I am part of the conflicted majority
I am really conflicted about the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s expansion and believe that this view is shared by a majority of residents. The club on one side and Islandside Property Owners Coalition on the other would have us believe that their view is the only one to consider. However, there are no absolutes here. The situation cries out for a practical solution.
For background, I am a 15-year resident of Longboat Key who owns two slips in the Moorings Condominium and a condo unit in Grand Bay. I am a club member and have served on the Moorings Board as president and now serve on two Grand Bay boards. I want only the best for our Key. In the interest of full disclosure, I was involved in contentious negotiations and legal actions with Michael Welly and the club regarding matters at the Moorings. Thanks to reasons shown by both sides in that matter, a successful and mutually beneficial settlement was negotiated last year. Why can’t the same reason be exercised regarding the expansion? I invite you to join me here to impartially consider the points made by each group and list a conclusion on each one. Then, perhaps we can join in the recommendation to both sides made at the end of this “My View” on how to move ahead.
Legal matters — As I write this, the lawyers for the club are trying to refute the claims made by Coalition lawyers last week. Let’s face the fact that the usual objective of opposition attorneys is to raise tactical roadblocks to confuse and postpone action. It is a fact that when reason and cooperation exist, lawyers are only needed to write the agreements.
Conclusion: Legal differences are not important if a mutually acceptable compromise can be achieved. In that case, the matters of density and zoning will vanish.
Use of property — As a free enterprise capitalist, I believe that property owners should have the right to make reasonable use of their land unless it seriously impacts other owners. Let us not nitpick on matters of curbs and drains. Certainly, the overall benefit to the community must be considered.
Conclusion: Subject to the reservations listed further in this analysis (and they are considerable), the club should be allowed to move ahead.
Keep Longboat, Longboat — This is a matter of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and has no meaning.
Conclusion: (There is) propaganda on both sides and should be ignored.
Sight lines and blocking — Every new project looms large. When construction started on Building Four at Grand Bay, those of us with slips in the Moorings complained about the size and proximity. After it was completed, we barely noticed it. I stood in front of L’Ambiance and visualized the impact of the new buildings. Not too much.
Conclusion: Only moderate changes in height could eliminate this objection.
Construction time — Last reports had construction running for seven years. This is an unreasonable length of time for the lives of Islandside Owners to endure. Consider the fact that many of our owners are in their advanced years and construction will take place for the rest of their time on the Key. They expect tranquility. Is it fair for their lives to be impacted for such a long time?
Conclusion: The period of construction is unreasonably long for current residents. Why?
Traffic — I reviewed the traffic plan prepared a month or two ago and found it lacking. First, it uses averages. While “one additional car per minute” may seem minimal, cars don’t move in averages. Events start and end at specific times, and cars come and go in packs. The potential of large numbers of vehicles arriving and departing at one time can be a problem that will be compounded by a possible bridge closing on demand. Then, there is the major problem of construction traffic at the beginning and end of each shift.
This was not even considered in the original traffic study and could add 100 or more cars at 7:30 a. m. and 5 p.m. This traffic impact would persist for the seven years that is contemplated for complete construction.
Conclusion: A major problem that has not been completely analyzed and an improved plan is necessary
The number of new condominium and hotel rooms — The proposal does not include an extremely large number in view of the recent loss of rooms at Longboat.
Conclusion — This should be viewed as a welcome addition to the tax base with minimal negative impact.
Size of conference facility — Information provided by the club has been somewhat of a moving target. What was first described as a large area for big events was repositioned as something for small groups. Do we know what the maximum number of occupants that can be in both the prime area and adjacent rooms? Does it make a difference, except as it impacts traffic? Do you remember the same opposition to the large dining room when it was proposed at Harbourside?
Conclusion: How many people are inside is only important to the fire department. We need to ask if the size of the buildings are really too overwhelming or is it another tactical question used to defeat the project. Let’s stand there and visualize it. Who believes that the “bridge too high” has not benefited Sarasota?
Revitalization of Islandside golf course — This is one of the strangest portions of the club’s expansion proposal. First, consider that the club did a remarkable job in designing and building the new Tennis Gardens. It is an asset to the club and our community. But it was built because the club thought that is would attract new members. No offsets or contingencies were involved.
So, what does the long overdue improvement to the golf course have to do with the expansion? A full membership costs a remarkable $50,000, second in the region only to the Ritz Club, and there is no equity involved. Dues and food minimums are around $14,000 annually. The course has been losing an estimated 100 or more members a year for the last five years; this is long before the current economic downturn. Note that each 100 members lost has cost the club over $1 million a year! The most recent monthly Reflections magazine published by the club does not list a single new full gold member, and this is at the beginning of the season. If the tennis construction were self-supporting, why not the golf course, which can be considered even more important?
