- January 16, 2019
The rumble of conversation in the Longboat Key Club’s Harbourside ballroom on Tuesday broke with the pounding of a gavel — the Planning and Zoning Board meeting was underway.
At stake: The fate of three island projects. On hand: More than 85 people who turned out to hear the seven-member board hear testimony and comments from residents, town staff, developers and their representatives.
The Board quickly OK’d two applications, one from Longboat Key Historical Society Inc. for rezoning a residential lot at 521 Broadway St. for use as a base and museum; the other from Resort at Longboat Key Club to reroute Longboat Club Road north into the Islandside golf course driving range as part of an long-awaited hotel expansion.
But Unicorp National Development Inc.’s request to amend the town’s zoning code, which precedes its application for building a 166-room, 102-condominium St. Regis Hotel and residences on the 17.6-acre site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, was the reason for the special location and larger-than-normal attendance.
“This text amendment (of the zoning code) is foundational to the proposal for development,” said Planning and Zoning Director Allen Parsons.
The Planning and Zoning Board approved the amendment, over town staff’s recommendation to deny it, by a vote of 4-3. From here, the zoning proposal heads to the Town Commission, which could hear it and take its first vote at its Feb. 6 regular meeting.
Planning and Zoning discussion of Unicorp’s site plan application is scheduled for Feb. 20, after the outcome of the Town Commission’s first vote on text amendment is known. Ultimately, if approvals continue, the site plan and the zoning amendment could come together for a vote in March.
The crux of Unicorp’s request is the difference between what density is allowed in a planned unit development and allowed under conventional zoning.
A PUD allows developers a measure of flexibility not available in conventional zones, something Unicorp hopes to take advantage of. But, town rules limit density in such an arrangement to 4.5 units per acre. Unicorp wants six, which the property is zoned for without the benefit of a PUD. Unicorp is also seeking the town’s 165 remaining units in its tourism pool.
Unicorp attorneys Brenda Patten and Robert Lincoln argued for more than 35 minutes against the town staff’s denial recommendation.
In their report to the board, town staff wrote: “Staff is of the opinion that there is no compelling reason to change the PUD density reduction requirement as proposed in the text amendment solely for tourism pool units, as the impact of this text amendment is to provide additional privileges to developers seeking units from the tourism pool.”
The staff report also suggests that if the town allocated the remaining tourism units to Unicorp, that the zoning amendment could be seen as site specific — a decision the staff and board made clear they would like to avoid.
Seventeen members of the public commented on Unicorp’s request for the zoning amendment, less than half of whom identified themselves with Longboat Key addresses. Many of those who presented and identified themselves as residents elsewhere offered their opinion as planning, engineering, development and law professionals in favor of the town adopting the text amendment.
Michael Saunders, a longtime Sarasota-area Realtor and island resident, supported the Planning and Zoning Board’s approval of the zoning amendment.
“This is going to bring a major hotel, which will replace what used to be a beacon and an anchor of Longboat Key,” Saunders said.
But most Longboat residents spoke in opposition of the amendment.
“Changing the law of the town to accommodate one applicant is a bad idea,” said David Lapovsky, president of the nonprofit organization Preserve Longboat, which led the opposition to Unicorp’s former development plan rejected by more than 80% at referendum earlier this year.