Without a parking garage, the St. Regis Longboat Key may have struck the right balance between parking and public appeal.
The two-hour first public hearing for the new plans began with a detailed proposal of additional parking lot coverage to the St. Regis, with little opposition from the Longboat Key Town Commission.
Director of Planning, Zoning and Building Allen Parsons began the meeting on Sept. 18 with a full explanation of the changes to be reviewed by the town commission.
The largest change to the plans was the elimination of the previously proposed parking garage.
On June 5, the first public hearing was held to address the parking garage. The commission voted in favor of drafting a denial order for the next public hearing.
At the June 20 public hearing, Unicorp National Developments Inc. President Chuck Whittall asked for a continuance in order to work on new plans. The continuance was granted, and Whittall’s team then met the July 6 deadline to present new plans.
Now the plans include a larger surface parking lot instead of a garage. The previous 33-space lot was expanded to 93 spaces, and 12 spaces were added on the entrance driveway. The previous plan's 62 mechanical lift spaces were removed.
Thirty-one of the spaces in the 93-space lot will be horizontally “stacked.” This means a car will be parked behind another, essentially blocking it in. Valet services would need to move the car behind in order to get to the one in front.
In all, it’s a net gain of one parking space from the original 2021 plans — which didn’t include the parking garage.
Changes to surface lot coverage also brought changes to the materials. This led to a reduction of impervious surfaces by 3,203 square feet.
The new plans were recommended for approval by the Planning, Zoning and Building Department, according to Parsons.
It was then in the commission’s hands to discuss the changes.
The commission will vote on approving or denying the ordinance and resolution associated with the departures from town code, and revisions to the original 2021 plans.
Most of the departures deal with the changes in parking. That includes allowing for a 32.74- to 35.74-foot setback from Gulf of Mexico Drive when town code requires 50 feet.
Another departure was allowing the parking spaces to be 8.5 by 18 feet, when the requirement is 10 by 20 feet.
Parsons said his staff saw no issues with these changes.
Despite the removal of the parking garage, the development team chose to keep the landscaping plan they had envisioned to screen the parking garage.
Commissioners asked Parsons a few clarifying questions before the public hearing moved to a presentation by Whittall and Unicorp’s attorney Brenda Patten.
Patten further explained the departures being requested. She also briefly ended the presentation by talking about how the St. Regis development is aligned with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, in terms of preserving the character and environment of the town.
Public comment followed the Unicorp team’s presentation. The first comment was from Jeff Ray, a Bay Isles resident who admitted he was strongly opposed to the garage.
After Ray’s public comments at a previous meeting, he said Whittall reached out to him and wanted to give Ray a tour of the property, and to show him what the plans were after the garage was struck down.
Ray was impressed, and attracted the full support of other homeowners in his Bay Isles neighborhood. Whittall told Ray he wanted to be a good neighbor, and Ray said he thinks the St. Regis has accomplished that.
“The definition of ‘good neighbors’ is not necessarily people who always get along,” Ray said. “It’s neighbors who contend with one another and embrace conflict, work out the conflict with a high level of mutual trust and respect for one another, and find the common ground.”
Another comment brought up concern over how large events would affect the flow of traffic on GMD. But Commissioner-at-Large BJ Bishop offered some perspective, noting that the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort used to accommodate very large events, with no traffic disruption.
After Unicorp was given a chance for rebuttal, Mayor Ken Schneier noted that some commissioners, including himself, have been dealing with the St. Regis project for almost a decade.
He also realized that the town of Longboat Key has a lot in common with Whittall and Unicorp.
“We have much more in common than we have in difference about what’s going on here,” Schneier said, addressing Whittall. “You have a love for what you’re doing, we have a love of our island. I think all of that has come together to make something that’s going to be very special.”
The commission voted unanimously to pass the ordinance and resolution to the second public hearing. At the second hearing, the commission will vote to approve or deny the ordinance and resolution associated with the changes.
The next public hearing will be held on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m.