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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 4 years ago

Our View: Save the Hilton


That’s a shock.

Another 5.0 tremor for Longboat Key: The Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort is on the edge of no longer being a Hilton!

First, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort — shuttered. Then the potential infusion of a $400 million investment in the Longboat Key Club and Resort — slayed in the courts.

And now, Longboat Key’s last nationally known marquee resort property threatened with losing its brand identity — all because of the brainchild of a now-deceased professor from Florida Atlantic University, the late John DeGrove.

Dr. DeGrove, who died last year, served under former Gov. Bob Graham as Florida’s secretary of the Department of Community Affairs. DeGrove is fondly credited (mostly by central planners, environmentalists and no-growth advocates) with being Florida’s father of growth management. He conceptualized what became the 1985 Growth Management Act, that octopus of laws that mandates every Florida city and county create a comprehensive plan and zoning codes that align with their respective comprehensive plans.

The ulterior motive of that law was to slow Florida’s explosive population growth in the 1980s and 1990s.

And the way to do this was not with physical roadblocks or barriers, but by mandating that local governments codify where and what kind of development they would allow. As any student of government could have told you, this resulted, predictably, in the creation of extraordinarily costly and byzantine rules and a nightmarish central-planning approval process for development.

For almost 30 years, the Growth Management Act, has been a miserable failure in one regard and a resounding success in another. It failed to slow Florida’s growth. People came here for the weather and to escape the high taxation of the northern states anyway.

But the law was hugely successful in creating an enormous industry — that of land-use law, all but forcing millions of Florida property owners to hire lawyers to deal with every city and county’s zoning codes and comprehensive plans. Sarasota land-use lawyer Michael Furen, a fixture in the Longboat Key Town Commission Chambers, has never had to worry about employment thanks to DeGrove.

But we digress. Sorry.

Still, it’s worth knowing the Ghost of DeGrove is haunting all of Longboat Key. Indeed, it also cursed the Key Club.

So put yourself in the shoes of Ocean Properties Ltd. executives. As Vice President Andy Berger explained it, the company has been holding off from Hilton-mandated upgrades to its Longboart Key resort while knowing all along that it would soon undertake a major multimillion-dollar renovation. No business owner wants to spend money on upgrades that will go for naught just a few months later.

But, thanks to all of the legal and regulatory complications afflicting Longboat Key’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes, Ocean Properties is stymied.

To their credit, the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board and Town Manager David Bullock are showing urgency in figuring out how to maneuver through this regulatory horror.

But it appears that Town Commission candidate Larry Grossman was on point last week when he said the steps the planning board is recommending “feel like Key Club deja vu all over again.”

Indeed, Sarasota attorney John Patterson, the Key Club’s lawyer, is now the lawyer for the Hilton. And as he did before, Patterson is urging quick action from the town.

Meantime, as he did before with the Key Club, Town Attorney David Persson is urging “to do this as a whole.” That is, do not legislate to accommodate only the Hilton. Rather, update the town’s zoning codes and comprehensive plan together — clearly a longer process but one Persson is convinced would avoid more lawsuits.

What a conundrum.

This is urgent. Longboat Key cannot lose the Hilton flag.

One answer is for Mayor Jim Brown to engage in some Henry Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy with the Hilton Hotels & Resorts executives, pleading on behalf of Ocean Properties and, more important, for the town for more time and not pull its flag.

At the same time, Persson has the opportunity to retire from his two-decade position a hero. Let’s hope he can figure out how the town can suspend its onerouscomprehensive plan to allow the Hilton to begin its redevelopment before June 1 and avoid the Key Club’s fate. Dispel for the Key’s sake the Ghost of DeGrove. Save the Hilton.

+ We need a James Madison
You can pretty much predict how rewriting the Longboat Key comprehensive plan and zoning codes is going to go.

Long, tedious, contentious, camel by committee.

It took our nation’s founders from 1786 to 1789, before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution. It shouldn’t take near that long to figure out where and what types of development and buildings can be built on Longboat Key in the future.

But how to go about it?

The Town Commission appears to be on the usual track of hiring a consultant to anchor the process. No offense intended, but a consultant is a consultant.

When you think back to the drafting of the Constitution, even though the writing of it involved about a dozen hands-on framers, a few had more influence in its wording than others. One man is credited with writing the starting document — James Madison, author of the Virginia Plan.

Longboat Key needs a James Madison, one individual who is steeped in the town and its emotions and desires. It needs a Madison who can pen a framework, a constitution, that secures the rights of property ownership, protects property from harm by others and limits the powers of the town government.

If you read through the town’s existing zoning codes and comprehensive plan, the town is the dictator, the property owner is the serf.

The challenge for anyone who attempts to rewrite the town’s codes and comp plan is to craft a framework that defends property rights and ownership and does not destroy the flavor and look of the Key.

James Madison, are you out there?

Oprah interviewed the wrong guy last week. She should have interviewed Stan “The Man” Musial. He died Saturday at age 92.

In the context of today, Musial’s story is so much more newsworthy. The way he lived was as statuesque and extraordinary as his fabled stance and swing. And yet, he was so … so St. Louis. So ordinary. The man every St. Louis boy wanted to be.

Personal story: Sept. 29, 1963 — I got to skip school that day. My father had two tickets to see Stan Musial’s final game. Not just any tickets; they were box seats, third-base side.

Musial, even at 42, went two-for-three. The roar in Sportsman’s Park was deafening, magical. It’s in the book as the all-time best day of childhood — father and son and Stan “The Man” … on his final day. Grand slam. — MW

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