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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009 10 years ago

My view

by: Robert Clark

On Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, Loeb Partners Realty LLC and its rows of attorneys and hired experts presented the plans for the $400 million expansion of the Longboat Key Club to the Planning and Zoning Board in two quasi-judicial meetings. The Longboat Key Club is a private club located in a Planned Unit Development (PUD) among other neighbors, including condominiums and single-family homes that own more than 50% of the property, including the road.

Rather than asking for individual zoning changes, Loeb requested that its expansion plan of an eight-story, 196-room hotel, two nine-story golf condos abutting the golf course with 132 units, 10 villas in two buildings on New Pass, a 600 to 1,000 person capacity meeting center, a new spa, a new golf club house and an updated golf course be considered as presented.

The town planner could not recommend the plan as submitted to the board, because the applicant did not include the requested factual evidence to support the proposal. Loeb’s lead attorney indicated that their presentations would include some additional supporting facts.

During the course of Loeb’s presentation relating to the 14 requested departures from the zoning codes, one commissioner questioned if the Planning and Zoning Board could just approve these as administrative amendments to the PUD. One of Loeb’s attorneys responded, “You could approve a nuclear power plant if you wanted.” Laughter ensued. But let’s look at this proposal and approval process from the perspective of property rights and risks for all of Longboat Key.

The Key Club expansion plan, as presented, is projected to take a minimum of five to seven years to complete. The principal public-access portions include using the restaurant in a new five-star hotel, renting the owners’ hotel units if they are in the rental program and attending paid functions at the meeting center. However, the hotel and meeting center are contained in later phases of the five-to-seven-year building schedule. Why is that?

A significant portion of the $400 million must be raised from the investment community based on the development of the 132 golf condos to generate a high enough return to make the numbers work for the investors. In short, it provides a more attractive investor risk/reward return for Loeb, which it will not share because it is proprietary information.

In the interim, as Michael Brody, Loeb chief operation officer related, there are no guarantees that the Key Club will not be sold if another investor offered the right price.

As with all investments, there are risks and rewards. Loeb, with all its resources, has executed a formidable marketing campaign in these tough economic times to promote the projected economic rewards, while marginalizing the risks as well as those who oppose the submitted plan. Loeb and Key Club management give the indication that those who oppose the plan are not concerned with the economic health of Longboat Key, but rather worried about minor traffic congestion, construction dust and altered views.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long-term development project that should be carefully evaluated. A truly successful neighbor benefits the entire neighborhood, as well as the community at large. However, each neighbor expects to be treated fairly and certainly in accordance with his or her respective property rights.

On Nov. 5, the Islandside Property Owners Coalition finally will have the opportunity to give its factual presentation to the Planning and Zoning Board. As instructed by the town’s attorney, the board can approve the plan, disapprove it or do something else. The commissioners and town planner are facing a difficult challenge, especially because Loeb is requesting that long-standing zoning codes be amended within the PUD due to the “economic hardship” of complying with the codes.

However, there is no clear baseline to aid in the decision-making process because Loeb did not provide the cost of compliance with the codes.

Hopefully, what will emerge from this process is a plan that enhances Longboat Key without forever altering the unique character of this beautiful location for the sake of development at any cost and at any risk. 

Robert Clark is a Longboat Key resident.

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