The IPOC judicial decision

Contributing Columnist

The judge in the case of the IPOC against the major expansion of the Longboat Key Club has been rendered and probably to no one’s surprise, the judge came down on the side of the residents.

There are many facets to this decision but a basic one is the issue I have been pounding at from the beginning; how can the Town Commission allow an individual developer to come in and walk all over the great majority of the adjacent landowners when the codes say otherwise? It has been an axiom of real estate — if you want to know how your neighborhood is going to look in the future, go to the Town Hall and look at the zoning map. The court in a very strongly worded decision found that the procedures followed in this case violated that trust.

You can’t put the blame on Loeb Realty. Like most developers, they asked for the moon and not only got the moon but the sun and the stars with it. They were expecting to compromise and were met by a P&Z Board and a Town Commission that just rolled over and asked Mr. Lesser to please scratch their tummy. It reminded me of that old-time cartoon where the guy rushes a heavy door prepared to break it down when unexpectedly the door opens and the character flies through and goes over a cliff.

The town attorney is suggesting that it would now be the time to actually have a discussion on what the voters really want to do about the future destiny of the community. This is a very good idea, except that you can have a party but no one will show up, at least not until it directly involves them. This is especially true because in the winter season, everyone is too busy and in the summer, no one is in town.

Meanwhile, all kind of changes in density, height, set backs, signs and other restrictions have quietly been rewritten by a commission dedicated to growing the commercial and tourism business. This current group of commissioners will have no problem changing any laws that the court found blocking this expansion. If the IPOC people want to save some money on legal fees and protect their position, they ought to try to locate and back candidates for the Town Commission that that will express their overall philosophy, that Longboat Key is primarily a residential community.

IPOC was motivated by their specific problem. The proposed plans called for an almost total change in the character of the gated community. They were fortunate enough to have a leader with the stubbornness of Bob White and a constituency that had the means to fight. As I said at the top of this piece, I don’t think the Loeb lawyers were surprised by the verdict, but I do think they were surprised by the tenacity of the opposition that kept fighting to bring it to this conclusion. Usually in cases like this, the guy with the most money wins. Legal issues are a distant second.

In the previous two confrontations with citizens, the so-called Tee Time lawsuit and the Marina dispute, the citizens caved rather than face the legal bills necessary and I am sure that Mr. Lesser expected nothing different this time.

I have direct insight into the first case since I was a party to the suit, but I have no knowledge of what transpired in the Marina case except that at first everyone was as mad as hell at how they were lied to and then suddenly everyone just shut down, probably when they realized the amount of money they would have to cough up to defend their positions. In fact, as a condition of their settlement, when they were approached by IPOC to at least testify to the conduct of Michael Welly, they said they weren’t allowed to say anything.

In this case, White kept his group together, raised almost $200,000 and did what was incumbent upon the Town Commission to do; that was protect the rights of the residents they represented.

This doesn’t solve the problem. The club is still for sale and a compromise should be considered. The club never seemed thrilled with having to build a hotel to go along with a conference center. IPOC seemed to be mostly concerned with the height of some buildings, the overall density and the construction on the northern side of Longboat Key Road where the driving range is currently located. There should be a middle ground. The court’s ruling will bring all of this to the table.

I imagine some sort of deal where mid-rise condos be built on the scale of the adjoining luxury condominiums, Ambiance and Sanctuary, would be possible. There still remains the promise that started this whole operation, the repair of the golf course. But if Joe Lesser is smart and I know he is, he will try to work out how much would be required to fulfill that requirement while he still has a compliant group of commissioners.

If someone really wanted a hotel at the bottom of the key, all they have to do is buy the Chart House property. It is already zoned for commercial use, has a separate entry to Gulf of Mexico Drive, is actually on the water and could have all the density it needed.

With the potential defeat of the leader of the pro-growth group, Dave Brenner, in the upcoming March election and with four seats open in the contests next year, this might be the propitious moment for his group to act. If not, the next few elections might hinge on this entire package and I wouldn’t think that would prove helpful in locating a buyer. They must be aware of the fact that the only time this was an election issue was when Gene Jaleski defeated a sitting commissioner Randy Clair by making the opposition to the expansion his only issue.

The lawyers have made enough money. It is time for people to reason with each other.

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1 Response for “The IPOC judicial decision”

  1. Robert G. Smith says:

    With a crew like the commission and David Persson (impersonating professional legal counsel) it’s like having Peter Sellers, Jack Benny, the three Stooges and Mommy Dearest running the town. This whole episode has been a joke.

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