Commission enters Colony chaos
Editor & Publisher
During a three-hour hearing last week where nothing was decided, the Longboat Key Commission expressed anger, disbelief and a desire to put some strong conditions on the Colony Association of unit owner’s request to continue grandfathering its right to 237 units.
At issue is the Colony’s unit count, if not extended by the town commission, will revert to the underlying zoning of 6 units per acre at the end of 2012 which would reduce the resort to about 100 units. The resort when it closed in Aug. 2010, had one year to re-open as a resort to keep its grandfathered unit count. The commission extended the deadline last April until Dec. 2012, and has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of any progress toward redevelopment.
Town Planning and Zoning Director Robin Meyer suggested that if the commission extends the grandfathering of the units, it should impose conditions to control the rat and pest population and to ensure that landscaping is maintained. Meyer said his concern if the application is denied, is that it could create additional legal challenges and issues.
The meeting revealed several issues of concern for both the community and the commission, relative to the state of the buildings as well as the politics between the unit owners.
Commissioner Jack Duncan asked the building official to go into detail as to the current conditions of the buildings at the Colony.
Building Official Wayne Thorne said that many of the buildings had been taken back over by nature. He added that much of the structural integrity needs to be evaluated, and said, “I don’t see them as currently habitable.”
Thorne also said that there seemed to be a plethora of illegal and unpermitted work that had been done by likely an unlicensed contractor. He said rebar was de-latching from structural cement and there was rot going through the siding into the drywall. Thorne added that there are sinking support columns, collapsed floor systems, and falling patios as well as ceilings. Thorne also said that the laundry facility “is open to daylight, but it shouldn’t be.”
Thorne noted that the structural integrity of the buildings should be evaluated by an engineer at this point.
And the opening report by the building official was the setting wherein the commission started to debate the wisdom of extending the grandfathering rights.
Tampa attorney Don Hemke filed the petition to extend on behalf of the Association of unit owners and presented and cited a timeline of legal constraints that have precluded redevelopment. Hemke said that legal constraints are one of the reasons the commission can grant the extension and that the myriad of legal issues, while being worked through, prohibits decisive action.
Hemke added that unit owners have spent almost $2 million since the Colony closed “just getting to today.” Hemke then said that the Association was a bit embarrassed that conditions had deteriorated at the Colony and he cited recent cleanup efforts and pledged that those efforts would continue. In the end, Hemke specifically asked for an 18-month extension.
“Why 18-months?” asked Duncan. “Why not 24 months or 30 months? What’s going to happen in 18 months?”
In response, a Colony Association spokesman said, “With a bunch of goodwill we hope we can get that done.” He spoke of his other projects and said that 18 months is do-able.
Duncan shot back, “What you described is nebulous. Do you have a specific timeline?”
Mayor Jim Brown entered the discussion, and expressed dismay at the Association’s recent announcement that it planned to renovate rather than scrape and rebuild the Colony.
“I’m surprised a developer says you can make a four or five star resort through renovation. You will spend more money trying to renovate than if you tear it down and rebuild the Colony,” said Brown.
“I’m willing to give you forever to do this, but don’t do it this way. I don’t’ see that the town benefits from taking away 150 units, but this frightens me. If you are not an architect or a builder, I’d hate to have you speculate on how long it takes. A bunch of Colony owners cannot plan this, and I don’t think you can decide this tonight. I’d add a condition that you tear the place down and build new. There are people in this town who will quit supporting you,” said Brown.
Commissioner Lynn Larson also was very concerned with the Association’s approach. She spoke of how a renovation would have to be phased to avoid the FEMA 50 percent rule.
“When you are talking about phasing FEMA you’d better be real careful about saying it out loud. FEMA is not meant to be phased so you can get around it. We are not stupid, the units in the front of the Colony are in front of the coastal construction line, that’s why you want to save them,” said Larson.
Commissioner Duncan was still waiting to hear a clear timeline on how the association in 18 months could go from a state of lawsuit gridlock to an open resort. Duncan said he was disappointed with the lack of strategy.
Duncan said the Colony is critical to the town and that the town does not want to end up with another mess in its hands.
“What concerns me is the lack of professionalism,” said Duncan.
Colony founder and general partner Dr. Murray ‘Murf” Klauber was on hand at the hearing with his attorney, Charles Bartlett. Bartlett said that 18 months was a “really, really optimistic timeframe.”
Bartlett added that the Colony revitalization cannot move forward until the legal issues are resolved. Bartlett said that the sides are talking and that resolution is possible. He said that he was hopeful that there has been a seismic shift in the situation.
“I’m hopeful it’s a real seismic shift and not just a tremor,” said Bartlett.
Colony Lender Randy Langley said that at least all the parties are now in the same room trying to work a resolution.
Mayor Brown remarked, “Maybe we should put all of you in one of the rooms at the Colony.”
Aquarius Club Board member Brad Howe said he was offended that nobody knew of the state of delapidation at the Colony until his board recently complained.
“I can tell you emphatically of the number of vermin running around that property, coming to our property – and they’re all wearing Colony t-shirts,” said Howe.
Howe said the Aquarius residents were trying to be good neighbors over the years but “enough is enough.”
Town Manager David Bullock then spoke of the $238,000 in outstanding utility bills owed by the Colony owners to the town. Association of Unit Owners attorney Jeffrey Warren said the water bills are owned by the partnership (Klauber).
Town Attorney David Persson pointed out that the town has a stick in collecting the delinquent funds. Persson said that before water can ever be turned on again at the Colony, they must pay the balance.
By the numbers…
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises of the night was buried in a statement made by Association President Jay Yablon. Yablon said that one reason a scrape and rebuild project is unlikely is it requires a 75 percent approval vote of the unit owners. He added that that was one of the reasons the Association’s relationship with Club Holdings last Spring collapsed. Club Holdings and the Association had reached an agreement wherein a new Colony was going to be built, not a renovation.
In the months since the Association and Club Holdings separated, Colony property owner Andy Adams has increased the number of units he owns at the Colony. Adams reportedly has bought up more than 50 units and now has a 20 percent voting share.
Adams was chosen by the Association last week as the redevelopment partner along with Coral Hospitality in a renovation project.
Yablon told the commission that one of the reasons the Association wants to rehab instead of rebuilding is that it may only require a 50 percent vote, of which Adams would control 20 percent.
Commissioner Phill Younger said he didn’t feel taking away the grandfathering clause would be just. But he added that something could be gained by very vigorous enforcement of the town codes. He also said, “I’m amazed at the polyanna mentality. I’d like to find some way to put teeth into an extension.”
Duncan said the town should workshop the extension issue and develop a timeline for the extension as well as contingencies. The rest of the commission agreed and they decided to continue the hearing at the Sept. 24 workshop at 9 a.m.