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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 9 months ago

Grant's Gardens gets initial OK on prelude to renovation of Longboat site

Commission approves land-use changes, zoning changes but more votes are in the future.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The owners of the Grant's Gardens operation on Longboat Key are still a few steps away from their goal of renovating and remodeling their decades-old property, but at least they avoided a procedural about face along the way.

The lawn-maintenance and landscaping company at 524 Gulf Bay Road wants to redevelop its .61 acre property to replace its existing building with a elevated structure with the intention of parking its work vehicles underneath, shielded from sight by landscaping hedges.

But before any of that work can get underway, the issue of allowed land use needs to be settled, officials said. Technically speaking, said town planner Tate Taylor, the business isn’t allowed in the neighborhood designated for Limited Commercial land uses.

Once the home of the Longboat Observer, the building and surrounding property was sold to become a potted plant store, then evolved into the current base of operations that sees about 15-20 trucks come and go daily.

To make changes and conform to the town’s land uses, the business owners have sought a change in the town’s comprehensive plan and a rezoning. Town Commissioners granted both on an initial vote Monday, but a second vote is still required. And, even if those pass, town leaders would have to grant a special exception to allow Grant's Gardens to operate and approve its site plan.

“After we do this, if we can get this approved, there will be more bites of the apple,’’ said Donald Neu, of NewMorris LLC, the agent for Grant's Gardens, adding many of the clients of the business are on the barrier islands, and maintaining a presence on Longboat Key would help cut down on trips back and forth over the bridges.

As part of the proposal, the company hopes to improve traffic flow and better screen the buildings and vehicles from view along the street, which is commercially zoned on about the first 450 feet from Gulf of Mexico Drive, then shifts to residential.

“We want to look better, we want people who live down the road to be able to drive down the road,’’ said co-owner/partner Glenn Souza. “Our intention is to have all the vehicles inside, blocked with a big, large hedge so when you’re driving down that road, you won’t see them.’’

The land-use and zoning proposals were advanced from the Planning and Zoning Board, which voted 3-2 in October to approve the change in the comprehensive plan but also voted 3-2 to deny the rezoning.

Commissioners on Monday questioned the logic of such a split vote, searching a reason or a signal the advisory board was trying to send. “It seems so counterintuitive, I don’t understand it,’’ said Commissioner Irwin Pastor. “It doesn’t make sense.’’

Commissioners asked Planning and Zoning Board member Phill Younger, present at the meeting, to explain.

He said that the votes were intentional to ensure the proposal received due discussion. He said at that meeting on Oct. 15, two of the board’s seven members were not present, though the five members did constitute of legal quorum.

“I was concerned about a five-person quorum,’’ he said, “because I felt this was an important issue. I did not want this going to the commission as a slam dunk. I felt it was important enough that you needed to consider it without relying on the P&Z saying they were unanimous on it.’’

He also said he felt concerned that speaking to the commission as one member of a seven member board, that he would hold sway over one opinion or another, which he said he did not want to see happen.

Town Commissioners considered sending the matter back to the full Planning and Zoning Board, but they ultimately voted 5-2 to reject such a move. Neu said he would have rather allowed the measure to proceed and not return to the Planning and Zoning Board.

The Commission, therefore, will consider the matter again for a second vote in early December.

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