Is the Colony Longboat Key’s Vietnam?
Unicorp’s request to add 180 residential units at the Colony failed miserably. It was expected to do so. It was an overreach.
The landslide vote underscores the very gradual transformation — perhaps too gradual — of Unicorp President Chuck Whittall from an Orlando developer to a Longboat Key developer. In Orlando, Commissions and residents would give the Key to the City for a 5-star resort. Orlando types love lazy rivers and lagoons and water features and theme like parks. Longboat Key is decidedly and remarkably different.
We are also the land of “No.” If you do not get it right, you get punished.
We want less traffic, low buildings, less density and intensity. We want open space and light and air. We want uncrowded beaches and we want development and redevelopment that fit these notions.
In short, the redevelopment of the Colony and what Whittall must come back with must be the least amount of development necessary to create success. Now that does not mean we do not want a 5-star resort. It does not mean we do not want condominiums. What it means is the size and scale and density must not create a visceral response of dread and recoil.
War and Peace continue unabated
Ideally and what I believe will eventually happen is Whittall will come back with a plan to build the 103 residential units that are allowed by code in the district.
Then he will ask for some or all of the remaining 165 Tourism units from the pool the Commission has the authority to allocate. None of this requires a public vote and all of this can be accomplished with buildings that do not violate the height code and setbacks from the neighbors who want enough distance to not see a wall against their skyline.
Today, without a vote, a developer can rebuild the historic 237 tourism units that were grandfathered by the Town Commission. But that will not happen.
It does not take a master in tea leaf reading to see that the complex resolution is contingent on paying off and reaching an agreement with the existing unit owners. The only way to generate the capital for that exercise is the sale of the 103 condominiums. Whittall has said that a 5-star resort can be built with this scaled back scenario. It is the path I wish he had taken in the first place.
The only decision that the Commission would have is whether to allocate all or some or none of the Tourism units. I still maintain that a smaller Hotel of the highest quality with a restaurant and public access would be acceptable and beneficial only if it is of the highest caliber and tier in the market.
We do not in any scenario want a second rate or 4-star resort if we can move the bar upmarket.
The Commission will be hard pressed to not allow the 165 units since it would create an overall density of 15.58 units per acre. The Historic Colony was 13.8 units per acre. The change would be slight and the way it is build must be negotiated and controlled tightly.
The last time the Commission allocated from the pool of Tourism units was to Ocean Properties, which owns the former Hilton. That allocation doubled the density on the site to more than 40 units per acre and created one of the densest and least compatible sites on the entire island. If I were Whittall I would bring in an attorney of the caliber of Dan Bailey or John Patterson to help shepherd the plan through Town Hall. If this Commission say’s “No”, you can expect someone like attorney Robert Lincoln to convert it to a “Yes” in circuit court. After all, nothing ever really happens any more at the Colony outside of a courtroom.
And on that note, no less than two of the now-Commissioners are close to the point of needing to recuse themselves due to their sheer number of statements against Whittall, his plan and their overt favoritism toward competing proposals. They are actually great friends with a competing developer and have nudged and pushed land use rules that specifically favor his plan such as trying to forbid mixed-use on the Colony site.
The Longboat Key Commission rarely has the ability in this small Town to handle the fairness and discretion necessary in complex land use hearings. The Key Club approval was a complete debacle. And remember, the Town had to pay Colony Chairman Murf Klauber more than $9 million when a judge found the Commission acted with bias and violated his Constitutional and Civil rights.
Do not think for a second that our leaders have evolved to the point where they will protect the Town and taxpayers from such a debacle.
So in short: Whittall and Unicorp need a plan that is low in height, far lower in density and makes architectural sense in our community. Whittall also needs the neighbors on board. He needs to build ‘just enough.’
And more importantly, we need our Town Commission to act like jurors who are fair and open and without bias.
The sad fact is they will consider all of this someday in a quasi-judicial hearing. If this were a real courtroom, two of them would immediately be dismissed from the Jury pool.