Town tells Key Club to tweak plan

Commissioners positive on Key Club plan, final ‘adjustments’ underway.

Key Club Attorney John Patterson hopes to earn unanimous approval from the Town Commission next week. CREDIT: Steve Reid

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“Ladies and gentlemen, it is decision time.”

Those words spoken by Key Club Attorney John Patterson at the close of Wednesday’s Town Commission meeting foreshadow the imminent vote next week on the $400 million Islandside redevelopment proposal. But before making that decision, the Town Commission directed the Key Club, town staff and counsel, and the Islandside Property Owners Coalition to spend the four days leading up to Monday’s meeting to “tweak” or modify the proposal to address lingering concerns.

“We all live in this town, and we owe it to our citizens to take one last crack at this,” said Commissioner Dave Brenner, before suggesting the parties attempt some last minute revisions to make the plan more palpable.

The Town Commission told the Key Club that it was unanimously supportive of redevelopment, but several issues, which may or may not be deal-breakers, remain.

Town Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson outlined her issues with the plan in a staff report prior to the meeting, in which she recommended denial of the application primarily because the size and scale of the project is too massive, she says, and causes too many conflicts with town code, the Comprehensive Plan and is incompatible with the surrounding development.

At the meeting during staff presentation, Simpson said, “My role is not that of project designer, my role is clear; to look at the application and vet it against the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code. My recommendation is on what our code and Comp Plan say. Ultimately, based on the zoning code today, my staff recommendation is denial.”

Simpson raised other issues including the need for off-street parking to meet parking requirements in the plan, as well as the location of the gatehouse and consistency with the Comp Plan. But ultimately, Simpson said that, “Staff does not have the ability to truncate units—we raise concerns.”

The commission, while agreeing and echoing many of Simpson’s concerns, made it clear they want the club to resolve some of the issues before they make a final vote, which is destined for next week.

Tale of two parcels
The proposal, which has been under consideration by the town for almost one year, is problematic to the commission in a handful of very defined areas. Primarily, commissioners said the proposed redevelopment slated for the parcels south of Key Club Road works well. Slated for the south side of Key Club Road is a 14-story hotel with three floors of condominiums, a series of lagoon villas along with a wellness and fitness center. The commission did not have a problem with the size or scale of those buildings, nor with the height of the hotel. What caused concern is the intensity of development proposed by the Key Club for parcels north of Key Club Road, as well as the pedestrian and vehicular circulation between the north and south sites.

The proposal calls for a 10,000-square-foot meeting center and parking garage on the north parcel, while its connected use, the hotel, is slated for the south parcel. Several commissioners say that requiring pedestrians to cross Key Club Road to get from their hotel to a conference is less than ideal. To remedy, commissioners suggested relocating the road to the north, which also would help to separate the club’s commercial uses, the hotel and conference center, from the member golf course and access to residences behind the gates.

Mayor George Spoll asked Simpson if relocating the entry road to the north of what he tentatively called a commercial center would change her feelings about the plan.

“It would bring forward the possibility of more cohesive land uses,” said Simpson.

But Simpson said the underlying issue remains: “We are still talking about the same land area. If you are trying to do too much, it’s too much.”

Spoll said one of the clear objections to the plan by residents he had spoken with was the “idea of driving through Ft. Lauderdale on their way home.” He again asked Simpson if the road could be rerouted to the north, how it would make her feel about the “apparent density or feel of density.”

Simpson again replied that she was not sure how much of an impact relocating the road would make if the size of the buildings remains as proposed.

The Key Club said it looked at relocating the road early on, but it just does not make practical or economic sense.

“When we analyzed moving the road north, we came up with a project less practical, less functional and less safe. It would also damage traffic access to the Charthouse,” said Patterson.

Key Club General Manager Michael Welly said the existing easements, curb cuts, utilities and cost of relocating made it seem like it made no sense to pursue moving Key Club Road. He also said the current plan will work and has precedence.

“There are a zillion examples throughout the country and dozens in Florida where no conflicts occur (between pedestrians and traffic when a hotel is separated from a meeting center by a roadway). Spending additional millions of dollars for no purpose is not something we were willing to do,” said Welly.

Not behind the gate
The gatehouse also is a point of contention. Simpson and several commissioners said that it should be moved west to about where the current entrance to the golf course is located. They argue that the gatehouse, if left in its current location, will create vehicular confusion and not adequately separate the residential and commercial aspects of the redevelopment.

“Leaving the gatehouse where it is does not work for me,” said Simpson, “They call it a welcome center but I get stopped there and have to identify myself.”

Vice Mayor Jim Brown asked counsel if the commission could mandate the relocation of the gatehouse. Special counsel Nancy Stroud said it is within their authority to do so as a condition of approval.

The Key Club said it is not opposed to moving the gatehouse but thinks that it is an issue better to be resolved when the details of a site plan are considered.

Part of the dilemma to the Key Club is the gatehouse is under the jurisdiction of The Road Association. The Road Association controls Key Club Road and its board is composed of representatives from the different condominiums at Islandside. The club says that if the town were to make relocating the gate a simple condition of approval, it would be putting The Road Association in the position of having the ability to veto the entire project.

