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The Key Club first unveiled its plans for the project in April 2008.
                                                      Photo courtesy of Jack Elka
Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 10 years ago

Appeals court rules against Key Club, town

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million expansion and renovation project is dead.

At least, the current version of it is.

The Florida Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling of 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Roberts, who quashed the town-approved development order in favor of the club.

The town and Key Club sought to overturn Roberts’ ruling that granted a writ of certiorari to the Islandside Property Owners Coalition and L’Ambiance and Sanctuary condominium associations in their challenge of the ordinance by which the Longboat Key Town Commission approved a development order for the project.
John Patterson, attorney representing the Key Club, said Key Club officials were discussing Wednesday whether to appeal the decision.

“Personally, I’m very disappointed,” Patterson said. “But I’m not going to recommend proceeding” with more legal appeals.

“It means the application that was approved is dead,” Patterson said.

Nonetheless, Patterson said, the Key Club could reapply for development approval under the town code that now exists. It could submit its existing plans or submit altogether new plans.

Any new submission, however, would be subject to the outcome of a court challenge filed by the Islandside Property Owners Coalition LLC. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17, at which IPOC is challenging the zoning-code and Comprehensive Plan amendments the Town Commission approved in an effort to clarify aspects of those documents.

IPOC President Bob White and attorney Robert Lincoln could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The rulings come two-and-a-half months after the Lakeland appeals court heard oral arguments June 5, during a 40-minute hearing.

Tampa attorney Sylvia Walbolt, representing the town, made two basic arguments: that the circuit court improperly reweighed evidence by singling out testimony from former Planning, Zoning & Building Director Monica Simpson, in which she stated that she could not recommend approval of the project, and that the court should have applied the town’s interpretation of any ambiguities in its zoning code consistently and in a manner that favors property owners whenever possible.

Lincoln, however, argued on behalf of IPOC and the associations that the codes were not unclear or ambiguous and that the circuit court “did an exemplary job of systematically emphasizing what the codes actually said.”

In a 12-page opinion, Judge Edward LaRose, who authored the opinion, and Judges Nelly Khouzam and Robert Morris Jr. rejected both of the town’s arguments.

The ruling contends that the court did not reweigh evidence, but, rather, that the circuit court’s “analysis focused with precision on the specific words in the code and their definitions, only mentioning Ms. Simpson’s testimony to summarize the arguments before making its own decision utilizing statutory interpretation.”

The court rejects the argument that the recitation of Simpson’s testimony amounts to reweighing evidence, stating that it could thwart reasoned judicial evidence.

“The town’s argument reaches too far and would encourage a judge to omit any meaningful background information in an order lest he or she be accused of impropriety. This hardly promotes judicial transparency, sound explanation, and rational analysis.”

The appeal court also found that the lower court properly interpreted the code, turning to the dictionary when necessary to find the meanings of undefined terms.

The ruling rejects arguments that the town cited “its longstanding tradition allowing similar nonresidential developments,” noting, “tradition cannot displace the plain meaning of a local code.”

The Key Club first unveiled its plans for the project in April 2008.

The commission approved the plan in June 2010, after 22 public hearings.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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