Developer's plan in court is crucial to proceed with St. Regis proposal.
A Circuit Court judge on Thursday rejected motions from several Colony Beach & Tennis Resort unit owners to dismiss a legal proceeding by Unicorp Colony Units LLC to dissolve the former resort’s condominium association.
Rejecting motions to dismiss filed by unit owners Andy Brown, Dotty Adams, Sheldon and Carol Rabin, Yeno Mon and New Colony LLC, Judge Hunter W. Carroll gave all parties 15 days to file an answer to the complaint. According to state documents, the registered agent for Unicorp Colony Units LLC is Amy M. Barnard, Unicorp National Developments' director of legal affairs.
Carroll wrote in his order that the defendants based their argument on “various theories that plaintiff’s operative complaint was defective.’’ One hour case management hearings were also scheduled for the first Thursday of each month, going forward from Feb. 7 to deal with other motions and case developments. A trial date has not been set.
"We are extremely pleased with the judge's response,'' Unicorp president Chuck Whittall said Friday. "He is moving the termination board and said he would do it in an expeditious manner. This means we might possibly be under construction at the end of the year.''
The decision in the 12th Judicial Circuit was crucial for the furtherance of Unicorp’s plan to gain control of the former resort units. Along with the property’s land and former recreational facilities, which the company controls, the ownership rights of all 237 units must end up on Unicorp’s side of the ledger before progress can be made in developing the proposed St. Regis Hotel and Residences, development of which was approved by the Longboat Town Commission in early 2018.
Ordinarily, those rights would turn on a vote of unit ownership. But for years, Unicorp has struggled to overcome a statistical hurdle. To avoid the courts, Whittall would have needed 95% of the 237 Colony unit owners to agree voluntarily to dissolve the Colony Beach & Tennis Association (the unit owners’ condo association). Between owned outright by Unicorp Colony Units LLC and owners agreeing to sell – but not yet doing so – Whittall is short of that percentage.
Colony Beach Investors LLC, for which unit owner Andy Adams is listed as an authorized manager, owns at least 63 units, according to Sarasota County property records. Adams, who also owns individual units personally and with his wife, Dotty, has refused to sell to Unicorp.
Under the judicial process, state law allows for one unit owner to seek judicial relief when the property has fallen into disrepair and is not repaired in a reasonable time. Whittall filed such a claim in January, 2018, asking the court to terminate the association; approve Whittall’s termination plan (his town-approved development plan); and approve the sale of the 237 Colony units to Unicorp. In his court filing, Whittall claimed the property was in such disrepair that it could no longer function. Over the summer, the town of Longboat Key ordered the property's demolition, based on a notion of public nuisance that survived court challenges.
The last of the buildings -- the iconic oceanfront midrise building -- was torn down in late November.
With Thursday’s court decision, Whittall's legal process can proceed.
Before Unicorp can apply to the town for building permits, the company must have complete control of the property at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive. In July, Unicorp National Developments Inc. was successful in consolidating ownership of the recreational property of the former resort at a partition sale in Tampa federal courtroom.
Unicorp's bid of $29.51 million for the disputed 2.3 acres was successful in the all-or-nothing deal. Because the Orlando company already owned 95% of the property, the company paid investor and Colony unit owner Adams for his 5%, or $1.4755 million.