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Let’s stop watching the Colony Porn Channel

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

It is human nature to engage in fantasy. Penthouse, Playboy, romance novels, the xxx Internet, advertising, marketing. All these are nothing less than ways to captivate, titillate and engage us with thoughts and feelings that often try and lure us away from the difficult and all too often unpleasant realities of life.

When it comes to the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort redevelopment a bizarre form of land use porn has emerged and I hear otherwise sane people getting caught up in images and feelings that have little or no basis in anything resembling reality.

Lets take a look at a few of the most popular hits on the Colony Porn Channel.

 

15 minutes to a new you..

This is an alluring idea. It is akin to the ads on TV that say they can take 15 years off your eyelids in 15 minutes. It goes like this:

“We need to rebuild the Colony just as it was. It worked perfectly and we had such great memories. Remember the Monkey Room and the Sunday Brunch? And I like the way you could walk right out of the rooms into the sand. We need that too. That is what the Town needs — the old Colony rebuilt and be done with it.”

This particular image or idea is steeped in nostalgia and fabled by the daughters of memory.

First, the Colony failed financially. There obviously was not enough resources and management structure to adequately maintain the building and the entire ownership structure turned into a termite infested house of cards that collapsed as soon as major repairs were necessary and the funds demanded.

Second, the future Colony must be elevated to comply with FEMA and modern building codes.

Third, the parking that was scattered throughout the site would not be allowed with tennis courts and the buildings due to the amount of lot coverage, which is dictated by strict code.

And finally, the reality is there is not enough money generated by the creation of a 237-unit hotel to pay off the owners, to fund the new development cost and to allow any upside for the developer. A hotel brings money far down the road. That is why most every resort built today uses residential unit presales to fund the the future accrued value of a hotel.

 

Asserting unreality

Another form of Colony Porn is the promotion by a sitting commissioner and our planning and zoning board chairman of the Manfred Welfonder Plan.

Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Jim Brown is a friend of Welfonder. They have played tennis together for years and he has said on numerous occasions that he feels Manfred’s plan is sensible for Longboat Key.

All of the above is of no issue if not the fact that Brown is the Town’s Planning and Zoning Board Chairman and likely will soon sit on the very Commission that will vote on a Colony proposal.

Manfred promises to bring back the Colony as a pure tourism resort. The problem manifests in that the Planning and Zoning board spent the last year crafting exact land use rules that would allow Welfonder’s proposal and disallow the plan that Unicorp is struggling to win approval with votes to allow.

Earlier this year, when the rules went to the Commission, it was Welfonder supporter Commissioner George Spoll who has raised issue after issue to shape the rules to again effectively disallow Whittall’s plan and that would make guess who’s allowable.

I have no problem with residents liking or disliking any plan. It is when our elected and appointed officials start to shape policy and legislate their preferences that my nausea sets in. I hate to think that Spoll, Brown and Manfred engage in some late night ritual all praying for Unicorp’s failure and indulging in their own fantasy of redevelopment.

Manfred Welfonder has been orbiting the Colony like a suitor cruising the parking lot at 2 a.m. hoping to find a relationship — but that relationship will not happen.

And why is the Welfonder plan not viable? Simple. The Colony board of directors has already voted more than once to not support his proposal. In fact, years ago in a settlement agreement that was negotiated between Murf Klauber and the Association when the litigation leading to the Colony closure was in full swing, it was Manfred who said he was going to bring the Marriot Hotel on board and he had 90 days to fulfill that plan. Obviously that failed to materialize.

Another fact is Welfonder owns nothing at the Colony. Unicorp’s Chuck Whittall has bought all of the commercial assets — the spa, restaurant, tennis courts, outbuildings and most of the entrance property. Whittall owns a significant chunk of the smelly Swiss cheese that constitutes the Colony ownership.

In other words, Manfred would have to hope for Whittall’s referendum to fail. He would have to assume Whittall would sell him his assets and he would have to convince the Board of Directors at the Colony and the owners that they should accept an amount of money they feel is nothing short of insulting. In other words it is a non-starter.

We should all be in favor of turning off the Manfred proposal Porn Channel so we can get back to reality.

