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 April 22, 2010
Four of the seven commissioners showed support for all seven of the club’s town code clarifications and changes that will help make approval of the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion project more defensible from legal challenges.
Mayor George Spoll, Vice Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioners David Brenner and Lynn Larson showed support for every modification presented by Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson Friday, April 16, at Temple Beth Israel.
The changes will now be forwarded to a first reading and public hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, May 3, at Town Hall.
Commissioners Gene Jaleski, Robert Siekmann and Hal Lenobel expressed issues with some of the proposed changes.
Spoll, however, noted that moving all seven changes forward would allow for more discussion. At the next meeting, the commission will review each proposed change individually and either approve or disapprove the changes by sending them forward for a second reading next month.
The seven proposed clarifications to the code submitted to the town, club attorney John Patterson says, will eliminate code ambiguities and move the project forward to a Town Commission vote without many of the legal challenges presented to the commission by attorneys for the Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC), which opposes the project.
Simpson told the commission that three or four of the changes requested could be characterized as clarifications to the town’s existing code that don’t change the policy of the town or the direction the town is heading in the future.
“The remaining ones, though, can be considered changes to grant various flexibilities for development on the island,” Simpson said. Most notably, Simpson referred to a code-change request that would allow hotels and other accessory uses the club is proposing in planned-unit developments (PUDs) to not be considered commercial development. That would mean a portion of the club’s proposed uses would not be subject to a 5% limitation on non-accessory commercial development.
Jaleski, Siekmann and Lenobel expressed issues with granting a code change that allows hotels and other accessory uses the club is proposing to not be subject to a 5% cap on non-accessory commercial development of the gross area of the Islandside PUD.
Siekmann called the code-change request one “that flies in the face of logic.”
“Why have a 5% limitation rule on the books at all if we can just create ways to skirt around it?” Jaleski asked.
Simpson explained the code allows for a principal land use and an accessory land use, noting that the former Holiday Inn Longboat Key had a Pizza Hut inside of it, which was an accessory land use that wasn’t considered part of the 5% limitation.
Siekmann asked Simpson if the club’s proposed meeting center would be considered an accessory land use.
Simpson told the commission she would not deem the meeting center an accessory use because it’s a separate structure on the property.
“The meeting center would be a principal use on the north parcel,” Simpson said. “The code says it must be within the main structure.”
Simpson maintained that it’s up to the commission to mandate how it wants the policy to be maintained and noted that this particular change specifically deals with planned districts.
Simpson said the changes would affect The Water Club, Bay Isles and Islandside planned districts.
IPOC attorney Michael Furen “strongly disagreed” with the assessments made about the potential code changes Friday, calling the changes “major policy changes that would impact the Key.”
Jaleski also strongly disagreed with a code change that allows the club to ask for a hardship in a planned development regarding the calculation of building length.
“It’s a big policy change and a major shift,” Jaleski said.
Simpson noted, however, that an applicant could only ask for a departure on building length in a PUD.
Patterson tried to assuage some of the commissioners’ concerns by explaining the club could simply ask for a departure of the 5% limitation rule.
“The purpose of doing this is to bring your planned districts into basic compliance with the code and not have nonconforming issues,” Patterson said. “Our thing was, if we are going to clean some stuff up, why not go ahead and do it?”
Furen took exception with testimony by Simpson and town attorney David Persson, who explained that tourism uses, such as the club’s hotel, are not considered a commercial use. Furen also denounced the 5% limitation change.
“This community is being asked to change historic code provisions that have served this community well,” Furen said. “I would strongly suggest to you it’s not good public policy to amend the zoning code simply to accommodate one specific development proposed.”
When Jaleski asked Furen his thoughts on what these changes would do to the island, Furen said, “If you want to allow intense, massive, out-of-scale commercial development like hotels, then these amendments assist in that endeavor. But if the consensus is to keep Longboat, Longboat, these are bad ideas and bad policy changes.”
After the public was heard, Siekmann told the commission he believes approving the proposed ordinance, complete with all the changes requested, would be “a serious legal mistake.”
“It’s a mistake we would pay for in the future,” Siekmann said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate and will not vote to approve the changes to the zoning code.”
Brown said he feels the opposite way.
“I keep hearing people talk about 30-year-old ordinances and those who framed them as if it were Thomas Jefferson who crafted them,” Brown said. “Those people wouldn’t know the conditions this town is facing today and flexibilities were built into the charter to make changes as needed.”
The discussion led Lenobel to ask Persson what it would mean if the code changes were not approved, but the application were still sent forward on a departure-by-departure basis.
Persson noted the changes would make the application’s approval less susceptible to legal challenge.
“If you turn this down in its entirety, I would advise you that you don’t have the power to give a departure for the 5% limitation,” Persson said. “But, I would also say it’s not clear you can or can’t grant the departure request.”
Persson said if the commission decides to grant the 5% limit departure, then that position is legally defensible.
Spoll, Brown, Brenner and Larson agreed to move the entire ordinance forward for review.
Said Spoll: “We owe it to ourselves and the community to move it ahead.”
Change of Venue
The majority of the Town Commission agreed Friday, April 16, at Temple Beth Israel, to hold a first reading on the code changes suggested by the Longboat Key Club and Resort at 9 a.m. Monday, May 3, at Town Hall instead of the sanctuary that’s been the home of every club hearing since October.
Only 55 people showed up Friday to listen to the hearing at the temple, and Town Manager Bruce St. Denis explained Town Hall could hold that number of people.
Because it costs $850 to rent the temple for each hearing, Mayor George Spoll, Vice Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioners Gene Jaleski and Lynn Larson voted to send the hearing back to Town Hall.
The decision frustrated Commissioner Robert Siekmann, who, along with his fellow Commissioners David Brenner and Hal Lenobel, said they shouldn’t change venues and that the temple would be better at accommodating the public who wants to be heard.
Said Siekmann: “Our section of the dais appears to be splitting away from the rest of you.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Although the code changes were approved, IPOC has challenged them and the town's Comprehensive Plan by filing a petition with the Department of Community Affairs. An administrative law judge will hear the basis of the argument in May 2011.
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