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Discussion shows difference in visions

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 9, 2012
  • Longboat Key
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The motion passed 6-1, more than three hours into Monday’s four-hour and 11-minute Longboat Key Town Commission meeting.

After the commission voted, a resident stood up.

“Can you please explain what you voted for?” Longbeach Village resident Samir Ragheb asked.
“No overlay,” several Longbeach Village residents said to him, referring to the proposed Whitney Beach overlay district.

Brian Kenney, whose company, Boston-based Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC, purchased the plaza in December 2010, wasn’t there to hear the vote. He left the meeting out of frustration because he felt that residents were unfairly attacking him during Comp Plan discussions.

The commission voted to remove provisions of its Comprehensive Plan that would have allowed for an overlay district at Whitney Beach.

According to Town Planner Ric Hartman, the decision limits the height of Whitney Beach to what is permitted by its current zoning designation — three stories, or a maximum of 40 feet.

According to Kenney, without an overlay district, the plaza lacks the flexibility that would facilitate development.

“We feel like now we can’t get the tenants we need,” Kenney said on Tuesday. “Based on what we saw last night, we got the idea that the property’s value will go down and that it may not be a viable investment.”

Before the Comprehensive Plan amendments came up at Monday’s meeting, the commission heard a presentation from the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force about its north Longboat Key re-visioning project.

The project began with New College students, working under the direction of sociology professor Dr. David Brain, interviewing north-end stakeholders and later expanded to an online survey.

In late January, 32 stakeholders participated in a planning charrette. Nine identified themselves as north-end residents, while 21 came from other parts of the Key.

Ideas generated included a boutique hotel at Whitney Beach, the revitalization of the Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant property and a mini-seaport look at the waterfront. A team of professional architects and designers then held a sketching session and created three renderings that incorporated many of the ideas.

From the beginning, Revitalization Task Force Chairman George Spoll has emphasized that the exercise wasn’t meant to develop concrete plans. Instead, it was a community-based idea intended to generate interest in the planning process.

But many Village residents expressed worry about the renderings presented.

“With the garish lights of Moore’s, all we need is a Ferris wheel and we can be Coney Island on the bay,” Ragheb said.

Resident Craig Walters told the commission that alternatives for Whitney Beach Plaza hadn’t been thoroughly evaluated and criticized the planning project.

“The project is flawed because it is based on the assumption of a hotel,” he said.

But, when the commission began considering Comprehensive Plan amendments, many residents who spoke referenced the project and the renderings, which were still in place.

Corrine Ragheb said during Comp Plan discussions that she felt anger that south-Key residents were coming into the Village and telling them what they needed to do.

Resident Linda Lasota pointed to the renderings of the Moore’s boardwalk and asked the commission if they were trying to turn it into “some cheap Disney-type place.”

But acting Longbeach Village Association President Michael Drake told the commission to focus on what he believed was the main issue: the potential for a 55-foot structure.

“Most of the people here — that was their concern,” he said, referring to the thinning crowd. “At 30 feet, people came out for the Arts Center, and they weren’t asking for any departures. Fifty-five feet is almost three times higher than 75% of homes in the Village.”

Kenney spoke briefly at the meeting, saying that he never intended to build up to 55 feet.

But, he expressed frustration to the Longboat Observer that many residents appeared to take ideas generated as part of the exercise as actual plans.

“No one knows what a hotel would look like,” Kenney said. “There’s no applications for a hotel.”

“The north-end revitalization project was done out of the goodness of George Spoll’s heart to aid in the revitalization of an area of the island that desperately needs it,” he said.

Kenney plans to go back before the commission when it considers the Comprehensive Plan amendments on second reading June 4.




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