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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: Quid pro quo at the Colony


It would not be fun to be a Longboat Key town commissioner next Tuesday night. If you were, you very well could be asked to cast a difficult vote — whether to deny the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association a third extension of the deadline to reopen some of the tourism units at the shuttered resort.

Picture yourself on the dais. The Town Commission Chambers is likely to be standing room only, an emotional tinder box waiting for the wrong spark to ignite it.

There will be representatives of the association’s board, ready to plead for mercy and another extension — even though they have no tangible progress to show toward resolving any of their myriad disputes. There are likely to be Colony unit owners, pretty much poor pawns who have no control over anything and who have watched their beloved beach haven (and investment) decay by the day and who fear that their situation could become even worse after a commission vote.

And then there will be the frustrated and exasperated neighbors, who, as Frank Morneau, president of the Aquarius Club, wrote to Colony Association President Jay Yablon: “We have reached the end of the rope.” They want action; they want a ruling, a trigger, that will force those involved either to redevelop or rehabilitate the Colony — anything to eliminate the blight that grows worse by the day. Everyone bemoans and stressses over the next-door neighbor who lets his shabby property ruin the entire neighborhood.
Imagine trying to please all of these constituents. It’s unlikely, though not impossible. We hope Mayor Jim Brown and the other commissioners will be ready.

In truth, the commissioners don’t have much of a choice — if they are thinking of doing what is best for the taxpayers of Longboat Key and not just punishing the Colony’s disputants.

The wrong choice would be to vote to enforce the Dec. 31 deadline and rescind the Colony’s grandfathered density. As Yablon wrote to Colony owners Aug. 18:

“While we can all understand the frustration of our neighbors … turning the Colony from a 237-unit facility to a 90- or 108-unit facility is in nobody’s interest and would be an emotional act born out of frustration only.

“Setting aside that this would add a new layer of legal dispute and complexity on top of an already complex legal mess,” Yablon wrote, “this would also in one fell swoop remove tremendous economic value from the property and make it more challenging to put together a proposal that brings enough future value to the table to achieve a workable settlement of the current disputes …

“Anybody who believes that denying this extension would expedite resolution at the Colony and get the resort opened faster is entirely misguided; if anything, such an emotionally driven outcome would further delay a revitalization and reopening by many months if not years.”

Some may interpret Yablon’s statements as posturing. But he’s right. As we stated last week, converting the Colony to a 90-unit condominium complex would be tragic for Longboat Key and the region. What’s more, taking that step, indeed, would delay even more any resolution of the Colony’s already complicated disputes. There wouldn’t just be the association board, Murf Klauber, a bankruptcy trustee and Colony Lender fighting. Add to them 200-plus unit owners who would fight the taking of their properties.

Rescinding the Colony’s non-conforming density on or before Dec. 31 would solve nothing.

In the short term, though, the immediate issue is whether the commission at its Sept. 4 meeting should grant the association board a six-month extension of the Dec. 31 deadline to reopen the Colony. Town ordinances require that the Colony must have shown good-faith efforts to reopen within a year of shutting down to keep its tourism densities. The Town Commission has extended that deadline once.

Based on what has transpired on the Colony property in the past year — deterioration and rodent reproduction — there is ample cause not to extend the deadline again. Here is where the Town Commission has leverage. There must be a substantial quid pro quo:

Clean up the property, get rid of the rats (the rodents, not the litigants) and raise the street appearance to the Colony’s previous and Longboat Key-acceptable levels. If accomplished, on Dec. 31, the Town Commission will agree to extend the deadline — but only if the clean-up passes inspection (i.e. pleases the neighbors).

Yablon told us over the weekend, the association board is set to commit to an immediate $50,000 cleanup effort, which would be the start of an ongoing commitment.

Had the association done that all along, the Sept. 4 commission meeting would not be as tense as it’s likely to be. Let’s hope reason prevails over emotion.

+ Trump towers
Our Democratic Party readers likely will gag at any mention of the Republican Party of Sarasota County awarding Donald Trump “Statesman of the Year” Sunday night at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

Regardless, you have to give kudos to GOP-Sarasota Chairman Joe Gruters. Persuading Trump to come here at this moment in the election campaign was one smart move. Trump may not exactly be what you envision as a statesman, but he did just what Gruters hoped: drew a record audience (more than 1,000) and record money into the party.

At one point, Gruters said he hoped to raise $7,500 that night to erect three “Repeal Obama” billboards to replace the one vandals destroyed about 10 days ago. In a matter of two minutes or so, Sarasota entrepreneur Jesse Biter, during his short speech, had pledges for six billboards. All night the room was electrified. Trump jazzed up the audience even more. Gruters couldn’t have hoped for more.

But while Trump lobbed predictable and welcome criticisms of the current president, the most telling moment of the night was the invocation by the Rev. Fausto Stampiglia, pastor of St. Martha Catholic Church. Stampiglia took a stand — making explicit reference to the administration’s infringements on religious freedom and asking God to bring this nation “R&R … Romney and Ryan.” When a priest is that definitive, that’s a powerful, telling sign.

To a large degree, it’s none of our business, sticking our noses into the pending/proposed partnership between Key Club Associates LP, current owners of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, and Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Ltd.

Fact is, though, every Longboat Key property owner has a stake in what happens at the Key Club. As they always said about Detroit: So goes the car industry, so goes Detroit. So goes the Key Club, so goes Longboat Key. They are “umbilically” tied.

To that end, we’re going to remain confident that the Tom Walsh family (owners of privately held Ocean Properties; no relation to this newspaper’s owners) and its executive team recognize the Key Club’s unique character, culture and ties to this community. The Longboat Key Club and Resort is not a cookie-cutter, cut from the same thin-threaded towels of, say, a Holiday Inn or Marriott Residence Inn.

We’re not knocking those brands, banners that many of Ocean Properties’ hotels and resorts carry. But compare Ocean Properties’ Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort and the Longboat Key Club and Resort. They both are economic drivers here. There is a big difference in their involvement in Longboat Key and Greater Sarasota community events and activities.

The Key Club has always been this town’s leading corporate citizen when it comes to supporting events, fundraisers, non-profit institutions and charities. You can say that is even more so since the arrival of General Manager Michael Welly in 2004.

That goodwill is a priceless asset on the balance sheet. We hope Ocean Properties recognizes this and understands that to change it, to lessen it, would devalue not only the Longboat Key Club but all of Longboat Key as well.

The relationship the Key Club has with Longboat Key is an essential ingredient to this Key being the special place it is.

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