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Whitney Beach owner welcomes modifications

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 11, 2011
Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC is under contract to buy the former bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the vacant lot owned by Bill Saba next to the building.
Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC is under contract to buy the former bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the vacant lot owned by Bill Saba next to the building.
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Brian Kenney’s vision for Whitney Beach Plaza is expanding.

At a special meeting held Thursday, May 5, to discuss Comprehensive Plan amendments, Kenney, the owner of Boston-based Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC, announced his company, which purchased Whitney Beach Plaza in December for $3.7 million, is currently under contract to purchase the former bank building (now owned by PFG Asset Management LLC) at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive and property owned by Bill Saba that’s located just south of the bank building along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Kenney said he is also close to signing a contract to acquire the former Longbeach Chevron gas station, to complete his parcel acquisition trifecta and expand his vision of Whitney Beach Plaza all the way north to Broadway.

One possible redevelopment goal for Kenney is to attain the interest of a hotel developer.

“There’s a huge void for hotel space here,” Kenney said. “The (plaza) site would be a good hotel site, but that’s not our main intention. It’s definitely not our desire to build a monstrosity that upsets the town and nearby residents.”

Kenney, however, is contemplating whether it makes sense to build a retail center on the former bank building and the vacant gas station lot, while having a hotel on the Whitney Beach Plaza site that has access to the beach across Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Kenney said his company does not intend to build anything that reaches five stories in height, which is what the planning board originally suggested in March.

“What we envision is a height that won’t impact anyone,” Kenney said. “We want to work with the town and have open dialogue.”

Former Mayor George Spoll also warned the planning board not to approve a Comp Plan amendment for Whitney Beach Plaza that allows for five stories over one level of parking.

“If you want to start a war on this Key, go ahead and propose five stories,” said Spoll, speaking on behalf of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force of which he is chairman. “The north end sees itself in a particular fashion, and it’s up to us to protect it. It’s a phenomenal part of town, and if we destroy its character with a south-end structure, we will defeat its character.”

The majority of the planning board agreed to reduce the plaza’s maximum allowable height to four stories over one level of parking, for a maximum allowable height of 55 feet.

Kenney was happy with the board’s decision.

“While our initial desire was only to do retail at this site, we have heard a lot of excitement about other avenues (residential units over retail),” Kenney said.

Kenney says the overlay district the planning board is crafting through a Comp Plan amendment for the plaza is creating value for the area and his project.

Kenney also noted that increasing the density in the area will draw potential tenants to the plaza.

“Creating some additional density might create a draw for places like sandwich shops to come to the plaza,” Kenney said. “Panera Bread wouldn’t even take a meeting with me, because the density is not high enough on the north end for them to consider. This (overlay district) makes it saleable for us and can help us close the deal. I think we can get retailers here with this.”

Planning board member Allen Hixon agreed.

“Do not ignore the residential component and what it bears on the bottom line,” Hixon said. “It broadens the margins for the developer to come in.”

Kenney’s comments prompted the planning board to allow plans for a residential component at the center that doesn’t exceed 30% of the total project, instead of the 20% mandate it suggested at its March 15 meeting.

In the coming months, a resolution or ordinance will be brought forward by town staff to the planning board for its review that includes Comp Plan amendments for Avenue of the Flowers and Whitney Beach plazas before being transmitted to the Longboat Key Town Commission and the state for approval.

Revitalization Task Force focuses on plazas

Former Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll, chairman of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, urged the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board Thursday, May 5 to consider allowing developers to present projects at informal preliminary hearings.

“This process would be so much more open and more effective if there was an opportunity for informal discussion,” Spoll said. “The more constraints you put on ideas, the less ideas you will see come forth. The process of informal hearings is exciting for a developer and encouraging, because it puts ideas in front of us that the town might not ever be exposed to otherwise.”

Although Spoll noted that town staff properly analyzes projects, he said there’s no opportunity for an applicant to talk to the planning board, as well as the community, to see if something different than what town code allows might be good for the island.

“There was clearly a relaxed, informal dialogue taking place about the future of Whitney Beach Plaza,” Spoll said after the meeting. “That’s exactly the kind of thing the task force is recommending take place.”
Planning board member Allen Hixon praised Spoll’s suggestion.

“We would like a developer to bring in the highest amount of creativity possible,” Hixon said.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].