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Longboat Key Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 6 days ago

Parking rules prompt St. Regis redo before final vote

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The newest proposal calls for 62 mechanical lifts to the St. Regis Hotel parking garage. It would increase parking from 405 total spaces to 468.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The developer of The Residences at the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort proposes in paperwork filed Tuesday with the town adding 62 mechanical vehicle lifts to add capacity to its hotel valet parking garage.

Town Commissioners on Oct. 6 granted initial approval to a series of changes Unicorp National Developments Corp., requested from its original package, approved in 2018. The new parking wrinkle further revises the proposal, though town officials on Tuesday said a final vote, planned for Oct. 20, is still possible. Unicorp has scheduled an Oct. 25 invitation-only groundbreaking.

“We’re going to do our best here with the materials that we’ve received first to review it, and then incorporate as much as we can in terms of that review into the materials that will be provided to the commission,” Longboat Key Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons said.

At issue is not total number of parking spaces, but rather their allocation between the residential towers and the hotel tower. The parking plan approved on Oct. 6 called for 405 spaces, which met town standards. In a letter to Parsons, though, Unicorp attorney Brenda Patten wrote that a conference call on Oct. 8 with town officials raised the question of distribution, with not enough capacity on the hotel side.

“We, in collaboration with staff, determined that we probably did need to add more parking, and we wanted support of the other commissioners as well,” Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall said. “That seemed to be their biggest concern last time, so we decided to add parking.”

Instead of reallocating spaces propertywide, Unicorp now proposes to install lifts on 62 parking spaces within the hotel's valet garage, bringing the hotel capacity up to 299. The condo side would remain with 169 spaces within a separate, resident-accessed garage, bringing the total to 468 spaces, well above the town's requirement and within the boundaries of the required allocation. 

The project includes 69 condo units and 166 hotel units along with restaurants and other public facilities.

“With the lift system, valet drivers will drive the vehicle to the parking space, drive the vehicle up onto the lift platform, and then push an electric switch to move the platform up into the elevated parking space,” Patten explained in a memo to Parsons. “Another vehicle may be parked under the lift platform. To remove the vehicle from the lift, the vehicle below is moved out of the space and the lift is lowered.”

Town Manager Tom Harmer said he spoke with Whittall on Monday.

“It’s not unusual during public hearings after the first hearing to have some updates and further discussions,” Harmer said. “The key, as I said in the beginning, is really just making sure that the commission has the information they need at the hearing to make that informed decision or they have the flexibility to continue the item if necessary.

“We want to make sure we give them as much information upfront as soon as possible so they can do that.”

Harmer said town staff is awaiting a response from Unicorp about follow-up questions.

“If we have all of our questions from a staff standpoint answered, then we will be able to make a recommendation to the commission in the packet that goes out to them later this week in advance of next week’s hearing,” Harmer said.

The St. Regis parking garage would require no additional modifications, with a ceiling already designed to be tall enough to accommodate the mechanical lifts. 

“Chuck Whittall was not aware of the misallocation and completely agrees that the hotel must have the full required allocation to operate properly,” Patton wrote in her letter.

Patten wrote that she planned to present Unicorp’s proposal to the Town Commission on Oct. 20.

“Although a lot of paperwork is required to show the addition of 62 lift spaces to the parking garage, it is a simple and contained change to the plans and applications,” Patten wrote.

Last week, town commissioners voted 4-1 to push forward other proposed changes to a final vote on Oct. 20. 

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop and District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams voted against the site plan, which passed 3-2 with Commissioner Maureen Merrigan absent and Commissioner Sherry Dominick recusing herself because of a professional relationship with Michael Saunders & Company, the St. Regis project's real estate representative.

Bishop at the time said she wishes Unicorp had stayed with its original plan the town passed in 2018, providing 457 parking spaces, though the town requires 405. Since 2018, though, Unicorp dialed back the number of condo units from 78 to 69. Hotel capacity remains at 166 rooms on the 17.6-acre property.

Residential condos will occupy towers on the south side of the property, while the resort will occupy the north end.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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