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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 7 months ago

Whose 165 units are they?

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Take a hard look at the numbers.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Much of the conversation among Longboat Key town commissioners — in separate conversations we’ve had with them, not commissioners chatting illegally to each other — as well as the chatter among those in the Keep Longboat Special organization centers on the “165 tourism units.”

These are the remaining number of hotel rooms that were among the 250 rooms Longboat Key voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008 in an effort to revive the town’s disappearing hospitality sector.

For those of you who were not here then, many of Longboat Key’s civic leaders became alarmed over the future economic prospects of the Key if the hotel and resort businesses on Longboat continued to disappear. At the time, Longboat had experienced a wave of condo conversions — most notably the Longboat Key Holiday Inn — that shrunk the number of hotel rooms on the Key. 

Everyone saw the effects. The Key’s restaurants saw their patron numbers fall; retailers saw fewer shoppers. And the shift to more and more condos also reduced the number of potential real estate buyers coming to the Key.

Commissioners and civic leaders, including current town commissioners Jim Brown and George Spoll and former Commissioner David Brenner and Sandy Gilbert and Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren led a town-wide effort to show residents why it would be beneficial to the town to create a pool of 250 tourism units to be used islandwide — except by the Longboat Key Club and Resort, which already has at least that many unbuilt hotel rooms yet to be developed.

The idea was to create an incentive to help bring back the hotel rooms lost to condo conversions.

Longboat voters overwhelmingly endorsed the idea — with 80% approval from those who voted.

And then nothing happened.

For five years, not one developer submitted an official application to tap the pool of 250 tourism units. Until finally, in September 2013, Ocean Properties Ltd., owner of the Longboat Key Club and Resort and the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, submitted plans to renovate the Hilton. Its plans included adding 85 hotel rooms from the town’s pool of 250 units.

Four more years passed. No other developer or resort requested units from the tourism pool. 

Then along came Chuck Whittall and his Unicorp National Developments in 2017. Unicorp has applied to use the town’s remaining 165 tourism units for its redevelopment of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

And with Longboat being Longboat, Whittall and Unicorp have now triggered and encountered an unnecessary debate — whether it can and should deplete the town’s 250-unit tourism pool.

We have heard commissioners and other Colony skeptics make the claim that when voters approved the tourism units, the Town Commission and advocates of the tourism pool envisioned some of the Key’s smaller resorts would use units for expansion and redevelopment. Therefore, they now say, the Town Commission should not award the remaining 165 to Unicorp. 

Let’s set the record straight. Brenda Patten, zoning attorney for Unicorp National Development, says she retrieved the minutes of Town Commission and Planning and Zoning Board meetings at the time of the tourism pool discussions and found no references to units being reserved or intended for smaller resorts.

Former Commissioner Brenner confirmed likewise. Reports in the Longboat Observer at the time confirm likewise. And if you read what commissioners ultimately adopted, town codes make no reference to specifying for whom the units were intended.

Developers are not waiting in line for tourism units. Only one company in 10 years has built units from the pool. The market has spoken.

What’s more, look at it this way: Even if Unicorp uses the 165 tourism units, the town still will have fewer than 250 new tourism units on the Key. Do the math: 

  • Old Colony 237 hotel units; old Hilton: 102 units. Total: 339.
  • New Zota: 187 units; new Colony: 166 hotel units. Total: 353 units. 

An increase of 14 units.

Unless Unicorp fails to meet all of the town’s zoning codes with its site plan, there is no basis on which to deny its request for the remaining 165 units.

Republican hypocrisy

House and Senate Republicans proved last week what many of us have known for a long time: When it comes to federal spending, there is no difference between a Republican and a Democrat.

It doesn’t matter who controls Congress; both parties’ members have no qualms about spending other people’s money; about borrowing into oblivion; or strangling current and future generations with so much debt Congress continues to put the country’s security at risk.

Just Tuesday, the nation’s top national security and military officers told a U.S. Senate committee the biggest and most dangerous threat to our national security is not North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. It’s our soon-to-be $30 trillion national debt. 

Thank you, conservative Republican hypocrites.

Surely, you have read or heard that last week’s two-year federal budget bill will raise the nation’s spending cap $300 billion over two years — a 14% annual spending increase. (When was the last time you received a 14% raise to spend at will?)

This is how pathetic Republicans and Democrats in Congress have  become: Mick Mulvaney, the president’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, explained Sunday why Republicans succumbed to higher spending caps: Democrats would not approve increased military spending without Republicans agreeing to more social welfare spending.

To which Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said: “The last time I checked Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House.”

We can’t wait to hear in the 2018 mid-term elections how some of Florida’s conservative House Republicans will explain their votes — e.g. our own Vern Buchanan, Thomas Rooney and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, all of whom voted in favor of the increased spending. Surely many voters have not forgotten that Buchanan has been a long-time advocate for a national balanced budget amendment. And what about Sen. Marco Rubio, whose original Senate campaign against Charlie Crist centered on Washington’s spending and the dangers it presented for future generations.

It’s always the same excuse: To get anything accomplished in Washington requires compromise with the other side. But these days, compromise is always spending more, as with this deal — more guns for Republicans, more butter for Democrats.

Never, ever do you see federal congressional leaders actually reducing spending. If they had the will and courage, it wouldn’t be that difficult. 

Here’s what Tom Schatz, president of the Citizens Against Government Waste, cited that could be cut in a statement condemning the budget bill: 

“There are plenty of options to control spending. CAGW’s ‘Prime Cuts’ database contains 607 recommendations that would save taxpayers $336.2 billion in one year and $2.3 trillion over five years. 

“The Government Accountability Office has released seven reports citing hundreds of billions in duplicative, fragmented and overlapping federal programs. The federal government also has $310 billion in unauthorized programs currently running on autopilot. All of this documented waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement must be eliminated before any consideration is given to increasing spending.

“This agreement makes it impossible to tell the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. This ‘sprout of bipartisanship’ will turn into a jungle of waste.”

Drain the swamp.

 

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