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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2018 2 years ago

More height or less setback

If town commissioners and planning board members favor highly restrictive codes on such things as setbacks, building heights and open space, they are creating a conundrum. It’s simple math.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

 "If every nonconforming development shall have the right to redevelop the same number of units, something will have to give” …


At the end of Longboat Observer Staff Writer Bret Hauff’s report last week on the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission’s efforts to rewrite the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes, new Commissioner Ken Schneier was quoted:

“Anything that involves a lot of people coming to a consensus takes a lot of time.”

Especially in government.

Come October, it will be five years since the Town Commission enlisted a team of advisers from the Urban Land Institute to help the town craft a vision for its future. At the end of the panel members’ visits to the Key and interviews with residents and other stakeholders, the ULI panel presented the town with 15 recommendations intended to help move Longboat into the 21st century and remain one of Florida’s premier residential-resort communities.

As you can see in the sidebar, the ULI’s top priority was the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. Check. That one is on the verge of being resolved.

No. 2: Whitney Beach. Undone.

The third and fourth highest recommendations were the replacement of the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes. Not amendments to them. Replacement.

Here we are, five years later, and that crucial task appears still to be in the beginning stage. Not only five years later, but longer. Discussions about the need to update the town’s comp plan and zoning codes were underway as long ago as 2008. That was when Longboat voters overwhelmingly approved charter amendments allowing nonconforming developments to be rebuilt with the same number of units in the event they were destroyed by storm or some other disaster. Prior to then, if a nonconforming condo were destroyed, it would be limited to rebuilding under existing densities.

This is not to say town officials have ignored since the ULI report the task of figuring out what to do about the town’s more than 100 nonconforming properties — developments that were constructed prior to the adoption of the town’s 1980s zoning codes. To the contrary, the Town Commission, Planning and Zoning Board and town planning staff have attempted crafting new codes in the past three years, only to have events interrupt the process.

The biggest interruption has been the fate of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and Unicorp National Developments’ St. Regis Hotel plans. When Unicorp appeared to be the developer of choice to replace the Colony, the Town Commission faced a choice: Delay voting on the new Colony project until after new codes are adopted, or vote on the Colony under existing codes. Had commissioners chosen to replace the codes first, the Colony’s future would have been held up for at least another half decade, if not longer.

The Colony cost a year of lost time.

But now the Town Commission and planning board have resumed their efforts. The planning board will discuss details of a new zoning code at its Aug. 21 meeting.

So far, a broad framework of principles and objectives for the new code has emerged: 

1) There will be no new residential density; whatever density exists on the Key cannot increase.

2) Any redevelopment of nonconforming properties would have to meet whatever new setback, height and open space requirements are adopted.

3) Land use in a redevelopment would not change; for example, residential would remain residential.

4) Another objective: Reduce nonconforming heights of buildings upon redevelopment.

5) And this concession: Allow for flexibility when it’s impractical for a redevelopment to meet zoning standards or when market demands can be demonstrated.

In the end, as the above objectives indicate, you can be sure the new zoning codes will be highly restrictive. This is Longboat Key.

But if town commissioners and planning board members favor highly restrictive codes on such things as setbacks, building heights and open space, they are creating a conundrum. It’s simple math. If, as assumed, every nonconforming development shall have the right to redevelop the same number of units that exists today, something will have to give to accommodate consumer demands. To redevelop as many units as there are today — only larger and with higher ceilings, you can logically conclude the restrictions on setbacks, heights and landscaping will need to be reduced.

Take the 461 units at Seaplace. You simply cannot construct 461 larger units in the same amount of space that those units occupy today.

To be sure, rewriting the town’s zoning codes and comprehensive plan is difficult. But let’s face it, this task has lingered too long — more than a decade. To complete it, the Town Commission should set a deadline and appoint a champion and a task force to see it through, much like the Charter Review Committee. 

Commissioner Schneier is correct. Expecting seven planning board members and seven town commissioners to reach a consensus will take a long time. It already has.

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