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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 3 years ago

Hopeful Colony developer optimistic after zoning code change withdrawn

Unicorp National Developments President Chuck Whittall said he hopes to break ground at the site of the former Colony by the end of the year.
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

Now that Chuck Whittall has withdrawn his company’s controversial application for a zoning code change, he said he is hopeful his plan to redevelop the site will gain approval of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board, and ultimately, the Town Commission. He hopes to launch construction this year.

The Longboat Observer asked Whittall about what happens now.

Why did you decide to withdraw the zoning code change?

Whenever we build projects, we always try to be a good community partner. We really want the community to be happy with what we’re doing. We thought that it was a minimal request, quite honestly, and the impact was extremely minimal. We actually thought the benefits of the text amendment — an extra $5 million to the community over 10 years — we thought that was an enhancement to the community. It generates less traffic than what the previous Colony did and even more so with the reduction.

We just didn’t think it was that impactful, but a lot of members of the community thought otherwise. So we decided we would just take it away. We want the community to be open arms wanting this development, so that’s important to us. So we want to satisfy the needs of the community.

What made you come to that conclusion?

It seemed like the community was fighting me, and I wanted the community to embrace it. I’ve never had a project in all my career turned down. We always have to work with communities and commissions to figure out what’s going to work and at the end of the day I want the community to embrace it. I want everybody to think it’s a great thing and be excited about it.

How exactly does this change what you’ve proposed?

I’m going to build the same resort, just with less units. I think I’m going to be able to deliver everything that I’ve planned on delivering. It’s just going to be more exclusive than what it was going to be.

If you had to make a guess as far as a timeline to development, what would that look like?

Our timeline hasn’t changed. Our goal has been all along to break ground by the end of the year, and I think we can be successful with that. We plan on going to the Feb. 22 Planning and Zoning hearing and the March 5 commission. And I would sure hope at this point, since we’ve made all the concessions we have, we would get a 7-0 vote. I think we’ve shown that we’re listening and doing what the community wants.

What are some of the obstacles to getting there?

Well, I’ve got a lot of support. I’ve already been contacted by some of the groups who were against us stating that they were glad we made the change. We’re going to have our revised submittal in [Friday, Jan. 26] to the town. The hurdle, if there is a hurdle, is just getting the commissioners to vote in favor of it. I hope that’s not a hurdle at this point. I think it makes great sense, and the community resoundingly spoke out that they wanted to see it redeveloped, so here’s the opportunity.

Do you have any sort of estimate, if you were given approval, of what the cost of a condominium might cost in this development?

Yeah, I think they’re going to start off just under $4 million and probably go up to just under $10 million. Probably somewhere in the range of $3.7 million to $10 million for the penthouses.

Was this sort of your plan all along? It seems like you’ve got a quick turnaround on this new submission.

No, it wasn’t. The great thing about my team is that I’ve got some great experts and they were able to turn this around quickly. I called my CFO after the hearing and had him run some numbers for me. Obviously, building less costs us less — if you take out the cost of 26 units. We ran the incremental numbers out and it was still viable. We’re just going to have a few more expensive units. No, it was always my plan to build a little bit larger of a project. We understood what the economics were after the hearing, we ran it out and we saw it was viable, so I instructed my team to make the changes.

I’m a Longboat Key Staff Reporter. I write stories about how decisions and events affect the island, its leaders and its citizens. I received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Emerson College, where I wrote for The Boston Globe. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 333.

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