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Longboat Commission extends Colony rights until August 2016; Town pushed for permanent zoning

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The room count remains intact at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort following the Town of Longboat Key’s affirmation of a request to continue grandfathering the existing 237 units until Aug. 15, 2016.

The Town Commission was charged with making a decision on the grandfathering request because Town Code dictates that nonconforming uses must revert to underlying zoning one year after the use has ceased, which constitutes the owner’s abandonment of the allowed uses and nonconformities.

In short, the Colony closed its doors and ceased operating as a hotel and restaurant on August 15, 2010. That started the clock ticking since the 17.3-acre site is only zoned to allow six units per acre — a total of about 104 units. The Colony parties requested and the Commission granted a total of three previous requests to grandfather the 237 units on the site.

 

The stress of lawsuits

In the past, the grandfathering requests were met with strong admonishments and pressure from the commissioners toward the Colony Association of Unit owners to reach a resolution and get redevelopment of the property underway.

For its part, the Association has continuously stressed legal constraints — meaning the myriad of lawsuits between the owner interests — as the main factor precluding redevelopment.

The Commission has tied the approval of the grandfathering to requirements of property maintenance and a bond securing performance of maintenance.

At the Monday, April 7 meeting, the Commission extended the grandfathering to the maximum extant allowed under town code — August 15, 2016. That represents five years from the year after the date the Colony closed and the uses were abandoned according to code language discussed on Monday that abandonment occurs a year after a use ceases. Town code allows a maximum of five years worth of extensions.

 

Agitation toward process

At the meeting, the Commission was met with some agitated Colony unit owners who faulted the Town for not proactively zoning the Colony or creating a zoning overlay district to reflect what the owners, the Town and allegedly the community wants — the rebuilding of a tourist resort similar in scale and unit count as to what existed for 40 years on the site.

Some owners have grown resentful that they have to not only battle each other, but also grovel before the Commission to hold onto the density they say is needed to secure a developer. They say the Commission, because it has not made an effort over the past four years to zone the property to reflect what it wishes to see, is actually creating a liability in the eyes of any potential developer and in effect is making the securing of financial commitments much more difficult.

 

Help us, please

Colony Unit Owner Blake Fleetwood took stern issue with the ongoing concept of requesting grandfathering rights to the units.

“American is a place where your home is your castle. Except it seems on Longboat Key these quintessentially American rules don’t seem to count.  Make no mistake about it: If you take away the grandfathered zoning, you will be taking away my home,” said Fleetwood at the meeting.

“Threats of downzoning and demolition are not helpful,” said Fleetwood. He added that he has attempted to fix small things at his Colony unit — a trellis and the electric system and he has met resistance and denial to pull permits from town hall. “The building department said it is not possible,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood implored the Town to help: “So let’s stop wasting our time and your time with threats of downzoning and demolition. These distractions are coming at the worst possible time when real progress is about to happen. Instead, we need you commissioners to help us. We need your help in creating a climate where a developer will want to come in and buy the Colony and create the finest resort on the West Coast of Florida. After five years of disaster for every resort hotel in the nation, the economic conditions are finally becoming favorable to development.”

 

Finger in the eye…

Mayor Jim Brown spoke back at Fleetwood.

“I am always amazed when people stick their finger in my eye and then ask me to help them out. You chewed me out and forgot to thank us for last four years that we helped you out,” said Brown.

Resident Larry Grossman also faulted the Town Commission’s approach to the Colony density and grandfathering.

“We should abandon this outdated approach. The unit owners did not create the nonconformities — the property was downzoned in the 1980s. This approach is counter productive and not getting us anywhere,” Grossman said.

Grossman said the Town does not have the proper zoning on the site and should not keep proceeding with six unit per acre zoning and using nonconformities and zoning departures as a means to allow Colony redevelopment.

“You are going through the same stuff that got you in trouble in the Longboat Key Club,” said Grossman.

Grossman argued we should not use the threat of taking away building rights as a means to get the owners to do what we want them to do. He referred to the Town as using the density as a “threat.”

One Colony unit owner, Si Sherr, said no developer is willing to invest the $150 million needed to redevelop the property with grandfathered zoning.

“Nobody is going to put good money down on something that does not have good zoning. There is still the underlying threat that if we do not do something we could lose the zoning,” Sherr said.

After he was done speaking, Commissioner Phill Younger asked Sherr when he bought his unit at the Colony. Sherr responded, “a couple of years ago.”

To that Younger said, “Well then you bought your unit with grandfathered rights. I thought you just said you would never buy property that has grandfathered rights.”

Sherr answered that he did not buy the Colony unit, “It was a giveaway.“

Commissioner Terry Gans said the whole talk supports what he has been saying for months — to memorialize the Colony density so it can be a vested right, not something grandfathered.

 

Stipulations

Town Manager Dave Bullock suggested that the resolution to continue the grandfathering have a requirement of continuing he $50,000 bond the Town holds to guarantee performance of maintenance on the property as stipulated in the resolution under consideration. Bullock also suggested requiring the Association install an eight-foot fence around the property to address several issues such as trespassing, any nuisance animals as well as securing the site in general. The Association agreed to the fence with the understanding that some existing six-foot high sections would be incorporated. The Association also agreed to the continuation of a $50,000 bond.

The Commission for its part agreed by unanimous vote to continue the grandfathering of the unit count density of 237 units to the extant allowed by Town Code — August 15, 2016.

It was stated at the meeting that the Town could always amend its code if it sought further continuances. Also, Mayor Brown said during the meeting that he was not in favor of the Town “nuisance” proceedings and thought the fence and regulating the site a more productive approach.

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1 Response for “Longboat Commission extends Colony rights until August 2016; Town pushed for permanent zoning”

  1. Georgie McFarland says:

    May 9th is the next date to watch in the Colony saga as that’s when the auction of the formerly Klauber controlled assets, land and buildings, will be auctioned.

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