For those who know how much Longboat Key and greater Sarasota need the Key Club’s $400 million expansion and redevelopment project, you shouldn’t despair at the Longboat Key planning, building and zoning director’s memorandum, in which she said the “town staff cannot recommend approval” of the project.
Nor should those who oppose the project rejoice.
A thorough reading of Monica Simpson’s Oct. 9 memorandum actually reveals a narrow gap, not a wide gulf, between Simpson’s current position and that of her recommending approval. And that gap is not insurmountable, nor should it be too difficult to overcome.
Many readers know by now that Monica Simpson, the town’s planning and zoning director and the town’s iron-barricade on development matters, released a 27-page memorandum Oct. 9 that, in the end, says the Key Club’s application does not provide “sufficient evidence” that addresses 10 items of concern to Simpson. In the broad sense, those items involve traffic and parking; open-space, lot and living-space ratios required by town code; and whether the club’s application sufficiently addresses recreational-space requirements.
The devil, of course, is in the details.
In effect, Simpson’s memorandum gives the Key Club a road map that is akin to showing a lawyer what he must prove in court to win his case. As an aside, you have to wonder, however, about the town’s process here — and this is typical for most large developments on the Key. Specifically, to help speed up the approval/denial process, it appears as though the planning director could have indicated her concerns about insufficient evidence prior to this late date.
By not doing that, the result is a tone in Simpson’s memorandum that revolves around negatives rather than a memorandum that says the application satisfies evidentiary requirements. A glass half empty versus a glass totally full.
Invincible weapon of injustice
But that’s the way it has always been on Longboat Key — look for reasons to say “no” instead of helping find ways to say “yes.” Our fundamentally flawed zoning code essentially confiscates every owner’s property on Longboat Key. You think you own your property? You don’t. We are all subjected to a regime of zoning laws that instead of protecting an individual’s property, it subjects you and your property to an invincible weapon of injustice and plunder.
Take Monica Simpson’s “finding of fact” No. 12: “The applicant has not provided sufficient evidence that the four tennis courts provided for priority use by Inn on the Beach resident/members, which are proposed for removal, are not needed or required.”
Think about this. It’s extraordinary. Even though the Key Club owns this property, it cannot decide on its own how many tennis courts it wants to operate. The Town Commission — our governing legal authority — must rule on this.
Is this still America?
In a larger context, the Key Club’s proposal is a test of the most fundamental beliefs of our Republic — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that phrase “pursuit of happiness,” Thomas Jefferson encompassed ownership of property — your life, your skills to provide for yourself, what you own. As Jefferson and founders agreed: God bestowed on all men the right to tend their property — for their own benefit so long as it does not materially harm their neighbor.
Those philosophical beliefs are likely to get lost in the Key Club’s upcoming zoning hearings. The Law will require club officials to address such picayune zoning details as floor-coverage and lot-coverage ratios.
On these issues, as well as on traffic and all other objections, Key Club officials are confident they have the evidence to satisfy Simpson’s concerns. What’s more, the challenge of squelching the concerns of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition has been done. Simpson took care of that in her memorandum.
IPOC’s objections center on three issues: “too massive,” “traffic and congestion” and their belief that just because the club’s southernmost parcels have been used for tennis over the past 30 years that means its use must remain so in perpetuity.
Here’s how Simpson’s memorandum dismisses the “too massive” charge: “The proposed building height does not exceed that which is already present within the GPD (Gulf Planned Development). Therefore, in staff’s opinion the proposed height is consistent with the heights of the structures currently existing within the GPD.” On density, she wrote: “The redevelopment request meets the zoning code density criteria … ”
Perhaps the most significant dismissal of IPOC’s concerns was what was not said in Simpson’s report. At the end of her memorandum, Simpson wrote that if the Town Commission chooses to approve the Key Club’s application, she recommends that 14 conditions be incorporated into the ordinance approving the project. In none of the 14 conditions does Simpson recommend that the project be scaled down or changed in scope. This is significant.
