Unit owners lose court challenge to block Longboat order.
Demolition of all but one of the buildings at the site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort could begin in the next few weeks, town leaders say.
Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town is seeking bids from contractors to demolish the buildings on the site, a process he said will complete by Friday, June 22. The timeline for demolition is unclear until a contractor is hired, Harmer said.
Town officials gained authority to demolish all but one of the buildings at the site of the former Colony last week after two challenges to a Longboat Key emergency demolition order were denied by a circuit court judge.
This ruling, which came after 5 1/2 hours of testimony from eight people familiar with the property, gives the town authority to begin demolition process. Had the legal challenge been successful, they would have only affected three structures in which they own units.
"The town has shown that there is an imminent danger to the citizens," said 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll in his oral order. "Peoples' lives hang in the balance."
An emergency demolition order from the town, sent to unit owners May 31, claimed that debris from most of the buildings at the site of the former Colony could become projectiles in the event of a major wind event and pose a threat to trespassers due to deterioration of the buildings since the once-iconic resort closed in 2010.
While the order given by the judge may be appealed, co-council for the plaintiffs in this case, Dan Lobeck, said "I think it's reasonable for anybody to anticipate that it wouldn’t make sense to appeal unless we had an opportunity to stay the demolition."
This does not clear the way for development of the property, however. It is still owned by multiple individuals and limited liability companies — including hopeful developer Unicorp National Development. Unicorp may not develop the site until it has full ownership of the property.
The developer has sought judicial action to terminate the condominium association, means by which Unicorp hopes to gain full ownership of the 17.6 acre property.
There's also the a partition sale of the recreational property — 2.3 acres which includes the old restaurant, delicatessen, swimming pool and tennis courts —of which Unicorp owns 95%. Andy Adams, who owns 70 units at the property, owns the other 5%.
Police Chief Pete Cumming testified that there have been people accessing the property, trespassers Building Official Stan Dinwoodie said he once chased off the property during one of his inspections.
Larry Stritzel, who works for the property-management company charged with monitoring the site, said "my biggest fear is that one of these kids will go up on the upper deck and it'll fall and someone will get really hurt."
The buildings are also affected by mold, termites and vermin — facts that Carroll said compelled his order to approve town demolition of the buildings.
"Firefighters will not go into these structures," Carroll said in his order, citing testimony from Fire Marshal Louis Gagliardi.
Unit owners Andy Adams, Sheldon and Carol Rabin and Lillian and Jonathan Jagid challenged this assertion, claiming that their beachfront units did not pose an imminent danger to citizens, as the buildings are partitioned from the public by a fence, and that the buildings could be repaired to the point where they could one day be inhabited.
Jodi Young, a structural engineer hired by unit owners through MW Corporation to inspect the property, said that the units do not pose "immediate danger to the public." Young also likened the property to a construction site, saying that "everything can be repaired."
Sheldon Rabin, one of the plaintiffs in the case who testified by telephone, said that he repaired his beachfront unit a few years ago and that "it is not in imminent danger of collapse."
Adams said he and his family had been visiting the Colony since the 1970s and that once the property fell into financial trouble, he began to purchase the 70 units he now owns at the property. Of all the buildings he owns, however, Adams said the beachfront units cannot be rebuilt if destroyed due to beach protection rules — and cannot be replaced.
"These buildings tell a story of how great the Colony was," Adams testified. "They're very unique pieces of property that are not in beautiful shape but could be repaired."
But Judge Carroll found that the unit owners were not arguing in the public interest, a burden of proof that must be met if an injunction to an emergency demolition order should be approved.
"This is not a taking," Carroll ordered. "This is a valid use of the town's police power to protect its citizens."