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Our Town ought help, not harm the Colony debacle

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The Colony Dining room has been closed for four years and perhaps the only movement on a fork these days at the site is the misdirection our town leaders are taking as they collectively wander down a forked path that will only cost taxpayers money and themselves critical time and assets.

Specifically, I mean the declaration last month that the town wants to encourage the demolition of the buildings by labeling the structures an official “nuisance” using the inexorable findings of the building department.

And the second and equally critical error is the continued belief that threatening to take away the grandfathered density and their lording over the density as a means to chastise the owners and their lack of legal resolution will help the process in any measure.

The third error was the Town Commission demanding a 500% increase in the cash bond — from $50,000 to $250,000 — to protect the town from any costs it might incur between last month and next April to rectify any unfixed code issues or necessary costs.

 

Cause and effect

And now the Colony has sued the Town and a judge has agreed that the Town must show cause and substantiation as to why the five-fold bond increase is warranted after the Town has not had to spend a single penny of the $50,000 it holds already.

Adding injury is the Town’s debate and discussion of the issue was rife with strange comments by Commissioner Lynn Larson about how much she pays for landscaping at her home and the noise about a fire alarm that still seems to be inoperable.

But as we will soon find out, the Commission was excessive, unmeasured and lacked the diplomacy one would hope for in leaders charged with managing the situation for our community.

 

Lost time, energy

And what has been lost in all this is critical time and energy. It is the cost of inaction on the part of the Town Commission relative to the 17.2 acre site.

What is squandered is in the four years since the Colony has closed, we have left any prospective developer of the site one of the greatest contingencies imaginable — what will the Town allow even if the developer were to reconcile the parties and bring money to the table?

 

Add value, not liability

And it should not be so. The Town should concern itself with the critical questions that can and will add real tangible value to the property today, not sit on the sidelines like angry and belligerent and frustrated village elders rendered impotent as the courts decide the ownership issues.

The fact is, the Town can and ought to define what it wishes to see at the site and codify and imbue the site with those zoning allowances.

Right now, as we all tediously know, the site is zoned six units per acre, while it operated for more than 40 years with 252 units on its site, an average of more than 14 units per acre.

And whose fault is that? The Town has known it wants the Colony rebuilt since the day it closed. It also has a pool of 250 allowable Tourism units residents voted to add to any site the Town deems appropriate. The Town also has a rebuild ordinance that can be modified as well as a grandfathering ordinance that can be altered.

In other words, if we want to see redevelopment and want to see the Colony developed with real capital and capability, we need to allow the property tangible and developable realities.

The zoning ought be changed to a minimum of 20 units per acre. Perhaps the Town can mandate that in redeveloped Tourism zones or at that site, that of 346 then allowable units, the original 252 must be Hotel/Tourism units and the other 94 remaining can be sold as supplementary condominium residences to add value to the project.

Perhaps that ratio of about 65% tourism units and 35% condominium units must be maintained if the developer opts to build a different or smaller amount of units.

Realize that if redeveloped, a couple acres of parking can go underneath the structures and the site will grow far taller.

How tall will the Town allow the buildings and should we not be thinking and talking about what the tallest structures at the Colony should be and not wait to react to the pressure and push of a developer and then back into these questions?

And what of the acres dedicated to the tennis and amenities?

Also, the Colony has operated and has been treated legally as a resort with amenities including a restaurant, tennis courts and recreational uses. Is the Town going to zone or incentivize or use its zoning to encourage public restaurants and amenities?

What about the distance of future buildings from neighbors and from Gulf of Mexico Drive?

 

Antiquated rules

Obviously the rules in place are antiquated and of a bygone era. The prescription for the Town is instead of beating its head against the pavement over how to stock an infertile crescent of land behind Publix with new life, we ought to immediately be researching the most intensive and valuable and greatest developable potential of the Colony site and make rules that make that possible.

I am not talking about over-building — I am talking about vesting the legal rights of the maximum development in size and scope we want to allow as a way to add value and reality to the players and landowners and parties involved.

After all, we saw the debacle this Commission foisted on the community at the Key Club. In short, the property owner did not know what the town would allow legally at the site. Neither did we. And the property did not have vested rights, it only had a process we tried and control and interpret on the fly in the face of a development proposal that was opposed by neighbors.

And what did we do? We bungled, spent hundreds of thousands in legal fees and damaged our own land-use policies in a way that still is affecting our ability to make decisions.

So let’s focus all or almost all of of our energies on what we want to see at the Colony and not just sit around getting angry and frustrated. The town needs to take that 17.2 acres and determine a viable and legal building envelope that will encourage redevelopment.

That, if nothing more, will be of immense value in telling a potential suitor — “This town wants your investment.”

 

 

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3 Responses for “Our Town ought help, not harm the Colony debacle”

  1. Colony Ex-Worker says:

    How about this? The entire site should be bulldozed and a public park with public beach access put in for all to enjoy.

  2. Blake Fleetwood says:

    The owners of the Colony need the help of the Town, not more threats, and ultimatums.

    We are faced the with loss of our homes,,, many of which are perfectly viable. Some could best be rebuilt.

    The main problem with redevelopment has been the lack of investment funds from credible developers following the recession of 07… Nobody wants to put up $150 million when resorts all over are losing money. The only developers out there are flim flam artists with no money.

    The Town officials don’t seem to understand this overwhelming reality. The Colony should never have been closed in the first place.

    The Town and the Directors pushed the Colony to close with outrageous water bills,( when nobody was living there,) a demand for expensive sewer inspections and violations for repairs that had been made decades before — like installing an Air Conditioner without a licenced electrician.

    Most of the problems were cosmetic and existed for decades. The Colony could have been open for the last four years with help and support from the Town. It was closed for nothing.

    Instead the Town and the Colony directors adopted an “all or nothing” policy and what followed was disaster after disaster.

    Instead spending Town funds on inspectors, and law suits, the Town should help the owners who want to spend money reopen their units and stop putting up barriers for owners who want to fix up our homes.

    Blake Fleetwood

  3. Thoms Fortune Ryan says:

    After having ready your columns over the past several years on issues pertaining to your local elected personages it has become apparent that even a “blind man riding a race horse backwards through the Eisenhower Tunnel” could see what was the RIGHT thing to do with the communities tax money.

    The quality of an elected official is not based on how much they are compensated (just look at the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives) but on how much individual integrity and effort they are putting forward to secure equity for their community and NOT for themselves!

    The present composition of your elected leadership needs a strong reassessment as to their true objectives; service to the community or self-serving economic aggrandizement.

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