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Longboat under construction

 

2735 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

2741 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

2929 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

3331 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

3025 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

6899 Gulf of Mexico Drive. CREDIT: Ron Johnson

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

In the news world there are the day-to-day dramas, the news items such as crime, car wrecks and condominiums caught on fire. But most important to Longboat Key taxpayers are the ever-present stories: the beach, Bayfront Park, the budget, pensions, Publix, the Colony, Longboat Key Club and Whitney Beach Plaza. Where do these issues stand, what’s next and what are our options, if any, to control the situations?

Longboat Key News is focusing this edition on these key issues, as we look forward to the return of Town Commission meetings and the gradual escalation of business while the busy season soon approaches.

 

Redevelopment rules the day

If James Carville ran for election on Longboat Key, his slogan might be, “It’s the redevelopment, stupid.”

And that is because Longboat Key, which as recently as a decade ago was considered built-out and a completed paradise, is now being viewed by Town Hall as in need of major revitalization. Especially of its commercial sectors.

Dominating the news of past months has been the preliminary application submitted by Publix to redevelop a 49,533-square-foot store at Avenue of the Flowers. The redevelopment of Publix has brought a degree of both excitement and opportunity, as well as some severe planning challenges. The fact is that Publix has a right to redevelop its store within parameters specified in the Bay Isles outline development plan. The town can influence the outcome only to the extent that Publix seeks departures from what it is allowed already to redevelop. And Publix has requested departures.

The new Publix, as shown in a Bay Isles outline development plan (ODP) amendment and a site plan review, calls for demolishing and rebuilding at 525 Bay Isles Parkway:

• A 49,533-square-foot Publix grocery store that will be connected to an 11,700-square-foot retail plaza with 360 nearby parking spaces.

• A stand-alone 14,528-square-foot CVS Pharmacy built in the former Shell gas station location that will have 59 nearby parking spaces.

• A stand-alone, 4,000-square-foot office/retail building that will sit in the northeastern corner of the property near Bay Isles Road and have 24 nearby parking spaces.

The project consists of a total of 79,761 square feet of retail and office space, which is about 20,000 square feet less than the current Town Plaza I that includes the existing Publix, CVS, and other businesses and vacant space. The project will have 443 parking spaces.

Publix is under contract with real estate agent Howard Rooks for Town Plaza II, a 1.52-acre site and plaza that includes tenants Nosh-A-Rye and Your Fitness Instructor. The purchase, however, does not include the restaurant site Rooks owns, which was previously occupied by Mattison’s Restaurant.

Publix is also asking for departures in setbacks, size and parking to accommodate its plan.

The planning challenge for Longboat Key is that many town leaders as well as staff want to see Publix as part of a larger integrated town center that encompasses the banks, churches and synagogue, tennis center, post office, Mediterranean Plaza in the Publix complex. A unified plan depends on participation or buy-in from Publix to accomplish many of the inter-connectivity goals of the town center.

To that end, town Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson reacted to Publix’s application by stating that the current proposal falls short of many of the stated goals that the town wants to see in a new Publix site. Publix has many options and can move forward with its current plan or slight modifications and hope the Town Commission gives approval. Or, Publix could redraft and resubmit in an effort to help meet the town’s planning goals.

The town could also create an overlay district if it undertook a process of defining exactly what landscaping, transportation and architectural elements it would want in a town center. It could require Publix to adhere to the dictates of such a district.

The bottom line is positive in that the one certainty is Publix is diligently moving forward with a redevelopment plan. Any changes to the plan will be revealed in the coming months.

 

Colony’s future

If the majority of the residents are fed through Publix, the Colony is the way they discovered Longboat Key.

The 40-year-old internationally renowned tennis resort was shuttered last summer following years of dispute and legal battles between the general partner and founder, Murf Klauber, and the Association of Unit Owners led by President Jay Yablon.

Central to the dispute is which party is responsible to pay for millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and repairs. Klauber argued unit owners are clearly responsible as stated in the ‘Partnership Agreement.’ The association argued the partnership agreement is no longer valid, that Klauber mismanaged the company and that Klauber was insolvent. The association won in lower courts last year, and subsequently Klauber entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the partnership agreement was dissolved and the unit owners were left free to choose a developer to engage. They undertook that process.