 

So what to do?

What we are experiencing on Longboat Key is nothing other than enantiodromia. It is as if we collectedly went in one direction as a Town and we are now reversing position. We spent the years following the recession hearing our Town Commission say we need to bring back tourism, we need to support commercialization and we need to foster revitalization.

In many ways it was Spoll and Brown who led the charge. And now with traffic and the fact that it is clear that low density residential commands the highest property values, that is changing course. But undercurrents and threats still exist.

Let’s look at a bit of background.

It was Spoll and Brown who helped approve the original Longboat Key Club proposal that was completely out of character with our island and especially the Islandside community. They supported and approved condominiums north of the Key Club Drive that would have wiped out the driving range.

Residents — hundreds and hundreds of them — fought the plan and spent more than a $1 million fighting their own Commission and overturning the plan in court. The owners of the Key Club sold to Ocean Properties and they came back with a far more reasonable proposal.

At another time, Spoll and Brown championed the Tourism referendum that voters approved allowing the Commission to dole out 250 tourism units.  Brown supported the allocation of 135 of those units to allow the doubling in size of the Hilton hotel, which is now the densest site on the Key and has been renamed “Zota Beach Resort.” It is the hulking monstrosity that resembles a cross between a supermax prison and a cement mixer’s dream.

Along the way, about four years ago, Spoll was urging the town to allow a cell phone tower at Longboat Island Chapel — another idea out of touch with protecting the integrity of our Key.

Now, Brown and Spoll are championing a planned unit development ordinance that will virtually guarantee that every small hotel and condominium unit will come back one day asking for larger — so-called more marketable and modern units — instead of encouraging the down-zoning to the underlying density that exists on the properties today, which would reduce traffic.

In short, the protections afforded by the downzoning of the Key in 1984 by voters are being slowly undermined ordinance by ordinance. This is happening in the background as the Colony is trying to redevelop.

 

The Right Stuff?

Is Whittall’s plan the right plan?

Yes and No.

I am a realist. I do not believe a majority of voters will support the Unicorp plan.

The sentiment to not allow a scintilla of even a potential traffic increase — in spite of the offering of a trolley and mitigation funds — will drive numerous “No” votes.

The other fact is Longboaters see the horseshoe shape of the development plan and they do not see Longboat Key — they feel it belongs somewhere else. Miami/Fort Lauderdale is Dante’s realm where all condo towers are relegated to belong.

Another reason is neighbors have gotten used to the height of the existing structures at the old Colony and they say their views will be forever corrupted.

Nonetheless, Whittall’s selling points are compelling.

The island would benefit from a 5-star resort. One cannot imagine why anyone would take issue with that idea. It would be a destination in a different way than the Colony was, but would place Longboat on the upscale destination map.

Also, the idea of mingling residential with tourism to capitalize the project is a financial reality. The owners need to be essentially bought off. Anyone attempting to redevelop the Colony is in a hostage situation when it comes to buying the unit owners’ approval.  The mercurial Andy Adams, who owns enough units to control the vote, needs to be assuaged and the hotel will have to be funded. All of this is going to happen through the pre-sale of condominiums.

 

Viable variable

So let’s look at the four scenarios that could occur at the Colony

1) The resort is built with 237 hotel units, which have been grandfathered by the Town.

2) The Unicorp Plan for adding 180 residences is approved by voters on March 14 and then the Commission and the unit owners and Whittall move forward with 417 units (180 Residential and 237 Tourism)

3) Whittall comes back after losing the vote and simply builds what is allowed in the underlying zoning — 103 residential units.

4) Whittall comes back after a “No” vote and builds 103 residential units, which he is allowed by right, and is allocated 165 units by the Town Commission out of the existing Tourism Pool, which he is allowed to do without any voter approval.

What I believe is the most likely outcome and what in the end makes the most sense for Longboat Key is option 4.

Option 4 is allowed today. No rules have to be stretched, no special allowances made and without dividing and marketing to our community for or against the plan.

This is not development by seeking consensus. The current rules allow the 103 residential units and by adding the 165 Tourism units a 5-Star resort could be built on the 17.2-acre site.

