues are on hold.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now except to try and get the Legislature to change its mind,” Brown said. “We are confident it will get changed.”
Bullock, meanwhile, said he’s 99% sure that the town of Longboat Key is the only municipality in the state that has a charter that is density-minded restrictive only to referendums.
Portale said the town “is in limbo as to how it can increase density moving forward.” She said the town can try and get a judicial determination or have the Legislature “clarify or fix” the bill that was passed earlier this year.
“There’s a glitch in that bill, and Longboat Key was an unintended consequence,” Portale said. “The goal is to try and get the matter resolved when the Legislature reconvenes in February.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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