Key Club plan hinges on voters

Editor & Publisher

Longboat residents will be asked to vote by mail ballots that will be sent out April 22 whether to approve tourism units at the Key Club’s Islandside property. This request for approval forms the basis of the owner’s redevelopment plans.


A different approach

The last time the redevelopment of the Islandside property was under consideration, it divided the Longboat Key community with hundreds of residents fighting what it said was an oversized development that violated Longboat’s land-use policies and was simply not permissible.

Loeb Properties owned the Key Club at that time, and was unable to reach a compromise with property owners and yet was granted approval by the Town of Longboat Key in 2010.

That approval was overturned in court and the town’s land use codes were forced by court order to be remedied before any future development could be considered.

Subsequently as well, Loeb sold the Longboat Key Club Resort to Ocean Properties, one of the largest privately-held hotel owner and operator in the nation.

Ocean Properties Vice President Mark Walsh has spent the last two years working with neighbors, the Town of Longboat Key, as well as his own planners and designers to come up with a redevelopment concept that neighbors would find acceptable and in his hope would become a landmark resort attracting top-tier guests and conference goers over the coming decades.

“We have taken a plan that at one time was divisive and have made it inclusive,” said Walsh.

Walsh is pragmatic in his approach when he says the Key Club at Islandside is stuck architecturally and in its overall appearance in the 1970s when much of it was constructed and therefore must be updated and critical amenities incorporated in the plan to make the resort viable.

“We’ve met with our neighbors and the Islandside Property Owners Coalition and listened to their concerns and what they would like to see on the site,” said Walsh.

Walsh explained that the resort has experienced years of deferred maintenance in its facilities and restaurant and that the overall look has remained the same year after year.

“The location is perfect. We have the beach, the arts and everything the area has to offer. But something has to be done for us to compete at the level we need to in the market,” said Walsh.


Signifigant changes to plan…

Walsh sees the necessity for a meeting space as perhaps the primary ingredient in attracting groups in the shoulder seasons when occupancy drops off. Part of the dilemma is that they Key Club cannot market to high end corporate clients without having thousands of square feet of meeting space with break out rooms connected to a luxury hotel, and that is what is being proposed.

What Walsh and Ocean Properties are banking on is that residents will recognize and appreciate the effort they have undertaken to minimize the impact on neighbors and all the while allow a complete upgrade of the property.

One thing residents found objectionable in Loeb’s plan was the fact that a stand-alone conference center and three-story parking garage was planned to be built north of Key Club Road and those facilities would have eliminated the driving range.

Eliminating the driving range was something many Club members objected to and Loeb simply offered to shuttle golfers to the driving range at Harbourside.

Another issue is the hotel Loeb planned was slated to be built south of Key Club Road next to the water beside the Chart House Restaurant and yet each and every conference attendee would either have to drive or walk across Key Club Road to get to the proposed conference center.Loeb also proposed a larger scale and overall more impactful development. With Ocean Properties, much of that has changed.

In Ocean Properties’ proposal, all development will occur south of Key Club Road, which will be slightly altered and moved northward along a small section. The driving range will remain and the overall proposal is to build seven villas that will be 1.5 stories each, a 250-unit hotel, a 48-unit condominium at the site of the current Chart House Restaurant, and a 45-unit condominium on the west side of the development site in the area west of the existing now-closed tennis courts.

Bob White reacts

Perhaps no Longboat Key resident spent more time, money or energy fighting Loeb’s proposal than IPOC President Bob White.

Ocean Properties has worked with White and IPOC to arrive at a summary of agreed upon conditions, which is essentially a laundry list of concessions and guarantees made by the Key Club to minimize the impact of any future development in trade for IPOC agreeing not to fight the proposal.

White speaks well of Ocean Properties’ effort.

“I think they are doing it the correct way. By moving the road north, they have eliminated the multi-story parking structure, spa, villas and condominiums on the north side. The conference rooms are now built into the hotel as opposed to being in a separate building, which was across the road and traffic. Keeping the driving range is a plus, and Ocean Properties has agreed to a 25-year restriction on density,” said White.

