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Longboat Key Saturday, Apr. 3, 2021 1 month ago

Whitney Plaza owner seeks residential density referendum

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10 units proposed in letter to mayor seeking special election.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The owner of Whitney Beach Plaza is seeking a path forward with the town to redevelop at least a portion of the property on the north end of the island and is requesting a referendum to add residential density.

Ryan Snyder, in an April 2 letter to Mayor Ken Schneier, said he “would like for this referendum to be held at a special election as soon as practical.’’

Snyder said he would seek a maximum of 10 units on about 3.75 acres that fronts Gulf of Mexico Drive in the 6800 block and backs up to the northernmost finger of Bishops Bayou. Snyder said his company, Whitney Plaza LLC, would cover all costs of an off-cycle election and that he would like an opportunity to speak before the Town Commission when it considers the referendum request.

“Whitney Beach Plaza is approaching its 50th birthday and is overdue to be developed,’’ he said.

A referendum sets into motion permission to up the residential density on the land -- from zero as it stands to a figure specified on the ballot. In addition to approving ballot language for the referendum, Town Commissioners would still have to approve a change from commercial to residential zoning if the referendum is approved by voters. Typically, commissioners would review such a request in a workshop setting before scheduling two public hearings on the issue. 

It’s not the first time Snyder has tried to redevelop the shopping plaza. Through the years, the site has changed hands and been renovated into the architecture seen today. It's seen upswings with business arrivals and downfalls when businesses pulled out, often citing slow business. 

In November, 2016, town voters struck down by about 20 percentage points his request aimed at adding residential density to build up to 18 homes in a mixed-use configuration that also included commercial space.

In September 2016, a ballot proposal put forth by another developer connected to a plan to build a 120-room hotel at the site of today’s Whitney’s Beachside was rejected by 40 points.

The town requires voter approval of increases in residential zoning beyond six units per acre, or conversion of commercial uses into residential uses because no residential density exists on such property.

Of the five times such requests have been put to town voters since 2016, only once has such a request been approved – in 2019 for 1.8 acres at 5630 Gulf of Mexico Drive (by 11 points), though that was the second time around. It was initially rejected alongside the 2017 Colony Beach & Tennis density request.

“The Town Commission may recall that I unsuccessfully sought a referendum in 2016 and a couple of Commissioners were critical of my efforts at that time,’’ Snyder wrote. “I agree with the criticisms made by those Commissioners as not enough was done on my part to educate the electors prior to the referendum occurring.’’

Snyder wrote that redevelopment of Whitney Plaza would  add green space, reduce traffic and improve aesthetics while still retaining some commercial space.

“Simply put, the 2016 referendum occurred at the wrong time,’’ he wrote, adding that his initial request followed closely behind rejection of Floridays’ density request to allow a four-story, 120-room hotel. “Over the past four years, I've spoken with numerous residents of the town and have received a lot of positive and constructive feedback.’’

Since the flurry of requests in 2016, change has come to that end of the island. In 2019, James Brearley and partners opened Whitney’s Beachside, a casual eatery at the corner of Broadway Street and Gulf of Mexico Drive. Additionally, the owners of MarVista Dockside successfully petitioned for land just north of Whitney Plaza to be converted into a parking site for the nearby restaurant and moved a historic cottage to the land to serve as an office.

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