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Longboat Key Tuesday, May 18, 2021 1 year ago

Longboat Key voters to consider two density changes

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Voters will consider referendum requests for 597 Buttonwood Drive and 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key voters will get the chance to vote on two residential density issues in November.

On Tuesday, the Town Commission unanimously decided to move forward with referendum requests for:

  • The conversion of 597 Buttonwood Drive from an office-institutional property to a residential use for two homes that would face Buttonwood Drive.
  • Redeveloping the vacant bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive to a two-story building with four residential condominium units. The vacant building is zoned as office institutional.

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney explained what the commissioners’ decisions meant.

“You are not authorizing any sort of entitled development,” Mooney said. “You are not approving a particular project. You are not even weighing in your personal opinion about the values and benefits of a particular project.

“All you are doing is considering whether the people of this town should be allowed to determine whether or not there is a density increase for a specific property.”

On Tuesday, land planner Bruce Franklin spoke before commissioners about the 597 Buttonwood Drive proposal. Franklin serves as an agent for American Momentum Bank, the owner of the property, and Brista Homes Inc., the contract purchaser of the property.

“I don’t know what the original purpose of the zoning there was at the time, but it’s remained vacant and actually doesn’t even have access on Gulf of Mexico Drive,” Franklin said.

Joel Freedman with Shumaker Advisors also spoke to commissioners on Tuesday on behalf of Anthony and Roxanne Marterie about the vacant bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

“The Marteries have tried to find occupants for the building, very unsuccessfully,” Freedman said.

The Town Commission is set to consider formal ordinances for both the 597 Buttonwood Drive and 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive properties on June 7, with a second reading set for July.

If approved by the commission, they would fulfill an Aug. 28 deadline for items to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot. 

The commission also voted 5-2 to deny Ryan Synder’s request for a referendum about the possibility of adding a maximum of 10 residential units at Whitney Beach Plaza. Commissioners Penny Gold and Debra Williams voted for the measure.

Because the commission did not authorize Synder’s proposal to appear on the November ballot, he can try to qualify for the ballot by gathering petition signatures of 10% of the Longboat Key voters. Longboat Key has about 7,000 voters.

Synder said he would plan to collect the signatures, but he prefers to do it after the Nov. 2021 election. If Synder collects the necessary amount of signatures, he said he would be happy to pay for the cost of a special election so his proposal can be on a standalone ballot.

“I would frankly prefer to get out there and knock on doors because I think that’s the only way any of these referendums are going to pass,” Synder said. “I just don’t know with COVID if people wanting us knocking on doors.”

In November 2016, Longboat Key voters rejected Synder’s proposal for a density request  for up to 18 homes. Synder said it came a few months after the “contentious” decision to nix the Floridays Development Co.’s proposal to build a 120-unit, four-story hotel.

“It goes back to you, you’ve got 35,000 square feet, it’s just too much space,” Synder said of Whitney Beach Plaza’s current commercial configuration.

In the 1980s, the town’s voters made it mandatory for any increase in residential development to come before voters in a referendum. Only one such referendum has succeeded: a 2019 request for 1.8 acres at 5630 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The vote was 1,056 for and 838 against.

“I have really struggled over these past eight years getting the ‘market’ space leased, which is 11,000 square feet,” Synder said. “I have gone as far as to offer free rent to various retailers.”

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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