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Whitney Plaza owner seeks hotel-condominium solution

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The owner of Whitney Beach Plaza on the north end of Longboat Key, says that despite negative feedback from several hotel developers he has found two parties interested in constructing a condo-hotel.  To that end, plaza owner Ryan Snyder wishes to hold a public referndum to allow the zoning of the property to accomodate that concept.

Snyder wrote to Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Director Alaina Ray asking her the process for applying for a re-zone of the property, the process for seeking a public referendum as well as an outline of his concerns and considerations. The following is Snyder’s and Ray’s exchange of letters on the subject.

 

To: Director Planning and Zoning Department Alaina Ray

“Despite the negative feedback I’ve received from several hotel developers, I’ve continued to reach out to prospective 3rd parties who may have an interest. Two parties have come back and expressed an interest in constructing a condo-hotel. One developer provided the following as an example:

6080 Collins Avenue Beach House

Please note the condo-hotel in the link is just an example and not the actual developer (or interested third party). I raised concerns with both of these developers pointing to the fact that Longboat Key would likely consider it to be residential housing (and not tourism units).  Both developers responded that restrictions could be placed on the units to prohibit permanent housing (i.e. each unit owner would be limited to 2-3 months usage per year).    Alternatively, the developer would stipulate that only a certain percentage of the units could be offered for sale and the remainder would be limited to hotel usage. Both stated the project would be professionally managed and flagged with a national brand.

Of everyone I’ve spoke with to date, here are the main points/issues that have been raised:

1.   The cost to acquire Whitney Plaza and the commercial parcels to the North will likely cost in the $6mm – $7mm range.  If the cost of land is in the $6mm – $7mm range, a hotel will not work based on occupancy rates and average daily room rates in the area. The only way it could potentially work is if all parcels were acquired for significantly less or the hotel was just pursued on the Whitney Plaza site.

2.   There is no sand in the back yard. One developer initially expressed interest, but he said the only way he would move forward is if the Town of LBK deeded him the public beach access across the street so he could construct an amenity building for hotel guests’ exclusive use.

3.  Average occupancy rate for Longboat Key is 70%, ADR is $161.00, and RevPAR is $114.00.  These figures do not support a $20mm+ hotel development. Moreover, these figures make it impossible to obtain 50-75% financing which will be required for the project.

4.  Height limitations and site coverage limitations in the town of Longboat Key hamper development.

5.  Demographics – Most who visit Longboat Key are not seeking a “hotel” room. A 1-2 bedroom unit with a kitchen is more feasible.

 

I’ve spent a limited amount of time looking into the condo-hotel concept, but from what I can see, Hilton, Marriot, W Hotel, 4 Seasons, etc. all have flagged condo-hotels. I believe the main reason these developers are looking at the condo-hotel concept is financing. If they could get enough units pre-sold, they could overcome the financing hurdle and make the project a reality. Both have expressed an interest of putting 50-70, 1-2 bedroom units on the property with a 24 hour reception desk and possibly a restaurant/meeting space.      Before I spend any further time working with these developers, I have a few questions:

1.  Is a referendum required for the condo-hotel if restrictions are placed on occupancy?

2.  Is a referendum required if it is mixed-use (i.e. 20 units are offered for sale and 40 units are used exclusively for tourism)?

3.  I realize the town does not want a 6-story building towering over the area, so height limitations will be adhered to.  Will the town consider a variance for lot coverage?  Increased coverage is the only way to make this concept (or a hotel for that matter) work.

If the condo-hotel concept is a dead end, please just let me know so I don’t waste anymore time on this issue. Like everyone else, I love the “hotel” idea, but most of those who could make it a reality tell me it will not work. If you or anyone else in the Town have alternative suggestions/ideas, I’m open to anything at this point. Thank you in advance for your assistance and guidance with this matter.

Ryan Snyder

Snyder Law Group, P.A.

Bradenton

 

To: Ryan Snyder

I appreciate you sharing this information with me. Your continued efforts to find a viable solution for the Whitney Plaza are to be commended, especially considering the challenges involved.

As to your specific questions, the Town Charter does require a referendum, regardless of whether the units are intended for residential or tourism use. The referendum can be conducted at the regular election cycle or by mail-only ballot. While the mail-only ballot carries a higher cost, it saves a considerable amount of time since it is not tied to a general election.

For the type of developments outlined below, the best option would be to seek a referendum and a rezoning to the T-6 zoning district, which allows up to six tourism and/or residential units per acre. If the referendum and rezoning were approved, the property would then also be eligible for additional tourism units, over and above the 6/units per acre, from a “pool” of available units to be distributed at the discretion of the Town Commission. Originally there were 250 of these tourism units in the “pool;” the former Hilton acquired 85 units last year, leaving 167 tourism units still available for distribution.

As to a variance, the Zoning Board of Adjustment does have authority to grant variances for lot coverage, so that option could be explored.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions. As always, I would be happy to meet with you and any potential developers as you explore options for this property.

Alaina Ray

Director Planning Zoning & Building Department

Longboat Key

 

To: Director Planning and Zoning Department Alaina Ray

Thank you for your response. Is there any information you can provide to me on the referendum process as I would like to get it started? Specifically, I would like to proceed with the mail-only ballot. Will the Town require any conceptuals or plans of the condo-hotel pre-referendum or is that something addressed post-referendum (assuming it is approved)? Thank you again for your assistance.

Ryan Snyder

Snyder Law Group, P.A.

Bradenton

 

To: Ryan Snyder

There are no plans or conceptual drawings required for the referendum itself, though some level of conceptualization may be useful for public information. Ocean Properties recently held a referendum for tourism units at the Longboat Key Club; they purchased several full-page ads in the local newspapers and met with interested resident groups regarding their plans for the property.

The referendum should be requested by formal letter. As an example, I have attached a copy of the letter that was submitted to the Town on behalf of Ocean Properties, as it is a good template to use. Once the letter is received, the Planning Staff will take the matter before the Town Commission in the form of an Ordinance, which will establish the language for the ballot question. The Ordinance must go to a Commission Workshop and then two Public Hearings before adoption, so it usually takes approximately three months to get through the Ordinance adoption process.

Once the Ordinance is adopted, our Town Clerk, Trish Granger, will coordinate the referendum with the County election offices. Trish can assist you with the cost of the referendum and the election timing. I have copied her on this email for your convenience.

If the referendum is successful, the next step would be to pursue a change to the Future Land Use (FLU) and Zoning District. That is the stage when a more comprehensive application package would be submitted. However, specific plans and drawings are not required until Site Plan approval is sought, which takes place after the FLU and Zoning District are changed.

These processes can be challenging to navigate; so please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff for assistance and to answer any questions that may arise.

Alaina Ray

Director Planning and Zoning Department

Longboat Key

 

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