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It's a yes: Longboat Commission approves St. Regis Hotel, condo project

The Town Commission voted 6-1 Friday to approve a 166-room, 78-condominium St. Regis Hotels and Residences.

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  • | 4:00 p.m. March 16, 2018
  • Longboat Key
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What started in 2016 as a proposal to build 417 housing and hotel units in buildings up to 12 stories high was approved last week as a smaller plan to redevelop the 17.6-acre site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

Still, there was controversy. And still, there likely will be more controversy.

A day’s worth of testimony from town staff, Unicorp National Developments Inc., an owner at the Colony and members of the public ended March 16 with the board voting 6-1 in favor of the application to develop a 166-room St. Regis hotel and 78 condominiums, bringing an end to years of litigation and months of testimony before town boards.

District 4 Commissioner George Spoll voted against the proposal.

This approval drains the town's tourism-unit pool,, allocating the remaining 165 rooms to Unicorp, an Orlando-based developer that  has pursued town approval for the project since July 2016. The former resort closed almost August 2010.

That draining of the town’s tourism pool is why Spoll said he voted against the project. Because of the way town regulations are set, all of the Colony’s original 237 units couldn’t be grandfathered into the deal.

“What I really have a problem with is getting rid of the 237 and the 165 that were meant to be complementary to the 237,” Spoll said.

Commissioner Jim Brown, at a previous hearing, suggested beginning the process of seeking approval, through referendum, for a new tourism pool. Mayor Terry Gans, who will step down from public service after elections this week, supported the idea.

Unicorp President Chuck Whittall, in a letter to the town last week, suggested he’d donate $10,000 to any effort to do just that. He has also offered $200,000 to the Public Works Department for parks and recreation and a $1.1 million bond to provide for demolition of the Colony buildings.

The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort has been closed for almost a decade.
The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort has been closed for almost a decade.

It was the end of a process that steadily saw the scope of the project contract since voters in November 2017 rejected the original development plan. The number of hotel rooms, condo units and public amenities were reduced several times in the past 12 months, owning to public pressure that centered on traffic concerns.

Of the 21 members of the public who testified March 16, more than two-thirds petitioned for the development of the hotel and residences. About 40 people attended the meeting.

“Please don’t compromise this compromise out of existence,” said former Town Commissioner Lynn Larson. “Don’t compromise this compromise.”

In the weeks leading up to the final vote, Whittall and the town assembled a series of concessions to address objections, central to which was a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, which opponents said was oversized and likely to exacerbate island traffic.

“As I see the issue of the size of the ballroom, having abiding interest in traffic issues here and in the region, the major impact on the public interest with respect to the ballroom size isn’t so much the ballroom size but the impact of the use of the ballroom size here on traffic,” said District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly.

Whittall conceded. He revoked his proposal to change the town codes, reducing the number of condominiums by 24 to 78 and the ballroom to 7,650 square feet. Asked if he could reduce the number of hotel rooms to preserve some in the town’s pool, Whittall declined, saying the 166 rooms were critical to the hotel business plan.

[Proposed ballroom at Longboat former Colony site sparks debate]

Beyond that, he offered to limit the number of attendees in all meeting space, including the event lawn and, at the commission’s request, the beach, to 425 people.

“I’ve given every pound of flesh that I can give on this,” Whittall testified.

But in the end, the applicant got what he sought: a yes.

“We’re super pleased with it,” Whittall said of the commission decision.

The developer said he now plans to start his architects working on final plans for the development and push “very hard” for the termination of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association in court.

The association voted 8-1 last year to approve Unicorp as a developer of the property — but many in the association, including Blake Fleetwood, still claim ownership to their property.

Whittall said he owns more than 30 of the 237 units. The ordinance approved requires Unicorp own the entire property before it can build on the site.

That doesn’t mean buildings standing now will stay until that happens. Another condition gives Unicorp the authority, upon a condemnation order from the town, to demolish buildings at the site and leave the property covered in turf or some kind of vegetation until it can be developed.

And this doesn’t mean the process is done. Fleetwood, an owner and board member with the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association and party in the case, has threatened to appeal the town’s decision, an assertion his attorney, Dan Lobeck, said is likely.


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