The result is a compromise that is legal, allowed and both punishes and rewards each party proportionally. Whittall, instead of getting a total of the 417 units he is seeking today, would be allowed a total of 268 units. This totals 15.58 units per acre — far less than the Hilton redevelopment and only 13% more units than the old Colony.

Consider the fact that parking would have to go under the buildings and the additional open space would create a magnificent and expansive property with the kind of landscaping and lushness that could make the Colony a luxurious place to visit. Also, less tourism — with 165 tourism units instead of 237 — means less traffic.

The 103 residential units would generate the funds to capitalize the hotel, pay off the unit owners and support the 5-Star resort vision. The building heights would be far lower and controlled by the zoning in place.

Another plus is the Commission could control and negotiate the site plan with the developer in trade for the 165 tourism units. They could and must demand that the buildings not be ordinary, but architecturally significant and that the hotel be built first.

Right now, the tallest building allowed to be built at the Colony under this scenario is 65 feet over parking — or base flood elevation. That means six stories with roof top decks could be built without a single change to the code.

Imagine for just a moment 103 residential units worth $3 million to $5 million sharing amenities with a 165-room hotel all on a fairly low density resort setting.

 

All good deeds get developed

When a community is painfully divided it means a reconciliation of opposites is necessary so a third idea can emerge. It is like the transcendent function in psychology.

And although it can be said that in compromise everyone loses, the fact remains we have already lost so much. We have lost so many years of vibrancy at the Colony site. The community has sadly grown accustomed to the quiet sun and windswept blight at the shuttered resort and is losing the desire to see something great rise from the vermin. The island residents are acclimating to wood rot, rattraps and chain link fence.

Watch how the vote goes in March and then watch what happens after that. Unless Whittall grows frustrated and someone offers him enough money that he wishes to sell his interests, he will be the developer.

If he decides to sell, the only viable alternative on the horizon is Ocean Properties, owner of the Key Club, the former Hilton, the Sandcastle and Lido Holiday Inn.  Ocean Properties would try and marry the Colony with their numerous existing amenities including the Longboat golf courses and would eventually seek to renegotiate access to its golf courses with members and the Town. But that is the long shot.

Whittall’s youth, enthusiasm and desire to build a signature property are the ingredients that if mixed correctly will prevail. He wants to create a legacy with this project and it appears his approach is rational. If Whittall does not prevail in March, he can still accomplish his dream or vision or whatever euphemism works with option 4.

The real obstacle for him is that the unit owners — those who are responsible collectively for destroying the property when they took on Murf Klauber and did not pay the money they owed for maintenance — will have to come to grips that they will only be paid about $80,000 for their units. Unfortunately, they too have some porn loop going trough their head when it comes to their fantasy of what they are owed.

But we all age, we all make mistakes and nobody said reality is easy or always fun.

Let’s hope that fairness, compromise and putting Longboat first dominate the next few years at the Colony property.

Wouldn’t that be a brave new world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses for “Let’s stop watching the Colony Porn Channel”

  1. ghostrider says:

    Mr.Brown
    Please do not feel offended by Mr. Reid’s commentary. As of his new column, I am trying to ascertain what type of cabbage you are. It’s a generational throwback to potato heads, but, I would think Mr.Reid’s generation was captivated by Play-Doh. All of this is a momentary distraction from discussing how much your house value increased today.
    Regards.

  2. Suny Gravy says:

    Anyone voting for re-electing Jim Brown to the Town Commission is voting for further litigation involving the Town.

