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Looking ahead: Stalled Redevelopment

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 2, 2013
A new roof on Whitney Beach Plaza kicks off a $2 million overhaul. File photo.
A new roof on Whitney Beach Plaza kicks off a $2 million overhaul. File photo.
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The new Longboat Key Publix that opened Dec. 13 might be the only piece of major redevelopment that town residents will notice for quite a while.

That’s because even if applications for future Longboat Key projects, including a future Islandside project or a Colony Beach & Tennis Resort project, were submitted, they could not be accepted or reviewed by the town.

Town attorney David Persson informed the Longboat Key Town Commission Nov. 21 that redevelopment applications that come before the town are in limbo until the town makes changes to codes and development processes.

The bad news for town officials was announced in early November.

A Sarasota Clerk of the Circuit Court judge issued a judgment that went against the town Nov. 12, two days after Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Ltd. submitted pre-application documents to the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department. The documents called for the redevelopment of the 102 rooms at the existing Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort and the addition of 85 more rooms that would be built in a new guest tower.

Sarasota 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth favored the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, which challenged the town’s code changes that gave commissioners more flexibility when approving projects. The decision also dealt a blow to any past and future Islandside renovation project.

Commissioners promised to act swiftly to fix the problems, although Persson has suggested public-input processes that could take a year to complete cannot be rushed.

Meanwhile, Town Manager Dave Bullock is investigating whether the town can make quicker changes to its codes and an Outline Development Process responsible for doling out a pool of 250 tourism units, in an attempt to get the Hilton project back on track while the larger Comp Plan change process continues.

But, even one of the two planning consultants being considered to help the town work its way through the code-change process suggested in a public interview Dec. 11 that moving hastily solely for the Hilton project is not a good idea.

Despite the attorney’s opinion, both commissioners and Planning and Zoning Board members have expressed a need to move expeditiously for the Hilton project.

“I hope we can put in place whatever is necessary to permit the Hilton overhaul in a timely fashion,” Vice Mayor David Brenner said.

Also, at the planning board’s Nov. 20 regular meeting, board members Al Hixon and Jack Daly asked what could be done to speed up the process for the Hilton.

“It needs time,” said Persson at the meeting. “Urgency is what I’m detecting, and it just won’t work.”

The town’s problems with its codes work in favor of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association, which is still debating whether to renovate its existing site or tear it down and rebuild. An ongoing debate among unit owners exists on that issue, while the larger legal dispute leaves control of the entire 18-acre site in question and is years away from being resolved unless all parties settle their differences outside of court.

In the meantime, while town residents would rather see an aging Whitney Beach Plaza razed in favor of a new development, the north end plaza might be the next piece of redevelopment Longboaters see.

That’s because Whitney Beach Plaza’s ownership announced in November ownership modifications and an up to $2 million renovation overhaul for the aging and mostly vacant shopping center on the north tip of Longboat Key.

The town has already approved a permit for a new roof that’s currently being installed at the plaza, and Building Official Wayne Thorne has confirmed discussions are in the works for more permits to renovate the entire plaza.

The bottom line, the town attorney says, is the town needs sweeping changes to its Comp Plan to make clarifications. A future public meeting process will allow residents the opportunity to provide input on how the Comp Plan should be changed and how residents want the town to look and redevelop in the future.

“The way ahead is not without problems, but it seems that the town has been presented with an opportunity for a community discussion on strategic issues that might lead to community consensus without having to defend a prior application,” Persson wrote to commissioners in November.


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