Redevelopment request pending at Longboat Key Club; Welly, White and Mayor Brown speak out
Editor & Publisher
Just as a second time at the altar sometimes proves more fortunate in the caprices of love, the Longboat Key Club and its General Manager, Michael Welly, hope their second attempt to gain approval for the redevelopment of the Islandside Resort is just as successful.
In a press release by the Longboat Key Club and Resort, General Manager Michael Welly states that soon the Club will resubmit its $400 million redevelopment application. And just as soon, battle lines quickly were redrawn.
Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC) President Bob White said he was deeply disappointed that the club plans to submit the same proposal that the courts found to be in violation of town code.
White objects that the town amended land-use codes over the last year after approving the redevelopment plan as a safety measure in case the original approval failed in court.
Now that the Town has lost its court battle with IPOC, White says it is not a sign of the town or Key Club working to get the redevelopment plan right, but more a sentiment of finding a way to get it done.
In that regard, White vows that IPOC will fight the reapplication with the hope that there is either a change in the application or the political landscape.
Island on edge
For Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown, the idea of redevelopment not going forward at Islandside would be a horrible blow to the future financial prospects of Longboat Key.
“If Longboat Key does not have this Islandside project happen, we are in trouble,” said Brown.
For Brown there was nothing duplicitous or conspiratorial in approving the plan and amending town codes to ensure successful passage of the project. Brown’s analysis, which was done during his tenure on the Planning and Zoning Board, is that 80 percent of the condominiums on Longboat Key were built before 1984. In effect, Brown says the community was more or less ‘built out’ in the mid 1980’s when most of the town’s land use codes and restrictive policies were enacted. He said that was a reaction to prevent overdevelopment and at the time, no one anticipated the struggles a generation later.
Fast forward to 2012, and Brown says the struggles of redevelopment are everywhere on Longboat Key; from Whitney Beach Plaza, and the strip malls on the north end of the island, all the way to the Colony and south to the Longboat Key Club.
When asked if he empathized with IPOC members who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the development order, to have two judges agree that their view, not the town’s, was correct, Brown responded, “No, if I thought they had legitimate arguments I would. There’s a saying that if you put two attorneys in a room you’ll get three opinions. The fact that two judges agree is nothing other than two attorneys in a room.”
Brown said he believes he’s had enough experience as an architect that he has a “feel for what is being done in a project.”
“I deeply feel this project is not too dense for its location and will be a vast improvement for the community,” said Brown.
Brown said he hoped both sides would get together and reach a compromise. He said that during mediation, he felt that the Key Club was willing to do some things, but nothing came of the process. Brown added that the joint venture between the Longboat Key Club and Ocean Properties opens “all kinds of possibilities.”
For Key Club General Manager Michael Welly, the approval of the Islandside project is fundamental to the Key Club’s survival in an aggressive and highly competitive market.
Welly told Longboat Key News that the Islandside project is not merely a desire for a bigger club or more units, it’s a carefully planned formula to rebuild membership, create a stronger visitor community, and redevelop the oldest part of the club.
“When we don’t have top tier facilities, we then have to charge less. Then we give less, then there are less members, and all of a sudden realtors are not telling buyers what a great community and club they can be part of. It’s a starvation exercise if we do not redevelop,” said Welly.
Welly added the project is “the ultimate solution to many issues.”
For instance, the hotel will be geared toward business groups and large parties who can use the meeting center as well as a golfing destination. Welly said the current hotel, Inn on the Beach, focuses on the intimacy of the beach experience and visitors pay a premium. Welly noted that Inn on the Beach is a beach resort, but it was not developed to sell golf. The new hotel would be less expensive, not be on the beach, oriented toward businesses and compliment the market they currently approach, according to Welly.
Welly said that redeveloping the golf course will allow a better approach to watering and turf issues which the club has struggled with over the past decades at Islandside. Welly also said that the spa has become central to many visitors and the expansion of that facility is also a necessity.
“It shouldn’t be long and drawn out, gaining approval for the project from the town commission,” commented Welly. “Our attorneys, along with the town, and the town was the driver, recognized long ago the Comprehensive Plan was ambiguous and could be read differently. It’s inconceivable that a judge with no real estate or comprehensive plan background could read the rules differently than those who wrote them and interpreted them.
Welly said he envisions the project being approved again, but hopes one of several things happens with IPOC. Welly hopes they come to the conclusion that the proposal is good for the town and that the motivation is pure, and that the community consensus is that it should be built.
If IPOC does not acquiesce its legal positions, Welly said at the very least that, “Some position is reached which is reasonable.” Welly added that the Key Club went into mediation with IPOC with “something to offer.” But also stated that “we aren’t going to build half a project.”
The reapplication process will begin most likely next week with a conference between the Key Club and Town Planning and Zoning Director Robin Meyer. Meyer replaced Monica Simpson, who was terminated from the position last fall due to issues unrelated to the Key Club proposal. It was Simpson’s original testimony in the Key Club hearing that she could not recommend approval of the project under the town’s code, which gave weight to IPOC’s legal challenges.
Once the application is deemed complete by Meyer, a public hearing will be held before the town’s Planning and Zoning Board. The Planning and Zoning Board will make an advisory opinion to the town commission. Welly has said the Key Club hopes to gain approval by Summer 2013.
The $400 million redevelopment of the Club’s Islandside property includes:
• Rees Jones designed 18 Hole Golf Course
• New, luxury green certified hotel featuring 196 rooms and 76 private residences
• New Wellness Center with Enhanced Spa and Fitness Facilities
• New Meeting Center with 17,000 square feet of usable function space
• New golf clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop
• Five luxury villas along the golf course for a total of 32 residences
• Three luxury villas along New Pass Cove with a total of 20 residences
• One luxury condominium building with a total of 27 residences adjacent to the new hotel on New Pass Cove
• Landscaping and pedestrian walkways designed by internationally acclaimed land scape architecture firm EDSA
• Swimming pools to include a new feature pool, a pool bar and an active children’s pool with landscaping, lighting and zero-entry design
• In addition to the 20 court Tennis Gardens, four new state-of-the-art HydroGrid tennis courts for resort play