  3. Jim Brown says:

    Steve…I take great offense at your attempt to drag my name through the muck with your fake news. Most of what you say i purely made up for your own benefit. Let me give you a few examples. I. you say that a 237 unit hotel does not produce enough money to fund the project. There are hundreds of hotels built every year without a residential component. They are successful and prosper. In fact, more luxury so called 5 star hotels fail than succeed.
    2.You say that I am a friend of Manfred Welfonder. This is true but it has nothing to do with anything I have done or plan to do. You say I have said many times that Manfred’s plan is sensible. First of all, I have gone out of my way because of the position I am in as a former Commissioner and Planning board member to avoid any discussion of his or your clients projects. We are reminded of the need to not speak about them frequently by our Town Attorney.
    3.You accuse me, erroneously, of crafting zoning rules to fit Mr Welfonder’s plan and to disallow your client’s plan. Once again, nothing could be further from the truth. We have tried to at all times to develop new codes to allow the redevelopment of all non- conforming properties on the Key without regard to any particular proposal. The fact that the MW proposal meets all of the existing zoning without additional units did not play into any decisions the P&Z made.
    4. Since I was a new member of the commission when the Key Club proposal was voted on, I’d like to know how I was supposed to have played the role you try to cast me in. I did vote to approve the plan because it met all of the zoning in it’s zoning district including density, height, open space and setbacks. I was at the hearing the day that the judge ruled against the Key Club proposal and everyone including Mr. White from IPOC and their attorney Mr. Lincoln all thought the Key Club plan would be upheld. If Loeb had appealed instead of selling to Ocean Properties, I think it probably would have been reversed.
    5. As regards the Referendum for the 250 tourism units that were voted on and approved by 83% by the citizens in 2008. The business’s on the Key were suffering at that time because of the loss of 250 tourism units in the early 2000′s and this was an attempt to help those businesses. Go back and look at your newspaper, you also supported it.
    5. You also say, erroneously, that Brown and Spoll are championing the P.U.D. development ordinance that will guarantee that every small hotel will come back asking for additional units. I don’t know if you have ever looks at our current codes, but they can do that now under the current zoning codes. BTW, it was the town’s staff and consultants that proposed that we use the P.U.D. to solve the problems of the large number of non-conforming properties that were created in 1984 by the downzoning of the Key. I have spent the last 2 years on the Planning board trying make sure our zoning codes don’t allow massive increases in density like some of the projects that have been proposed. That is what the citizens have said over and over and I have heard them and intend to work to do what they want. The protections afforded by the downzoning of the Key in 1984 are not being undermined by anything I or the Town has done, but by proposals by outside individuals.
    In summary, there are several other incorrect statements by you, such your continuing to say the town granted the “Zota” 135 units when in truth it was 85. More fake news. It’s easy for you to try to run me down for some unknown reason but if you print only the truth, I doubt that you will have much to say. Please stick to the truth in your future attacks on me. BTW, I have been talking with the Florida Elections Commission and am filing a complaint against the 2 illegal ads you allowed to be run in your paper. I’m sure, as a seasoned newspaper owner, you know that the people placing these ads are required to put their name and address on the bottom of the ads. Like the one on the next page.

  4. Harry Hilburg says:

    II attended the Colony presentation in January. One of the questions asked was would the new Colony be a world renowned tennis resort, like the old Colony was. The response from the developer was that they will only have 2 tennis courts on site, so that would not be their emphasis.

    So anyone who dreams of the old Colony Tennis Resort returning, may be disappointed. I am.

  5. JJC says:

    Interesting analysis until undermined by the assertion owners were responsible for the demise of poor Murf. Any qualified property manager would provide appropriately for on-going repairs & maintenance in lieu of taking every penny from the coffers each year and attempting a lump sum assessment of owners. Murf is responsible and, when held accountable, resorted to his standard tactic of litigation. Unfortunately, Steve Reid eliminated the credibility of this article and his opinions by not recognizing these irrefutable facts.

  6. ghostrider says:

    Marglo is correct in her observations and recommendations. Whitthall, however, has no tennis plan in the wings. It goes counter to maximizing the density he has requested.
    The ploy is a simple one: Ask for more than you expect to get, and, with a compromise, you still get more than what LB wanted to limit you to.

    One more time:

    Ask for more than you expect to get, and, with a compromise, you still get more than what LB wanted to limit you to.

    Alas…if you play poker and you can not identify the sucker at the table, then it’s you.

  7. Marglo says:

    Great essay but a 5 star resort is fantasy. Longboat Key is not a tourist destination and the weather isn’t that wonderful. A tennis resort with indoor courts is a hook. A 5 star resort is nonsense. Whitthall is an extremely smart guy and most likely knows he makes a nice profit with the 103 residential units.

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