Conclusion: The club’s contention that golf-course improvement is contingent on the expansion is not valid.
Facility revitalization — The club has been proud of its relationship with the Inn on the Beach owners association and the considerable commitment that the owners made to upgrade their units. What parts of the current restaurant and pool areas are in need of improvement and what will the expansion do for it? Although replacing the current workout center is desirable, it is not urgent and should not be contingent on the large expansion.
Conclusion: More detail is needed on why this would improve the main building and current facilities, beyond normal upgrading.
Increased visitors — This is certainly desirable and few would dispute that many owners were first introduced to Longboat as a visitor.
Conclusion: Both the increased hotel units and conference center will be important factors in drawing more visitors and interest in Longboat. But first the expansion must survive the current opposition.
More new businesses — The Chamber of Commerce and Longboat Observer have an obvious interest in the establishment of any new business. What new businesses will the expansion actually create that we need? Certainly not another Italian restaurant. Note that Walgreen’s has already expressed serious interest in locating near Publix and major reconstruction there is in the planning stage. Because the club is at the extreme south end of the Key, visitors will most likely utilize stores in St. Armand’s, which certainly can use more business. As for badly needed improvement on the north end of the Key, that will require a totally different approach.
Conclusion: The expansion alone will not create new businesses that will benefit current owners.
Financing — This must be one of the major concerns of everyone (probably including the club). Every mention of financing has been vague. The club’s work on the project began before the economic situation worsened — $400 million is a lot of money. What assurance do we have that what the club starts will be completed? Look at the failed projects behind Publix or the Quay or the Proscenium (Waldorf Astoria) in Sarasota. Much promise — only to fail for lack of financing. Will there be an escrow set up before each phase of the expansion starts?
Conclusion: Much too important an area to lack specific information. More light is necessary before any final approval.
Specific construction plans — It is apparent that only architectural renderings have been created. There are no actual plans. Costs are only estimates, and actual costs could run from $250 million to $500 million. The club is counting on the profit from selling the condos to reduce needed financing. But is this reasonable?
Conclusion: P&Z and the Town Commission would not approve the smallest of projects without full plans. Why is that not the case in the largest project in the state? Far more specificity is needed.
Summary of positions — The club acts like it is confident, but must understand the fragility of itsr position. The Coalition has the legal power and dollars to frustrate any approval for some time. The Town Commission is going to face a real dilemma on how to accept a major investment with so many questions attached to it. Acceptance would be the mother of all unintended consequences. The conflicted majority understands that progress is needed, but we do not like so many unknown facets and are sympathetic with the concerns of the Coalition. There can be no winners now.
Recommendation — The current battle is unacceptable. It is apparent to almost everyone that some expansion of the club is reasonable and should be encouraged. But the problems listed above are too important to allow approval without more information or changes. Bob White, of the Coalition, has offered to meet to discuss a compromise, but Michael Welly and the club insist that no change in the current plan is acceptable. If there are no negotiations and changes, there will be a field day for lawyers and Longboat will not benefit from the potential improvements.
The Colony is a vivid example of what happens when intransigence and stubbornness overwhelm common sense. By way of contrast, the Moorings and club were at a similar impasse just over a year ago. But reason prevailed, and a small group met privately to create a fair compromise.
We need statesmen to emerge on both sides. The club must be prepared to answer the questions listed here and make some modifications to the plan. The Coalition must lean as far as possible to accept a major facility at the south end of the Islandside property. Otherwise, contention will continue and everyone will lose.
Let every conflicted resident avoid supporting either side. Our power is to encourage Michael Welly and Bob White to meet with open minds and create a solution that we call can embrace. The need for cooperation is great. The time is now.
To assist in this effort, I will be working with a group of the conflicted majority to set up an e-mail address and Web site. We have already have LBKMajority@gmail.com. One of the missions will be to provide a place for owners to show their support of one of three options:
(A) The current proposal by the club
(B) A compromise between the Coalition and the club to modify the plan
(C) Register opposition to any expansion.
The club claims to have overwhelming support. I believe that the majority of owners want the expansion to proceed but only with some modification. Let’s find out how our majority really feels. Send your E-mail vote now with your name, which will stay private, and vote for A, B or C. We will also post your comments from all sides when our Web site is set up, which should be soon.
Stuart Scheyer is a 15-year resident of Longboat Key who owns two slips at the Moorings Condominium and a condo in Grand Bay. He is also a Longboat Key Club member and a past president of the Moorings board.
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