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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 6 months ago

Colony conversation continues

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Too big, too dense, just what the town needs. The opinions on the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort redevelopment are as varied as the neighborhoods on Longboat Key. This week, we publish letters in response to last week’s editorial, ‘Make Longboat Special.'
Editorial wrongly accuses Keep Longboat Special

Your Jan. 18 editorial has many unsubstantiated accusations, which appear to be intentional. It’s a pity when a widely read hometown newspaper vilifies and mocks the town’s grassroots organization via the power of an editorial.

You begin with “They’re back.” Just who are “they”? And what do “they” stand for? Are you attacking the Longboat voters and residents who have made it clear that they oppose unreasonable increases in density? Or are you addressing just our local grassroots group?

To the 1,400 members of Keep Longboat Special, we apologize for any upset this article may have caused you. It is for you that we are responding to the Jan. 18 editorial. We only strive to preserve, protect and enhance Longboat Key. This is Keep Longboat Special’s mantra. To the editor and staff of the Longboat Observer, and to new members to Keep Longboat Special, we point out the following for your information.

The Observer editorial accuses us of having “killed” five development proposals over a 10-year period. Please note, these are the facts:

  • Regarding Floridays’ proposal: You are correct. Keep Longboat Special could not justify supporting the Floridays project. Membership and voters agreed completely.
  • Regarding Whitney Plaza: Keep Longboat Special promoted the rezoning of the Whitney Plaza after meeting with Ryan Snyder, who explained the history and status of that property.
  • Regarding the Mote proposal: Keep Longboat Special met with the Mote developers multiple times, supported their plan via emails and stood with them at the polling place to help promote a vote for this referendum.
  • Regarding Harbour Square: Keep Longboat Special supported the rezoning of the single unit Harbour Square property.
  • Regarding the Longboat Key Club and Resort: Neither Keep Longboat Special nor Preserve Longboat Inc. existed five years ago. Neither is older than three years.

Lastly, your attempt to associate our group with the Public Interest Committee of 20 years ago, while interesting, has nothing to do with our group today.

By the way, we have copied the Mote development folks, and the Whitney Plaza representative. You might want to reach out to them so you can get the accurate history.

As for the editorial headline, “Make Longboat Special,” Longboat IS special. It has been made special by careful adherence to well-thought-out and fought-for building codes. The residents of Longboat want to keep it that way. One way to do that is to control density and not line Gulf of Mexico Drive with oversized hotels and conference complexes. Keep the residential/commercial/tourism balance so unique to our Key.

You say that “what Unicorp is seeking is only 31 units.” Why is it that changing the law to allow Unicorp to build those 31 units, to use the words of your headline, will “Make Longboat Special”? It won’t.

But what it will do is open the floodgates for other developers to overbuild in our town. We are for the Colony redevelopment — but promote it being done within one of the three code pathways currently permitted under the law.

We strive to keep Longboat special and respect all different opinions on how this can be accomplished. We have found that the vast majority of people who support the increase in density of our building codes have personal financial incentives to do so.

Pete Rowan, Carla Rowan, Tom Meurer, David Lapovsky
Keep Longboat Special Preserve Longboat Inc.

You are totally out of touch

Your almost insane tirade about the Colony caused me to lose all respect for you — after three decades.

In the past, I have tolerated your abuse of your position as a newspaper owner. However, I cannot abide your ideological war on our community concerning the Colony increased density proposal.

It seems you only have disdain for the 86% of your readers who have repeatedly voted against any increases in density.

It seems you are totally out of touch with the Longboat Key community.

Gene Jaleski, Longboat Key

Keep the code the way it is

We have lived on Longboat Key for 12 years now and have witnessed the increase in traffic each year. We strongly agree with keeping the current code in place.

I hope the density problem doesn’t get much worse. Longboat Key is truly paradise, but if outside influences are allowed to have their way here, we will lose it.

We hope your reporting will continue to be positive in our favor.

Dale Hauser, Longboat Key

You are tone deaf to the will of voters

In reply to your Jan. 18 editorial, I am compelled to point out the inaccuracies in your editorial.

First, Keep Longboat Special did not prevent or put up road blocks to the development proposals that you felt were to have been of future benefit to the island. The voters of Longboat Key did.