An IPOC offering
In an attempt to bridge the chasm between IPOC and the Key Club, IPOC President Bob White offered the commission a compromise proposal, which he said he could stand behind and would likely prevent future litigation if adopted. (See details below.)

White’s proposes to reduce the number of salable condominium units, reduce the size of the ballroom and relocate the road as well as reinstating the driving range.

Commissioners Brenner and Spoll said they were happy to see movement and consideration toward a solution.

When commissioners at the end of Wednesday’s meeting started deliberating their final decision, it became clear they reached a crossroad. They could either approve the plan before them, they could modify it themselves and approve something the Key Club may or may not be happy with, they could deny the plan outright or they could do what they did—ask that the Key Club make a final attempt to address the concerns made clear by the Town Commission and Simpson.

Let’s avoid a camel
For Vice Mayor Jim Brown, the decision is less complicated.

“I am hesitant to sit up here and try to redesign the site, because we will end up with a camel. When a committee designs a horse, you get a camel. I am in favor of this project, and I do not see a lot of problems with this. I believe this project is doable. I do not think this project is too dense or too massive. I do believe it will be a positive thing for the Town of Longboat Key,” said Brown.

But for Spoll, the task at hand is to make sure every last effort is made to get the best solution to the identified issues prior to a vote.

“I’ve been sitting here for the past two days staring at the model. I am particularly comfortable with the waterfront villas and hotel. My problems come with what is across the road to the north. I would love to see the conference center move south of the road. Failing that, my impression of the north side is that it is kind of heavy. If the conference center is set on top of the garage I would like it better. If one of the golf course condos was eliminated it would feel completely different and you would have just three elements on the north parcel. Then I would feel more comfortable,” said Spoll.

Brenner suggested that the town attorney talk to each commissioner and enter into a dialogue with Patterson and IPOC. Loeb Chief Operating officer Mike Brody took issue.

“It’s difficult to expect a reasonable outcome when only one party in a negotiation has something at stake. I find it difficult to understand the purpose other than a basic understanding of goodness or citizenship. This is not like a labor union and an employer where they negotiate and they each shoulder tremendous risk. We have all the risk. I have my concerns on whether that becomes a fruitful exercise,” said Brody.

Spoll responded to Brody by saying that it was an opportunity for a good deal of soul searching for the applicant based on what it had heard. He added, “If you have a unilateral position, I would like to hear that.”

“We all live in this town and we owe it to our citizens to take one last crack at this,” Brenner explained to Brody.

Persson then told Brody: “I think the notion that you are the only one who has something to lose is a wrong notion. While you may have money at stake, the entire community has to live with the outcome.”

Final call for changes
In the final moments of the meeting, Welly said the Key Club would take the four days leading to Monday, June 14 to attempt to “tweak” the proposal.

The following morning, Patterson told Longboat Key News that the Key Club had already been working diligently to come up with alternatives and changes to the north parcel that he hopes will make the Town Commission amenable to the plan. He said the road relocation is not viable ,even if cost is taken off the table. He said access to the Charthouse would become problematic, and it would create a new dilemma by having golf carts cross the road instead of pedestrians.

Patterson said there was a real possibility to go to one condominium building on the golf course, angle it toward L’ Ambiance and the condos, design it with variable heights and build it in phases that would decrease the footprint. He said the club is also looking to change the footprint of the parking garage by going up one floor, yet pulling it back from Gulf of Mexico Drive, again, in an effort to decrease the footprint.

The gatehouse issue is not a deal-breaker said Patterson, while maintaining the club believes it works best where it is currently located in the plan. He said that if relocating the gatehouse were a condition of approval, it would not be reasonable to give The Road Association veto power over the project. He suggested the gatehouse issue could best be resolved when a site plan is developed.

Meanwhile, at 9 a.m. Friday, The club, IPOC and town staff will meet in an attempt to craft an improved and final proposal. The results and possible vote on the entire redevelopment project will occur Monday, June 14 at the Temple Beth Israel.

The Town Commission is also slated to consider and possibly vote on the proposal next Wednesday failing a decision on Monday. If no vote is taken next week, there will be no time before the Town Commission takes its summer recess to pass a redevelopment proposal.

IPOC’s proposed compromise
• Reduce hotel to 10 stories, including parking
• 168 rooms and 59 condos (estimated)
• Villas on the Pass as proposed
• Spa/wellness center as proposed
• 4 tennis courts as proposed
• Renovate the clubhouse as proposed
• Eliminate golf course condos—The 77 salable dwelling units in the hotel and villas allowed for financing, which is still in excess of Ritz, Four Seasons ratios.
• Reduce size of ballroom to 8,000 square feet and pre-function space to 6,000 square feet and the parking garage accordingly.
• Move LBK Road north and co-locate the conference center and garage adjacent to the hotel to reduce congestion on the road, improve sight lines, safety and convenience.
• Locate driving range by the golf clubhouse.
• Use best efforts to obtain permission to remove the sandbar at the entrance to the lagoon.
• Incorporating the Charthouse property into the complex would add flexibility and further reduce density. It is recommended that this be strongly considered. Contingent on legal permissibility.

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