The town of Longboat Key is making changes to get the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort renovation-and-expansion project back on track.
By a 6-1 vote, the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board recommended ordinance changes at its Tuesday, Jan. 15 regular meeting that directly affect the project. The changes specifically relate to the outline development process that distributes the pool of 250 tourism units.
In November, Ocean Properties Ltd. submitted pre-application documents to the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department for a redevelopment of the 102 rooms at the existing Longboat Key Hilton. The application also seeks 85 of the 250 tourism units for a new guest tower on the property.
But, the application was put on hold the same month, after a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge issued a judgment that went against the town and essentially froze pending and future redevelopment applications.
The judge favored the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, which challenged town code changes giving commissioners more flexibility when approving projects.
More importantly, the judgment meant the outline development process used to distribute the pool of 250 tourism units was also frozen.
Town Manager Dave Bullock told the Longboat Key Town Commission Jan. 7 the town was doing whatever it takes to get the project back on track.
That includes receiving approval for a $23,000 budget request from Bullock for the use of Spikowski Planning Associates to provide consulting services for short-term changes to the town code.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, Bill Spikowski presented planning board members with a revised ordinance that would restore the outline development process for the tourism units and allow the Hilton project to move forward.
“This will strike a balance with enough balance and leniency,” Spikowski said. “This ordinance will allow the Hilton to rebuild and expand and meet its timeline.”
That timeline involves the hotel shutting down May 1 and not re-opening until the second quarter of 2014.
Sarasota attorney John Patterson is representing the Hilton and told the planning board the Hilton, built in 1972, is in need of an overhaul.
“The Hilton is just plain worn out,” Patterson said. “It’s not going to be a Hilton anymore if they can’t get a shovel in the dirt by June.”
Even by turning dirt on the project by June 1, Patterson explained the Hilton would still lose one full season and two summer seasons.
“There is a time crunch,” Patterson said.
The timeline comments, though, and the revelation that some of the ordinance language was site-specific for the Hilton property (any other applicants seeking tourism units would likely need additional changes to the ordinance) frustrated some planning board members and two commission candidates.
“It seems we are developing standards here that are very specific to the Hilton application, and I question whether those specific ratios I refer to would make sense among other T-6 (tourism) properties,” planning board member Jack Daly said. Daly noted if Colony Beach & Tennis Resort officials want to come forward and seek some of the tourism units, provisions already put in place for the Hilton would hinder them.
“It seems like a big trip-up,” Daly said.
Commission candidate Larry Grossman said the ordinance changes “feel like Key Club déjà vu all over again.”
“Once again we are tailoring our codes to a certain project that has a time constraint,” Grossman said.
Although town attorney David Persson and Spikowski explained that the changes weren’t spot zoning, Persson did say it would be better if the town could make changes to its codes and Comprehensive Plan all at once.
“What I’m concerned about is it’s better to do this as a whole with a blank piece of paper,” Persson said. “There’s a concern, though, this has to be done in a more expeditious manner.”
In the end, the planning board ap- proved the ordinance changes after hearing from Spikowski that the changes were “logical” and “solid.”
Next, the Longboat Key Town Commission will review them after hearing from Spikowski that the changes were “logical” and “solid.”
“I’m not willing to see more businesses walk away from this island because they don’t have the ability to improve their property,” planning board Chairwoman B.J. Webb said. “There’s a public outcry this gets done.”
Commissioners will review the ordinance at a special meeting after its Jan. 22 regular workshop on first reading and could approve the changes on second reading at its February regular meeting.
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