Town staff recommends denial of key zoning change, crucial to redevelopment plan.
The latest application for redeveloping the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort has stalled after town staffers recommended delaying testimony on the proposal until a related zoning code amendment could be heard and decided.
The town's planning staff recommends denying that related zoning change.
Town officials sent a memorandum to the Planning and Zoning Board on Wednesday requesting the committee set aside Unicorp National Development Inc.’s application until its requested zoning code amendment could be vetted by the board and the Town Commission.
Unicorp attorneys met with Town Manager Tom Harmer for an hour and a half Thursday morning about reversing this decision and allowing the application to be heard wholesale, Unicorp President Chuck Whittall said.
Other applications Whittall said he's submitted have included site plans and zoning code amendments — a practice he said has made its way through Longboat's Planning and Zoning board in the past.
"I don’t think we're getting fair and impartial treatment as applicants have in the past," Whittall said of the memorandum that "came out of the blue."
Tom Harmer could not be immediately reached for comment.
Unicorp was scheduled to appear before the board on Dec. 19 at the Longboat Key Club's Harbourside Ballroom. Under ideal circumstances, earliest the redevelopment application now could be heard by the Planning and Zoning Board is March 20, 2018 — election day in Longboat Key.
Planning and Zoning Board chair B.J. Bishop said she will honor the town's request, though the measure will likely remain on the agenda.
“Until the issue of the zoning text amendment is addressed and ratified, or not ratified, by both the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission, we cannot move forward with phase two and three of this application,” Bishop said. “I feel very strongly that this is the correct direction.”
At issue: Unicorp's application as a planned unit development.
With such an application, Unicorp aims to take advantage of regulations allowing developers the flexibility to build outside of normal zoning codes in exchange for lower density rates. The former site of the Colony, for example, is zoned to allow six dwelling units per acre. A planned unit development would reduce that allowance to four-and-a-half.
But town planners said they see a flaw in Unicorp's plan.
“Staff is of the opinion that there is no compelling reason to change the PUD density reduction requirement as proposed in the text amendment solely for tourism pool units, as the impact of this text amendment is to provide additional privileges to developers seeking units from the tourism pool,” according to the report, which recommended denying this request.
The application for redeveloping the Colony, including dwelling units that are not allowed by town code as it is written, would be “moot” if the zoning code amendment were not enacted, said Planning and Zoning Board Chairwoman B.J. Bishop.
Unicorp’s application for developing the former site of the Colony includes 102 residential condominiums — ranging from 2,700 square feet to 7,000 square feet — a 166-room St. Regis Hotel, a 15,700-square-foot spa, two restaurants, a lounge and bar, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, 6,700 square feet of meeting rooms, and 2,750 square feet of boardrooms.
Of the 166 rooms at the proposed St. Regis Hotel, 165 would come from the town’s tourism pool, “thereby eliminating any remaining tourism pool units,” according to the staff report.
The amendment Unicorp seeks only applies when tourism units are sought.
Applicants seeking tourism units have other avenues to development, but not those which allow the flexibility a planned unit development offers, according to the report.
“If this is the direction they want to go, we have to first address if there is validity in the zoning text amendment," Bishop said of Unicorp's application for a planned unit development.
Unicorp plans to continue with the application that cost developers more than $600,000 to complete, although Whittall said the company is open to suggestions as to how it can better meet planning and zoning requirements.
"We’re just going to keep plugging away at this," Whittall said.
Whittall said he won't know how his timeline for developing the property may be affected until he attends the Dec. 19 planning and zoning board hearing.
“It has to be bifurcated and I’m pleased that staff came to that conclusion,” Bishop said of reviewing the zoning code amendment before Unicorp’s development application. “That is the only way this can be done and done correctly.”
Story updated at 4:30 p.m.