Before a presentation concerning the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort referendum on Monday evening at the Longboat Key Club and Resort, words from American inventor Charles F. Kettering were displayed on a screen for the audience to absorb:
“We should all be concerned about the future, because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”
The focus of the event was how Unicorp National Developments’ plan for the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort property might affect Longboat Key.
The event was hosted by political action committee Preserve Longboat Key Inc. Since its inception last month, the political action committee has sent frequent emails and placed signs up and down the Key, urging residents to vote “no” on the Colony referendum.
About two weeks ago, Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp, said he has decreased the scale of his original proposal from 180 residential units to 150, and reduced heights of the buildings from 12 stories to nine.
At the time, Whittall said he had heard a common refrain during a series of forums he held on the island and scaled back his plans accordingly.
To begin the evening, PAC president Frank Morneau reaffirmed exactly what the residents of Longboat Key will vote on, come March 14.
“We can vote no or yes for a 180-unit addition to the Colony, not any plus or minus to that number,” Morneau said. “The referendum calls for a yes or no on a specific 180 units.”
While not referring to Whittall by name, Morneau said the developer “has his own monetary objectives, which may well not correspond with that of the residents.”
Tom Freiwald, chairman of the Key’s Revitalization Task Force, said he was not there to take a firm yes or no stance on the referendum, but to present voters with information.
The Revitalization Task Force has analyzed the potential long-term results of the coming referendum, Freiwald said, describing a potential “Pandora’s box.”
“There’s a lot more at stake here than this one particular vote,” Freiwald said.
Freiwald spoke of the message that the referendum’s approval will send regarding future construction on the Key. He noted that many condominiums on the Key are more than 50 years old and someday will need to be rebuilt.
“A yes vote signals several things to future developers,” Freiwald said. “It signals we have a new willingness to embrace more density.”
The last speaker of the evening was Tom Meurer, vice president of the PAC.
He had a question for the audience about what could happen if the referendum is approved, then the town denies Unicorp’s request for 180 units.
“If the developer is awarded 180 units by the voters, but then is given less by the town, what do you think is going to happen?” Meurer asked the audience. “Lawsuit.”
Along with taking issue with the proposed height of Unicorp’s plan and its potential to crowd the beach, Meurer criticized Unicorp’s traffic study of the area around the Key.
“It concludes that having a free trolley service and high parking fees that 75% of the residents of the 180 units will take a free trolley rather than drive,” Meurer said, eliciting groans from the audience.
Freiwald summed up the gravity of what the vote means.
“We have to get this right,” he said.