In addition, you have made assumptions of Longboat taxpayers that the majority of us do want a “five-star jewel” on the Colony property and that with “every cut that Unicorp is forced to make, it is cutting in to the quality of the project and the aesthetic and economic benefits to the town.

This could not be more untruthful.

Your comparison of a single parcel property owner renovating his property with larger, more expanded homes to what Unicorp is proposing for the Colony property is simply laughable. It does not even approach being an accurate comparison.

I know that if I choose to renovate my property, that upon completion it will not result in massive traffic increases from my guests or my employees.

I also know for certain that my single dwelling property renovation will not result in an increased strain on our municipal and emergency services. Nor will it completely change the character of our small island that we love so much.

Economic benefits to Longboat Key? Hardly. More like an unfunded drain that results in making a bad seasonal traffic pattern even worse and brings our quiet island more in line with Disney or Miami Beach.

This is precisely what Longboaters do not want.

The results of the March 2017 referendum on density, as well as other past elections, could not speak more clearly to that.

What exactly do you not understand about that? The lack of mega resorts on Longboat Key is exactly why we live here and we (the 87% of Longboat voters who voted in the March 2017 referendum against a density increase on the Colony property) will continue to support groups like Keep Longboat Special that serve as a watchdog to individuals (like yourself) who seem to know what is best for this island.

Longboaters want to continue to keep our island the special place that it is. We realize that progress does come along and does require concessions. However, those concessions belong on the electorate’s terms, not on the terms of developers who are here to make money and then leave the island with the negative impacts that uncontrolled development leaves behind.

It is abundantly clear that your opinion on the future of Longboat Key is driven by a total tone deafness to the will of the Longboat electorate.

By denigrating groups like Keep Longboat Special, you only fan the flames of the 87% of the electorate that feels strongly that commercial development on this island needs to continue to be kept in check to keep Longboat Key the unique and special place that it is.

John Weber, Longboat Key

Project would bring $50 million to the town

I’m not sure if voters know, but our St. Regis Development is one-third the density of the Zota Beach Resort. Voters may not also know the Longboat Key Club and many other developments in Longboat have received text amendments.

When codes are written there are flaws found within them and then corrected. Codes always remain fluid because the scripters are not perfect. Much like laws and the constitution have amendments, improvements can always be made to law.

Here are some additional facts about our project:

  • First the text amendment we ask for is not an increase in density. The property is zoned for six units per acre. However, the PUD process penalizes us for using that process by making us reduce density to 4.5 units per acre. So if we lose 26 units, then we lose $100 million in revenue, which is essential to build a first-class resort. Keep in mind that is not profit but revenue.
  • The current Colony has 237 units, which are all tourist units. We only propose 166 tourism units and 103 condos. You would certainly agree with me the tourism units create more traffic than a condo. The mix we propose has a traffic study that shows we create less traffic than the previous Colony, and the town hired a consultant to review the report, and it concurs. We have fewer hotel rooms mixed with condos. We all know the condos generate little traffic.
  • The ballroom we have agreed to restrict to 425 people and 10,000 feet. The previous Colony had 10,000 square feet of ballroom space as well. Keep in mind without a ballroom able to accommodate a hotel buy out, we won’t be able to fill the hotel with group business in the off season. Therefore just being a seasonal hotel is not good for anyone. We need, and the town needs, this business in the off season. The group business usually uses shuttles and creates very little traffic.
  • The Colony had 1,100 beds. Our redevelopment of a St. Regis Resort and condos collectively would have only 700 beds. This is a clear reduction in human density by 37%.
  • If we are penalized by the 26-unit loss, not only can we not invest the same amount into the project, but the town will lose $4.8 million of tax revenue.

The town has currently suffered a loss of $5 million from the Colony being closed a decade.

Amazingly, if we are approved, the town will reap nearly $50 million over the next 10 years. We hired an economist to evaluate this, and this is his data.

It would be great for paying for buried power lines and controlling property tax increases and beautification projects.

  • Value: It is a proven fact that homes near five-star resorts experience a rise in property values. This halo effect is good for all property owners.

I got involved in this project because I want to add to the allure of Longboat. We want to make it even more special.

It is sad to see the blight of a closed PG Restaurant, dark storefronts at Whitney Plaza and merchants struggling. This hotel will go a long way to assure survival of all the wonderful quaint businesses in Longboat. We want it to be extra special.