When asked directly if he was going to vote on May 12 in support of granting the Key Club the necessary tourism units to allow the plan, White paused and said he truly has not made up his mind and was not going to recommend a vote to anyone.


Town to blame says White

White explained that what is complicated for him is that he really thinks highly of Mark Walsh and Ocean Properties and says they are clearly end users, run a strong operation, and will do a fine job. His lingering objections have more to do with the town commission and its relaxing of development rules and interpretation of development rights that have fostered the likelihood of additional Longboat Key development. That bothers him mainly because he says the quality of life is suffering because of traffic.

“The traffic impact and not just at the Key Club, but of all the unbuilt units that will eventually come online at The Colony as well as the Hilton, and now the Key Club, will add about 500 units to Longboat Key. The reality is we are pretty much built out and I don’t think that the town should be approving additional units whether residential or tourism,” said White.

White then spoke of Sarasota bringing in an additional 900 new hotel rooms in the near future as well as several new condominium projects.

That being said, White noted what is compelling is that Ocean Properties has made a proposal that is significantly better than the previous one which was approved by the town. He said Ocean Properties has been very cooperative and interested in discussing concerns right down to agreeing to the conditions that it negotiated with IPOC. The conditions agreed upon between IPOC and Ocean Properties include:

• No requests for additional density for 25 years without agreement from IPOC

• Town/FDOT must extend the left turn lane at the stoplight

• A negotiated reduction of 25 units on the south parcel

• The movement of the road and gatehouse to mutually agreed upon locations

• A separate entrance lane for residents between GMD and the gatehouse

• No amplified music or other sounds after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

• No more than 10 special events per year and a maximum of three during the busy season

The only agreed upon condition that benefits Ocean Properties in its negotiation with IPOC is the final condition that states, “We agree not to oppose the referendum or the development plan, but are not obligated to support them.”

The above conditions have been signed off on by Mark Walsh and Ocean Properties and are currently in the hands of IPOC members, which are the Associations of most of the condominium buildings in the Islandside property.

When asked if he thought the referendum on May 12 will be approved, White demurred, “I would be surprised if it was a landslide, I think it will be close – too close to call.”

White elaborated, saying that the people he spoke with on the north end of the Key seemed to be in support of the measure. He added that Longboat is just coming off of the peak season for traffic, and when people talk about the ballot to add more hotel rooms, “it will give pause,” said White.

Walsh says the traffic issue is one his organization takes very seriously and will not only engineer several improvements both in and out of the Key Club, but is working with FDOT officials to help more regional solutions that are affecting the region year after year.

Another part of what Walsh sees as his model of success is actually improving the very ameneties the resort offers to keep guests in place and staying on property.


Referendum realities

Part of what makes the traffic issue relative is the fact that the town recognizes the ability of the Key Club to currently add up to 500 residential units without any voter approval. What the Club is asking of voters is to allow up to 300 of the existing residential units to be used for tourism rather than as condominiums or homes. That is what requires voter approval.

For its part, the town commission has undertaken a pioneer move in the May 12 referendum in requiring the Key Club to pay for a mail ballot to go to each registered voter. That has never been done in Longboat’s history, but the commission wanted to make sure voters were reached especially since many have left the area by then.

The ballots will be sent out to voters on April 22 and must be returned within 20 days. They will only be mailed to the address on file with the Manatee and Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Offices. The ballots will not be forwarded by the Post Office and Town Clerk Trish Granger says anyone who has changed their address or who wants to request an absentee ballot should call 941-741-3823 in Manatee County and 941-861-8600 in Sarasota County to reach the Supervisor of Elections. Or, they can call Town Hall at 316-1999 for more information.

In closing, Walsh spoke of the more than $10 million Ocean Properties has spent to upgrade its golfing facilities on Longboat Key, renovate the clubhouses and make the overall operations more viable. He pointed out that Ocean Properties is strictly an end user, and was founded by his father and has been family-run over the past 50 years and currently owns and manages 130 hotels with five under construction.

“We will renovate and improve the property with our own equity and our own money, and this investment will translate into a renewed Key Club we believe will be something in which all of Longboat Key can be proud,” said Walsh.


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