Fresh from winning approval Monday from the Longboat Key Town Commission for his density increase referendum request, Orlando-based developer Chuck Whittall was in full campaign mode Tuesday trying to win over island voters.
“We want this to be the nicest resort in the country,” Whittall said.
Speaking before fewer than 10 people at the Lazy Lobster, Whittall touted the benefits of his proposed five-star hotel and condo resort and even promised to buy the town a ferry to establish a water taxi service. The idea was to soften traffic concerns raised by his plans to resurrect the defunct Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
“We know the biggest concern is traffic,” Whittall said during his 90-minute presentation.
It was one of 80 neighborhood meetings Whittall pledged to hold on Longboat before the March 14 density referendum.
That’s when island voters will decide whether to allow Unicorp to apply for more density on the historic site.
The small crowd was tough on the president of Unicorp National Developments, who has worked for more than three years on plans to redevelop the shuttered resort.
Arlene Skversky, a resident of the neighboring Tencon Beach Association Condominium Complex, said Whittall’s $1 billion redevelopment plan is simply too big.
“I would vote no (on allowing Whittall’s density request),” Skversky said. “Your plans are absolutely magnificent, gorgeous. But it’s Miami. It’s not Longboat Key.”
Whittall tried to sway Skversky by pointing out her property values will rise and she will be able to partake in the new resort’s amenities for free.
Longbeach Village resident Craig Walters arrived halfway through the meeting. Keep Longboat Special, a nonprofit organization Walters founded, successfully lobbied earlier this year to defeat a density increase referendum proposed by Sarasota developer Floridays for a hotel on the north end of the island.
He did not say whether he would lobby against Whittall’s project.
“This project is totally different than Floridays,” said Walters. “They didn’t buy the property (as Whittall has). The quality wasn’t there in the Floridays’ proposal.”
Resort room rates of $1,000 per night will avail guests of amenities including a 50,000-square-foot saltwater lagoon for snorkeling with tropical fish, three restaurants and a 20,000-square-foot spa, among other features.
Despite the pricey rooms, Whittall said the Colony Resort will attract the glamorous and blue-collar clientele alike.
“We won’t build this just for rich people,” Whittall said. “Some people save up all year to take a vacation like this.”
Naysayers have included the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, according to a Nov. 14 letter to Town Hall.
“Longboat Key voters of the past and today have been and are clear on the issue of more density,” read the letter sent by new task force Chairman Tom Freiwald. “The Colony has 237 non-conforming tourism units ... that seems like enough.”
The proposed Colony rebuild includes the original tourism units (hotel-style accommodations), plus an additional 180 residential condominium units with prices ranging between $2.5 million and $10 million and square footage from 2,500 to 5,000, Whittall said.
“The LBK Revitalization Task Force suggests the commission carefully consider the slippery slope of accommodating developers at the expense of residents and voters,” the letter concludes.
After re-emphasizing that his planned resort would offer amenities to neighboring properties, Whittall kept coming back to Skversky to ask for her vote.
“Everybody wants to see something done,” she said at the end of the meeting. “I love your creativity. I don’t know if I will vote for you.”