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Colony plans unshaken by proposed Longboat Key height limits

Developer Chuck Whittall said proposed height limitations would not change his plan at this point.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. December 14, 2016
  • Longboat Key
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The Longboat Key Town Commission didn’t change Orlando-based developer Chuck Whittall’s $1 billion plan to revive the moribund 17.6-acre Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key.

It did, however, potentially cap its building ceiling at seven stories, far short of Whittall’s plan.

A proposed planned unit development regulation presented Monday at a commission workshop by Planning, Zoning and Building Department Director Alaina Ray includes a maximum building height limit of 80 feet, or seven stories.

This cap conflicts with the Colony Resort redevelopment plan Whittall has been touting with five buildings of 10 stories or more.

Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments of Orlando, listened as Ray recommended code changes. He argued against them, noting his plans contain 301,000 square feet of open space versus the 22,000 at the original resort at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

“If you implement what we have discussed here today, we will have nothing of this magnitude there,” Whittall said. “I’m asking you today not to put the shackles on us. I’m just asking you to give us the opportunity to bring the best plan in front of you.”

Whittall said the proposed height limits, which will likely come before the commission for a first reading in February, would not change his plan. He said Longboat Key voters will decide whether to back the Colony Resort revival at the ballot box March 14 when they can vote on his request to add density and 180 tourism units.

“Our plans are going to stay the same until then,” he said after the meeting.

Why cap building heights at 80 feet?

“We don’t want to become a canyon of tall buildings,” said Commissioner Phill Younger.

Younger also emphasized the new building codes were meant to govern redevelopment of the entire island, not just one site.

Ray and her staff worked 13 months with consultant Louis Serna, of Calvin, Giordano & Associates of Fort Lauderdale, to help update town codes.

Serna said PUDs are used in many communities as customized zoning districts. It’s often used to redevelop sites with unique characteristics, he said.

“We understand Longboat Key is a unique community,” he said.

P&Z Board Chairman Jim Brown said many things need to be fixed in the town code but height restrictions have a larger impact on the redevelopment of the community as a whole.

“Longboat Key is, and wants to continue to be, low density,” Brown said.

Taller buildings must be creatively situated to enhance views of neighboring properties, according to Ray’s report. Existing mixed-used communities on the island will be maintained.

Ray said the planned unit development proposal would allow nonconforming properties to redevelop at existing density and become conforming.

The PUD also provides a method for property owner to request additional density.

The PUD ordinance will go to Ray’s staff for minor language fixes, but the major policy issues will remain unchanged before being scheduled for a first reading.