What will our legacy be?
The planning board hearings next week will be long and intense. Town Attorney David Persson is predicting they will take two full days. After all of the arguments are made before the planning board and later before the Town Commission, we hope these deliberative bodies keep the following prominent in their minds:
Since the Town Commission approved the Key Club’s original outline development plan in 1976, the commission has approved nearly 20 amendments. These included allowing Bob White’s L’Ambiance to construct four buildings with 192 units and 31 stories — two buildings at nine stories, one at seven stories and one at six stories. That was later amended to allow two nine-story buildings over two stories of parking, 11 stories altogether at 126 feet in height — and to be built only 100 feet away from one of the Inn on the Beach buildings.
Altogether, the 20 amendments to the ODP are explicit evidence that land use is not static and permanent.
It changes with the times and marketplace.
Indeed, this is no longer 1976, 1979 or 1980, when so many of Longboat Key’s high-rise condos were new. Thirty years have passed, and in the process the Longboat Key Club and Resort has used up the original life of its physical assets. It is time to upgrade them.
Just as so many Longboat Key single-lot property owners have torn down their small, worn-out cottages and homes and replaced them with much grander residences, which are befitting the value of the land, the Key Club’s project is no different. If we truly want to keep Longboat Longboat for the next generation, this is the only way to go.
To the planning board and commissioners: Think of the legacy you will leave behind.
It’s not nice to anger your advertisers. And that’s not our intention here.
We couldn’t help but notice, however, the open letter to Longboat Key residents on page 11A of this week’s Longboat Observer.
Eleven representatives of homeowner and condo associations in the Islandside section of the Longboat Key Club signed a letter urging Longboaters to oppose the Key Club’s $400 million expansion plan.
They offer passionate arguments, and they are cleverly worded.
Perspective helps, however, if you haven’t made up your mind.
• They say: The Key Club’s project is “too massive” — 1.2 million square feet of gross building area spread across nine buildings lining 1/2 mile of Longboat Club Road.”
• Perspective: The total square footage of just L’Ambiance’s two 129-foot-tall buildings is 1,043,700 square feet. That’s just those two buildings. It doesn’t include the square footage of the 10 other associations’ buildings.
In addition, L’Ambiance will be more than 30 feet taller than the Key Club’s proposed golf-course condo buildings.
• They say: “An intense and imposing span of concrete structures will greet residents and guests as they arrive.”
• Perspective: Take a drive on Longboat Club Road. The 14 high- and mid-rise condominiums aren’t exactly seaside cottages.
• They say: “The plan would add up to 240 additional tourism units, in addition to the 250 tourism units that voters already approved in the referendum.”
• Perspective: The Key Club is proposing 196 additional units in a new hotel, the first new hotel, by the way, to be built on Longboat Key in more than 30 years. If the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort fails to re-open, that would be a loss of 230 tourism units.
• They say: “The 75,000-square-foot conference/administrative center with its 10,000-square-foot ballroom, nearly 12,000 square feet of pre-function space and 8,000-square-foot kitchen is clearly designed to host largescale events … ”
• Perspective: The usable meeting space in the conference center will be 17,000 square feet, less than the Ritz-Carlton’s 18,000 square feet, and smaller than the main dining room of the newly built Sarasota Yacht Club.
The 8,000-square-foot kitchen will function as the central kitchen for the entire resort property and its half-dozen restaurants. The pre-function space referred to includes hallways and lobby areas, not meeting space.
• They say: “The club’s traffic study indicates the development will add nearly 2,500 daily vehicle trips, a 170% increase in trips to and from the proposed new development sites.”
• Perspective: The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota has 266 hotel rooms, 18,000 square feet of meeting space and an adjoining condominium tower with another 80 units — 346 units altogether. Before it was approved, residents worried about the traffic bottlenecks on Tamiami Trail and Gulfstream Avenue. They have yet to occur.