Building on Longboat’s future
Editor & Publisher
Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the future of tourism and commercial development on Longboat Key hinges on whom you ask.
For some, the fact that Colony Beach and Tennis Resort founder Murf Klauber was victorious in his appeal and the 237-unit owners now face a near-$25 million judgment will provide the possibility of economic consolidation and forward momentum.
Others say it means two more years of litigation after an appeal is filed and more time where owners and many on Longboat Key wait for a proverbial ‘White Knight’ to buy out the troubled interests and make a proposal to the Town.
Key Club future?
The Longboat Key Club, soon to be owned by Ocean Properties, Ltd., also has a future that can take varying paths all with debated outcomes.
Will Ocean Properties resubmit an Islandside redevelopment application similar to the one that was overturned in court through the efforts of upset residents?
Many in the community say that by severing its relationship with Michael Welly, Ocean Properties is giving a clear signal that it is abandoning the previous application and approach. Only time and Ocean Properties will tell.
Whitney Beach woes
Other residents and snowbirds who will be returning over the next month will take note that while the Town has created zoning opportunities for Whitney Beach Plaza through an overlay district, nothing else has changed.
In fact, the manager of the property, Richard Giuliani, told the Town and Longboat Key News last Spring that within 90 days a major renovation would commence and the complex would receive a complete makeover. Not only has that not happened, but the deterioration continues with only a handful of tenants remaining.
But for those who look carefully at Longboat Key, the picture is not all dour and depressing.
Testimony of the desire for residential redevelopment is the $1.88 million addition underway at the historic Yonkers property at 6633 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The owners, Robert and William Hutcheson of Alberta, Canada, have undertaken a 10,000 square-foot addition to the existing home, which is about 3,000 square-feet.
From Gulf of Mexico Drive the addition appears as a new home, but the existing home is hidden on the Gulf side. The plans on file with the Town show extensive landscaping, along with a pool and lagoon to be added as part of the project.
This continues the trend on Longboat for sizable additions and luxury homes replacing the older housing stock primarily along the Gulf front.
Another positive on the Gulf side of Longboat Key is the Hilton’s plan to add 85 tourism units to its hotel operation and undertake a complete renovation starting in 2013. The Hilton, also owned by Ocean Properties, will have a complete gutting of its existing rooms and reconstruction along with a new restaurant, bar and other amenities. The Town expects that the Planning & Zoning Board and Commission will be considering the redevelopment plan for approval as soon as the coming January and February.
The Town said in conversations with Ocean Properties that it was conveyed that the Hilton will close for one season and perform all the construction at once rather than to try and navigate guests through an ongoing project.
Perhaps even more fundamental to residents is the near-completion of the new Publix store and retail shops at Avenue of the Flowers. Unlike the Colony where ownership is muddled, and the Key Club where development rights are debatable, Publix has been an exercise in efficiency in execution.
According to Longboat Planning & Zoning Director Robin Meyer, the contractor will soon turn the store over to Publix to allow the grocer to complete its in-store set up. The store is functionally complete but all the inventory, office functions and details must be executed by Publix to make good on their commitment to open in time for the public to do its Christmas dinner shopping for 2012.
As for the retailers moving into the newly constructed spaces, the Town says Longboat Key Dental headed by Dr. Larry Kassouf, White Sands Cleaners, Nails of Longboat Key and Your Fitness Instructor will all be tenants in the new center. There have been “rumblings” about a restaurant moving to the site, but to date there have been no reports of a commitment.
Currently, many of those shops and the construction headquarters are in the last remaining building of the old Avenue of the Flowers (the part which housed Nosh-A-Rye). The Town says the final phase, after those tenants relocate, will be to demolish the old “Nosh-A-Rye” wing.
For residents returning to Longboat little has changed physically at the Colony except a recent effort by the unit owners to clean the property up and present a less tawdry image.
The Town has a limited role other than granting or not granting extensions to the tourism zoning. The Town recently approved an additional extension of one year starting Jan. 1, 2013, which preserves the historic 237-unit count at the Colony. But that approval came with a set of conditions to keep the property landscaped, rat and raccoon free and in compliance with maintenance standards to be evaluated by the Town Manager.
Town Manager Dave Bullock said a major role for Town Hall comes into play when the Colony actually applies for permits to renovate or reconstruct.
Bullock said that the first thing the Town will need to see is proof of ownership or control of the property.
The recent court decisions placed ownership control of the units and the 15 acres they are on in the hands of the unit owners. In essence, the ruling ended the possibility of Murf Klauber being reinstated as the operator of the resort. Instead, the court awarded Klauber more than $20 million in damages for the unit owners’ failure to pay assessments and thereby making the closing of the resort inevitable.
In essence, ownership and control of the Colony is clearer, but the ownership faces a new liability of about $100,000 per unit.
Bullock said the next step the Town will take when a permit is applied for is to review any application against the Town Codes and make sure that it meets State and Federal codes as well. Then the Town could issue permits once it works through any and all issues.
If the Colony owners’ seek to renovate, the Town would have to keep a running tally of renovation costs versus assessed value. Federal and Town law only allows a certain amount of improvements to be made to homes that are in a flood plain or hazard zone.
Finally, when a request for occupancy comes, the Town would have to make a zoning determination. It would have to decide if the Colony was truly operating as a hotel.
Bullock says the Colony has 12 months starting Jan. 1 to accomplish the above or it must ask for another extension to grandfather its zoning rights.
Islandside under review
According to Bullock there is no application pending whatsoever for the Islandside redevelopment. Bullock said since the approved application was overturned in court, Ocean Properties would be staring a redevelopment process from scratch with the new Planning & Zoning Director Robin Meyer.
The Town amended surgically several Zoning codes as well as the Comprehensive Plan anticipating that the Key Club would resubmit the same application a court ruled as illegal under the Town Codes when it was adopted. The changes were made specifically to help guarantee approval of a reapplication that appears will not be arriving.
Bullock said Ocean Properties may or may not wish to make use of those changes and has given no indication to date.
The above state of development on Longboat Key may soon get another twist. The Town has sent out a Request For Proposals to undertake a long-range planning process to help Town leaders form policies that reflect the kind of community desired over the next decades.
Many Commissioners felt the Town was being reactive and planning on the fly and the Board approved spending about $125,000 to hire a firm to help in the planning and implementation process. Bullock said he has six proposals so far and a committee is evaluating them. Bullock said staff will make a recommendation and will ask the Commission how is wishes to proceed. The goal, according to Bullock, is “to help us gain a better understanding of what we should be doing in anticipation of Longboat Key’s future.”