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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 3 years ago

Longboat Commissioners skirt declarative decision on zoning code change

Before about 100 people, commissioners shed little light on how a vote might go on zoning change to enable Colony redevelopment.
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

Town commissioners this week debated but did not decide what to do about Unicorp National Developments’ request to change the town’s zoning code in preparation for its redevelopment of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

Of the four commissioners who revealed their thinking in public comments, there was no consensus or preview of their first formal vote, scheduled to take place Feb. 5. 

“I don’t see any firm direction either way,” District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly said Monday’s commission workshop.

At stake: the developer’s plan to remake the 17-acre property on Gulf of Mexico Drive. 

About 100 people gathered in the Longboat Key Club’s Ringling Room for the workshop. 

About 40 speakers addressed the Orlando-based developer’s proposed zoning code change that would alter density restrictions for anyone seeking tourism units when using a planned unit development process for construction.

The planned unit development process, referred to as a PUD, requires developers build at a lower density than otherwise allowed on an conventionally zoned property in return for some development flexibility. 

The site of the former Colony, for example, is zoned for six units per acre. A PUD reduces that to 4.5.

Town staff has recommended commissioners deny the change, which it said could affect some 60 properties in the future. More than two-thirds of the speakers also opposed the zoning change.

A month ago, the Planning and Zoning Board, which heard Unicorp’s proposed code change proposal, recommended approving the move by a vote of 4-3. That result was contrary to the town staff’s recommendation.

“We’re dealing with a request that is fairly recognized, forgetting the semantics, as an increase in density,” Daly said.

District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly said he's inclinded to deny Unicorp National Development Inc.'s proposal to change town zoning codes

Citing concerns about traffic, residents over the past week have written dozens of emails to Town Hall, expressing their opposition to the zoning plan.

Whittall began answering some of those emails, stating the benefits of his plan personally to those expressing opposition.

Whittall said the density “penalty” in the town codes when seeking a PUD would not inhibit him from developing the more than 17-acre site of the former Colony, but the loss of revenue from losing 26 units would prohibit him from building a project of the caliber that he’s proposed.

Unicorp’s application for developing the property includes a 166-room, five-star St. Regis hotel, 102 condominiums, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, three restaurants, a “Beach Tiki Monkey Bar,” an event lawn, a lazy river and salt water lagoon.

Most residents who spoke, however, whether in support or opposition of the proposal to change the town code, said they wanted something to be done with the property, which has fallen into disrepair.

John Ernst, a Longboat who spoke in opposition of the zoning code change, said disallowing the change would “keep Longboat Key as special and beautiful as it is.”

Debby Hamburg said flexibility as allowed in PUDs is not necessarily a good thing. 

Whittall said in an interview that he was not surprised by the turnout in opposition of his application to change the zoning code: “Longboat Key has density issues.” 

But Whittall said he was optimistic about the final outcome of his proposal for development, which he’s confident will be decided before Town Commission elections in March.

“Everybody wants something to get done,” Whittall said.

Unicorp National Development Inc. President Chuck Whittall used the town's 712 zoning code changes to try to persuade commissioners to approve his application to adapt town policy.

The Commission will hear Unicorp’s arguments for changing the zoning code again at its regular meeting at 1 p.m. Feb. 5, in the Resort at Longboat Key Club’s John Ringling Room, where the board will vote whether to adopt, supplement or repeal the zoning code change.

Commissioners may also leave the code as is.

Whittall said he would hold his comments to five minutes, rather than the 30 he and his development and legal team took Monday.

 “I’ll hold you to that,” said Mayor Terry Gans, who represents District 3.

“Can this be done in good faith with the codes that we have?” Gans asked of the zoning code change. “I’ll be wrestling with that for the next couple weeks.”

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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