The Town Commission will have final say Oct. 20 on a series of changes Unicorp wants for its condo and resort plan .
| 5:21 p.m. October 6, 2021
The Longboat Key Town Commission on Wednesday afternoon voted to approve the first reading of changes to the Residences at the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort proposal.
The 3-2 vote on the ordinance means the Town Commission will hold a second reading and final vote later this month.
“We’re getting very close to being done,” Unicorp National Developments CEO Chuck Whittall said. “Hopefully, the next hearing is not as lengthy. I think we’ve gotten on a page where we can develop it.”
Mayor Ken Schneier explained why he voted in favor of Unicorp’s proposal for the St. Regis site.
“I think the overriding project is a great addition to Longboat Key,” Schneier said. “We’ve been waiting 12 years for someone to step up and do a project, and we really hit on a wonderful developer (and) wonderful operator.”
At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop and District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams voted against the ordinance. Commissioner Maureen Merrigan was absent and Commissioner Sherry Dominick, an employee of Michael Saunders & Co., recused herself. The realty company is handling the sales of St. Regis condo units.
“That’s the only way I can make a statement about violating the erosion control lines and violating our parking ordinance,” Bishop said. “We get beaten up on both of those issues regularly, so I think overall it’s a good project.”
Bishop said she wishes Unicorp had stayed with its original plan the town already passed in 2018. Specifically, Bishop said she wanted to see Unicorp provide more parking spaces than the proposed amount of 405, which is the same amount the town requires. Unicorp does plan to provide an additional 62 parking spaces for special events.
The previously approved plan in 2018 had provided 457 spaces. However, Unicorp is planning to reduce the number of residential units from 78 to 69.
While it’s unclear how many parking spaces the St. Regis staff would need each day, Whittall said the development’s three restaurants are designed to be open at different times of day. He also said the site doesn’t want to turn away potential customers either.
“Remember, if we don’t have sufficient parking, that hurts us,” Whittall said.
Williams said she voted “no” because of the parking situation at the proposed site, and the locations of the proposed Monkey Bar and event pavilion.
“I think it’s really important,” Williams said. “I think they have a golden opportunity to set a good example for the town.”
The Town Commission approved Unicorp’s request for a 41.7-foot waterfront setback for the proposed Monkey Bar, but denied the request for a 76.1-foot setback for the event pavilion. The matters are still subject to discussion during the Town Commission’s Oct. 20 meeting.
“I think if you move one, you might as well just move the other as well because that is encroaching on the 150 feet from the ECL,” Williams said.
Lawyer Brenda Patten has legally represented Unicorp throughout the approval and purchase process. She provided documentation showing how the Colony structures were closer to the water than what Unicorp had requested. She also provided documentation showing how there are tiki huts closer to the ECL at Tencon Beach Association just south of St. Regis site.
“The wind and storm impact would be about the same regardless of the location,” Patten said. “But for our project, the real question is why are these setbacks for the Monkey Bar and the event pavilion important?
“And the truth is they’re a very critical part of the amenity package at the St. Regis Hotel program.”
Whittall said Unicorp would plan to either design a portable event pavilion or relocate a permanent pavilion somewhere on the property.
On Wednesday, the Town Commission decided to keep in a section of the ordinance that reads: “If any section, subsection, sentence, clause or provision of this ordinance is held invalid, the remainder of the ordinance shall be invalid.”
Unicorp had hoped to convert the section to severable conditions, so if the development faces any potential legal challenges within 30 days, it wouldn’t force the entire project to fall through.
It’s something the Town Commission and Unicorp will likely discuss on Oct. 20 during the second reading of the measure. Unicorp is planning to hold an invitation-only, ground-breaking ceremony on Oct. 25.
Joe Ziomek and his wife Gwen Baseman-Ziomek flew in from San Francisco to appear before the Longboat Key Town Commission on Wednesday. The couple had agreed to purchase a condo. However, they’ve decided not to follow through after Unicorp asked St. Regis buyers in September for a 13% increase on agreed-upon purchase prices.
“I don’t trust the guy,” Ziomek said of Whittall. “Are you kidding me? 13% now. How much three years from now?”
Whittall’s letter offered St. Regis condo buyers five days to either agree to new terms or back out for a deposit refund.
As of Wednesday, Whittall said 10 buyers have backed out since Unicorp has asked for the increase, which he attributed to disruptions in supply chains in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whittall told the Observer in September that Unicorp had hoped for only a 10% increase for buyers.
“That story he says in the letter is comical, and that’s what I said to him,” Ziomek said.
Ziomek said Whittall should have either waited for the market to stabilize or cancel the project altogether.
“It’s not right,” Ziomek said.
When Ziomek refused to sign the release for the 13% increase, he said Unicorp wired him back his $217,000.
A Sept. 29 email shows Unicorp condo buyers had planned a Zoom session on Friday with Whittall. However, Whittall said Unicorp has reached out to each buyer individually and the Zoom session won’t happen.
“It was a buyer stirring the pot,” Whittall said.
In Unicorp’s purchase agreements, there is a provision that states: “(Unicorp) shall have the right, in (Unicorp)’s sole discretion, to cancel this agreement and cause buyer’s deposits to be refunded in the event that (Unicorp) does not enter into binding contracts to sell at least eighty percent (80%) of the units in the condominium by Nov. 30, 2021.”
Whittall denied the 80% threshold was the reason why Unicorp decided to sell the remaining condos.
“We were adjusting the prices,” Whittall said. “We want to meet 80%. The likelihood of us hitting it Nov. 30 is very unlikely, and we really didn’t pull the condos off the market. They’ve been in MLS.”
Whittall said his team has instructed the Michael Saunders Realtors to increase the price of the remaining condos, especially with the increased costs to build.
“We’ve been determining what those price adjustments are, and we should have that determination finished by this week,” Whittall said.
In August, Whittall said Unicorp had sold 84% of its proposed residential units and added a few units would be held back for later sale. However, on Sept. 23 after Unicorp’s letter got sent out, he told the Observer that the St. Regis condos were sold at 80% by dollar volume and 76% by unit count.