Meanwhile, Klauber appealed two key decisions and appeals court Judge Steve Merryday ruled in Klauber’s favor, stating the lower courts and bankruptcy judge misapplied the law.

Merryday asked both parties to present a remedy to rectify the state of the Colony. Klauber presented two options. Klauber wants the court to either view the Colony and what has transpired in a “what is done is done” attitude and award loss of business damages totaling approximately $20 million.

The other option Klauber proffered is to give him back his business, in essence returning Klauber to his management role with the right to rent the units and a payment of $7 million to pay for maintenance. Klauber said he prefers the option of regaining control and playing a role in redeveloping the resort.

Yablon and the association, while waiting for Merryday’s final ruling, have further narrowed its list of redevelopment suitors to a final four.

What is next at the Colony depends almost entirely on Judge Merryday’s ruling, which is expected any day. Merryday could as stated award Klauber simple damages, could try to put Klauber back in control and possibly undo lower court decisions including the bankruptcy, or he could use his discretion to arrive at any conclusion he feels is legally justified and would return an element of wholeness to the parties.

 

Key Club

The proposed redevelopment of the Longboat Key Club at Islandside has not had any dramatic news over the past months, except challenges to the development order have been making their way through state agencies and the courts.

The Islandside Property Owners Coalition, led by President Bob White, has appealed the zoning changes and Comprehensive Plan amendments that were made to help accommodate the plan. It has also appealed the entire proceeding by initiating a De Novo action.

The Key Club recently announced that due to strength in the hotel market, it might change its development phasing to build the hotel before the condominiums.

In short, the Loeb Partners Realty plan to redevelop the Key Club at Islandside will add the following: an 11-story hotel, a meeting center, a wellness center/spa, renovated Islandside golf clubhouse and golf course (without a driving range), villas on both sides of Longboat Club Road, and a seven-story condominium building on the south side of Longboat Club Road.

 

Whitney Beach Plaza

 

Whitney Beach Plaza

Longboat Key’s north end has seen far more action on its beaches in 2011 than in its shopping plaza. While north end residents got a much needed beach renourishment this year, Whiney Beach Plaza owner Brian Kenney, principal of the Boston-based Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC, has been working hard to secure an anchor tenant in his 35,000-square-foot plaza.

Kenney announced in the winter that by April he hoped to have ideally a pharmacy or large chain tenant in place. Last week, Kenney announced that those efforts had failed, but he has optimism that a convenience store or other-type tenant will be forthcoming. Kenney said he is committed to Longboat Key and the plaza and will soon initiate efforts to spruce it up.

Kenney had said previously that he was holding off on enhancing the property with the idea that a major anchor tenant would have its own build-out demands and that it would be better to allow that process to occur before undertaking plaza repairs and improvements.

 

The beach

Three considerations make Longboat Key’s 10 miles of white sandy beach perhaps the most important of all issues. The first reason is Longboat Key’s annual visitors who count on its pristine beauty to guarantee enjoyable vacations. Second, the beach helps protect a vulnerability, that being the very existence of Longboat’s beachfront condominiums and homes. The beach literally slows wave action and is the first, and in many cases the only, line of defense from annual storms.

And because of these two reasons, the beach consigns an especially paramount position in the island’s annual budget. In fact, at a cost of about $8 million per year, the beach dwarfs the 2009-2010 actual annual operating cost of the Police Department’s $2,134,776 and the Fire Department’s $3,975,866. The cost is a reflection of the Herculean effort needed to plan and execute beach renourishment.

The upward spiral of beach building costs met last year with a tough economy, and the combined effect led commissioners to question the resolve of voters to approve what was looking to be a $40 million-plus beach bond referendum.

In response to that pressure, commissioners took a more modest route while committing to formally evaluating the beach plan itself as well as the town’s beach consultant and engineering firm, Coastal Planning and Engineering, which the town has engaged for all of its beach work since 1996.

Voters approved the beach bond in March, but the beach vote turned out to not be so simple. Town Hall, forgot to post one of the required legal advertisements regarding the beach vote in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, thereby invalidating the election.

The commission was faced with either the expensive choice of either holding another election or paying far less in asking a judge to validate the procedure via a court order.

The town took the low-cost route and prevailed Aug. 3 when a judge validated the vote. The town can now issue bonds and move forward with a permanent north end solution and renourishment.

