The former president of the Aquarius Club is spearheading a new group opposing the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort referendum. And he has two north end residents with a wealth of similar experience on board.
Frank Morneau, whose family owns 10 units in the building next to the Colony, plans to form a political action committee to begin raising money and buying advertisements, signs, flyers and other media to stoke opposition to the proposal to add another 180 units to the shuttered resort.
Carla and Pete Rowan, co-founders of Keep Longboat Special — an offshoot of Save the Longbeach Village — plan to sit on the board of the committee.
“We strive to eliminate parochial thinking,” Pete Rowan said, sitting down with his wife and Morneau on Feb. 1 in a ground floor unit at Aquarius. “We’re all in this together, so if one area is threatened and something inappropriate is happening, we’re trying to pull the whole island together.”
That was the thinking when Keep Longboat Special formed its own political action committee bearing the same name to oppose a north end hotel concept by developer Floridays. Before it closed, the PAC raised and spent more than $13,500 before voters rejected a 120-unit resort on the site of a former gas station and bank building by a 78% vote in both Sarasota and Manatee counties.
And just like Keep Longboat Special, the new group will include an islandwide membership, including founding members from Aquarius, Tencon, Seaplace, Water Club and Promenade, among others. Residents of those condominiums have been meeting informally for the past three weeks, Morneau said.
Unicorp National Developments is proposing a 180-room, five-star hotel and 57 timeshares, along with 180 luxury condominiums on the site fronting Gulf of Mexico Drive. To ask for 180 units above the current 237 tourist units allotted, which have been unused since 2010, voters must approve a referendum on March 14.
To that end, Unicorp President Chuck Whittall already has hosted more than a dozen community meetings and spent $25,000 on advertising and signs urging a “yes” vote next month.
The company also has spent about $6,000 for Kimley-Horn and Associates to conduct an analysis that showed the 180 new units would reduce traffic on the island, and touted plans for a fixed-route trolley and other traffic-management strategies. Further, advertisements highlight that the Colony proposal will add jobs and significant tax dollars to the economy, and raise property values through the “halo effect.”
That’s where Morneau hopes his group can interject: He stands firmly against a proposal he says will only add more cars to an already tense traffic situation, is too dense for the character of Longboat and will lower surrounding property values because of crowded beaches, loss of views and shadows from proposed 12-story structures.
“The objective is two-fold: To counteract what is being publicized by the developer, and to express our opinion, which is that this is distinctly against our view of Longboat Key, and what we have bought here for, from the standpoint of community and ambiance,” he said. “This is a snow job beyond all snow jobs, and the bottom line is, we’re ready.”
The group simply would have kept the Keep Longboat Special moniker for the PAC, but chairman Craig Walters, another Longbeach Village resident and organizer, terminated the committee after the Floridays referendum failed. But Pete Rowan notes one tool they are bringing to the effort: an email list with more than 1,000 subscribers — which is up from about 400 when the group was fighting the hotel proposal.
“‘Being a member of Keep is just being on the email list’ is what we say,” Pete Rowan said. “And it just keeps growing.”
But Whittall contends that after meeting with the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce and several merchants on St. Armands Circle, both of which were positive, the opposition to the plans is solely about neighbors being upset about their views being obstructed — which he said he could do anyway with the 237 units already allotted and current regulations. Further, he said a Unicorp shadow plan showed minimal effects to adjacent properties.
“A lot of times people who are first in think they get to make the call on what’s built on their neighbors’ property, and that’s just not the case,” he said. “To me, it’s very self-serving that they just care about their view across our property as opposed to something nice that’s good for the Key.”
Along with the failure of the Floridays referendum, Longboat residents in November voted down a proposal to add up to 18 homes at Whitney Beach Plaza, as well as a plan for one additional unit of density at Harbour Square.
So why embark on what could be an expensive political and public relations campaign after the previous three referendums were denied, instead of sitting back and hoping the trend continues?
“Are we prepared to take that risk while a young man spending millions of dollars is going around on a PR campaign trying to talk people into things that are totally unrealistic?” Morneau asked. “If he ever won the vote, God bless us, watch the ‘for sale’ signs pop up.”