I plan to spend my retirement in Longboat at this very property. I want it to be super special. You have my word on that. But please don’t make it impossible for me to make this happen. This is an expensive endeavor, and we want to give the town something special and invest in all the best quality materials and finishes.

Help me make the St. Regis a reality and get families back on the beach again. The entire community deserves it.

Chuck Whittall, Unicorp Development

Accusation inappropriate, insulting to P&Z board

A letter recently circulated to the Town Commission and others I find extremely disturbing.

Timothy McDonald wrote the following: “Proceeding with Unicorp’s zoning request and approving the zoning board’s recent suspicious zoning law change will likely trigger lawsuits and possibly requests for criminal corruption investigations of the officials voting to proceed.”

As chair of the Planning and Zoning Board, I can tell the residents of Longboat Key that the six gentlemen who serve with me on P&Z are conscientious, dedicated volunteers.

We are asked to review materials and make policy recommendations based on the information provided to us. We do not always agree. That is part of the democratic process.

While my vote was in the minority, I respect my fellow board members and am reminded of why good people in today’s society are reluctant to serve — baseless threats such as Mr. McDonald’s.

Florida law protects legislators, as well as appointed and elected officials from frivolous claims such as Mr. McDonald’s, but an accusation of criminal corruption is inappropriate and insulting to me as well as the Town Commission, which appointed the members of the Planning and Zoning Board.

The community would be well served to look at the issues, agree or disagree, but remain civil and stick to the facts.

BJ Bishop, Chair, Planning and Zoning Board

Unicorp plan not fit for Longboat Key

Thank you for your continuing coverage of the proposals to deal with the Colony property.

We were quite shocked when, at its December meeting, the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board voted to disregard the studied recommendation of its professional staff that the board deny a developer’s request for an amendment to the building code that would increase density, and instead voted to pass along the request to the Town Commission.

The board disregarded not only the advice of its professional staff, but also the unmistakable position of Longboat voters, as expressed repeatedly and with vigor in the recent series of density-increase referendums voters rejected by truly historic proportions.

Somewhere in the Colony discussions — likely because of the significant number of commercial interests that have participated in them — some of our town officials have forgotten that Longboat Key is an exceedingly delicate and already stressed residential paradise, and not an economic development zone looking for economic engines to drive economic activity in the region, tax revenue and commercial activity.

Those types of activities have no place on Longboat Key and should be considered for placement where they belong — in Sarasota or Bradenton.

If anything, density on Longboat should be reduced. (All residents of Longboat know full well that the current Colony proposal would result in hours-long northbound and southbound traffic backups on Gulf of Mexico Drive, especially on weekends in the season.)

We urge our fellow Longboat Key voters to contact the town commissioners and attend all upcoming meetings to ensure that our interest in preserving our very special town are not drowned out by the sizable and well-funded commercial interests seeking to change the character of our island jewel.

Henry and Donna Rae Smith, Longboat Key

Unicorp will make Longboat Key ‘more special’

We enthusiastically agree with the Longboat Observer editorial in support of the world-class St. Regis Resort-Unicorp Development proposal to redevelop the long blighted Colony property.

As the editorial established, Longboat Key will be even “more special” with this image-building and economic-stimulation investment for our future.

This private investment improvement is supported by the facts. It will:

  • Enhance or at least support property values driven by higher-end visitors who will discover Longboat Key as did the Colony for decades.
  • Help year-round support of our island businesses so we don’t lose any and have to go off island.
  • Provide additional quality restaurant choices for residents.
  • Increase the town’s tax base, helping reduce the need to increase property taxes.
  • Last but not least, eliminate the 10-year Colony blight in relatively short order.

The fears of this project setting a density precedent are unfounded, because the town always has approval power over future projects, and there will be no further approved tourist units available for development.

What’s more, Unicorp has already responded to the wishes of the community and significantly reduced the scope of the project.

The line of developers willing to invest to restore the Colony blight to the highest and best use of the property is a short one — there is only ONE.

If Unicorp is forced to reduce the scope of its project further, there is a reasonable risk the project won’t work financially. Then where will we be?

To reject this major community enhancement would literally “snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.” Please allow common sense to prevail. It is about the very real, big picture economic benefits that will be enjoyed by all on Longboat Key.

This is an extraordinary and last opportunity to make Longboat Key a premier and highly preferred, competitive residential and resort destination.

Bob and Shannon Gault, Longboat Key

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