 

The budget

When the Town Commission returns in September it will immediately undertake the task of finalizing the budget, and the debate will likely oscillate between increasing the taxes on the revenue front (the maximum millage rate is set at 1.946 mils as compared to last year’s 1.8872 mils) and cutting cost expenditures. The latest budget was cut to operating expenditures of $13,921,684 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, down from $144,244,733 in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

At the July budget workshop, the commission agreed to cut $37,500 in outside attorney fees (not the town attorney costs) from the 2011-2012 budget.

The next budget hearing and first reading to be held at 5 p.m., Monday, Sept. 12 in Town Hall. The Finance Department stressed that it will continue to refine the process and look for other revenues right up to budget adoption.

 

Pension contention

Longboat Key’s three pension system serving the general, police and fire department employees have come to the fore over the past few years as the unfunded liability has reached more than $25 million. In fact, the Fire Department went from being almost completely funded approximately a decade ago to qualifying as one of the most under-funded in the state. Some firefighters and residents have faulted the town for mismanaging the funds and depleting the health of the funds to meet budgetary goals. The fire pension board paid $50,000 to a consultant to determine if there were any legal or procedural violations in the handling of the fund. That investigation led to no further action, and the town and firefighters subsequently agreed last spring on a contract after months of impasse.

The cost problem of the town’s pension system remains with commissioners asking staff to evaluate other options including the cost of a defined contribution plan, the cost of joining the state pension system and the realistic cost of making changes to the plans while keeping them fundamentally in place.

 

Bayfront Park

Although the town has had some preliminary meetings with residents and town workshops, the future of Bayfront Park has much remaining in its planning design.

The Albritton property adjacent to Bayfront Park was purchased by Sarasota County and the county has agreed to work with Longboat Key to help develop the property along with Bayfront Park into one cohesive park and community center. The cost for the project is estimated to be $7 million. The project would not be placed out for bid for one to two years, and the project would be finished in Spring 2014.

Operating costs for maintaining the park and community center are currently $200,000 to $300,000 per year.  Funds available for the project include: Phase II Infrastructure Surtax ($85,000), a Parks and Recreation Infrastructure II Surtax ($3 million), Phase III Infrastructure Surtax ($1 million), Land Acquisition Fund ($1 million), Park and Recreation Capital Projects Fund ($280,000) and a donation by the Longboat Key Club ($3 million).

The town must also adjust the zoning to allow for the current park plan, as well as make Comprehensive Plan changes, since the land is not properly zoned for the project and the conceptual site plan does not fit into the Comprehensive Plan.

The commission reached consensus at a special May workshop to further develop the Bayfront Park concept plan to make sure:

• The proposed building and uses will work with the zoning and constraints of the site.

• Necessary zoning or Comprehensive Plan changes are identified.

• Various design options and cost scenarios are explored.

Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said the consultant for the project, Linda Wannemacher of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, should be able to complete the necessary work so that the Town Commission can review the findings by the fall. Town residents could be voting on a Bayfront Park and Community Center plan as early as March 2012.

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Longboat Key News

2 Responses for “Longboat under construction”

  1. Ron Johnson says:

    John,

    In fact, most of those seven lots were raw land before the construction began.

    I took pictures of most of those lots last November for something personal that I was working on. I was interested in the appearance of the empty lots (they were all neatly cared for and mowed). And as the months have gone by I noticed that the empty lots had homes being built on them so I took photos of the new construction taking place which I passed along to Steve. He did not publish the empty lot photos. By my best estimate there now only three empty lots left on the Gulf side of GMD. One of those is well hidden behind overgrowth. There is also one lot left on Gulfside drive behind my GMD home.

    Ron

  2. John Wild says:

    Excellent residential photography of homes along Gulf of Mexico Drive by Ron Johnson, but my question is “how many of those are on properties where an older “tear down” once stood. That does tend to confirm the decade old “built out and considered paradise” statement in the lead paragraph. But I would contend that it is not the re-development as much as the “re-vitalization” of the island. At this juncture, it’s all happening in high net worth residential ownership situations, representing those most immune to economic downturns. Hopefully it will happen as well in areas zoned commercial, and that Mayor Brown and his fellow Commissioners will direct the staff to help the revitalization process along without unnecessary delay. The island deserves no less.

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