North end hotel plan needs better solution

Guest columnist

American philosopher William James, once said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

Now is the time for the voters of Longboat Key to act – to make a difference for those who value the quality of Longboat Key life today and for those who will inherit this precious place long after many of us are gone. On August 30 voters will decide on a referendum that allows for the rezoning of 2.6 acres bordering Gulf of Mexico Drive – a quarter mile from the north gateway to Longboat Key, adjacent to a neighborhood of single-family homes and historic cottages and directly across the road from two- story condominiums and beachfront homes.

Floridays Development is spearheading the referendum for the purpose of bringing a 120 – room limited- service hotel to Longboat Key. Their preliminary plan calls for rooms of just under 400 sq. ft. each, in four stories with few amenities and no beach access – a project that cannot be accurately defined as upscale, boutique or resort.

Clearly, tourism is an important component of our island life. Tourists help support our businesses and, as was the case for many of us, a weekend stay often turns into a significant real estate purchase here. With the loss of tourism units to residential development over the years, town commissioners were wise to introduce a referendum in 2008 making a pool of 250 tourism units available to developers. When Longboat Key voters approved that first referendum eight years ago it would have been hard to imagine the vote would carry with it the potential for rezoning and significant density increases. The August 30 referendum that is now before us allows the 2.6 acres in question to be rezoned to T-6, making way for the developer to absorb 120 of the available tourism units in the pool; in real terms the T-6 rezone translates to a density increase from a total of 15 units to 120 units, an 800% increase.

A more reasonable alternative for increasing tourism is to allocate new units to our existing beachfront resorts like the Colony or Longboat Key Club – properties already zoned for tourism use. There are active plans at both of these resorts to increase their tourism units, therefore in the near future demand for additional tourism units will be easily met without the need to award units to a developer who needs a rezone and significant density increase.

A recent Longboat Observer editorial paints the picture of myopic north-end residents with an “I-Got-Mine” attitude; the use of this negative stereotype simply takes the focus off the real issues at hand.  A rejection of the proposed hotel is not about the threat of attracting low-rent commercial development like a tattoo parlor, a pawnshop or Goodwill store, as was recently suggested in a direct mailer favoring the development – does the sender of this mailer really believe Longboat voters are this naïve? Nor is this about a threat to our property values. In fact, even with the existing 2.6 acres in its current state, according to MLS the average price of all Longboat Key homes and condos sold in the past 12 months has increased 17% over the previous 12 months – by any standard that is a robust market showing the opposite of declining value. And in the past few years there have been an unprecedented number of new single-family estate homes and condominiums built from mid key to north key – some of the highest value new real estate island wide. Turns out, in the midst of the development boom occurring around the state, it may actually be Longboat’s respect for its density codes and lack of intense development that makes our island more desirable and more valuable than ever.

Opinions aside, let’s look at the facts of Longboat Key Ordinance #158.180  – the regulation that governs the distribution of the 250 tourism units in the pool – it includes the following provisions:

“The quality and location of such units shall benefit the public interest of Longboat Key, while being compatible with and not detrimental to the character of the area.”  The ordinance defines the nature of a proposed development as BETTER or BEST:

• BEST ZONING: Meets current zoning constraints without departures.

• BEST SITE: The site is of sufficient size to accommodate the scale of the proposed project while avoiding adverse impacts to adjacent parcels and surrounding area.

• BEST BUILDING HEIGHT:  Buildings are similar in height to existing buildings that will remain on the site and to buildings on adjoining parcels.

• BEST OPEN SPACE: Open spaces are sited and designed to provide maximum visual appeal to surrounding properties.

Further, the Town of Longboat Key Mission Statement reads:

“Longboat Key is a beautiful place to live, work, and visit where the natural assets of a barrier island combine with the cultural and recreational amenities, visionary planning, and proactive leadership to enhance your way of life.”

With both the facts of the ordinance and the town mission statement in mind, ask yourselves the hard questions about Floridays’ plan.

• Does the plan adhere to current zoning? NO.

• Is there adequate space for maximum visual appeal, minimizing adverse impacts to adjacent parcels and surrounding areas? NO.

• Does the plan enhance our natural assets and amenities? NO.

• Does the plan demonstrate visionary planning and leadership? NO.

• Does a zoning change and density increase for the purpose of developing a mid-range hotel with no significant amenities, enhance your own way of life? NO.

For an environmentally-fragile, hurricane vulnerable barrier island, already feeling strain on its surrounding infrastructure, the proposed high-density, intensive development appears to be less than a responsible choice for today or tomorrow’s Longboat Key. A rezone request like this is unprecedented; zoning changes and density increases of this magnitude are generally only seen in urban redevelopment districts. There are other more compatible development plans that would be welcome by many residents – whether they live on the south, north, or center of the key.

As you consider your vote on August 30, ask yourself these questions – is this the right project in the right place? Is the scale of the development, on the edge of an already congested road at a busy pedestrian crossing, the right fit for the neighborhood?  Is this project reminiscent of another controversial development right on the road, at the gateway to downtown Sarasota?  Is this what you envision for Longboat Key?  Once built, there is no turning back.

When the referendum comes up for vote on Aug. 30 how will you act? A “no” vote gives us the opportunity to rethink this development, to work toward a solution that is better fit for the entire island, and to make a real difference.

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1 Response for “North end hotel plan needs better solution”

  1. Bob Bunting says:

    Good article! I agree it is not fair to always call north end neighborhoods troublemakers if they object to development that isn’t “Best” by any standards. The tourist units should be dispersed Key wide and not concentrated in one or two locations. Has anyone thought about the sewerage from a densely packed site with 400 people coming and going daily? There is a lift station for sewerage near the old gas station but it is not sized for an additional 120 rooms plus hotel staff with an 86% occupancy rate as forecast by Floridays. To build a new lift station will cost millions of $$. I bet the company doesn’t have that cost in their plan. Who is going to pay for needed improvements? Why should taxpayers be bear the burden? Will Floridays pay the full tax assessment like beach side properties pay on LBK. Since hundreds of people will be crossing GMD daily and/or parking cars along neighborhood streets to use the beach shouldn’t the hotel pay a full beach tax? Will they also pay to pick up garbage that is sure to be thrown in yards of private homes and condos? Michael makes great points in his article and Steve Reed did a superb job in his earlier article. There are many costs to this project. Some are financial and others will very negatively impact the quality of life on LBK. Let’s not set a seriously negative precident in voting on the upcoming referendum. There are other viable options like quality residential development that has been a big hit with buyers as Michael pointed out. On August 30th…Vote No…please.

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