Whittall fears funding fueling Colony “No” votes improper

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The battle over the vote Longboaters are considering to allow 180 additional residential units at the former Colony reached a litigious level last Friday when Unicorp Chairman Chuck Whittall said he believes the opposition may have violated election laws in fueling its campaign against his plan.

At issue are the financial disclosures that show billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone and the Foundation in his name, Sumner N. Redstone Charitable Foundation, donated $10,000 to Preserve Longboat, Inc., the political action committee fighting the referendum primarily through newspaper advertisements and public forums.

The PAC had raised over $25,000 by the end of February, with $10,000 coming from the Redstone Foundation. Redstone was the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS Corporation.

Whittall said he spoke to the Supervisor of Elections in the State of Florida and Whittall said he was told, “Generally, charitable foundations cannot more than $250 per year to a PAC. We are having the state look into this donation and it could adversely affect the vote and what’s upsetting is our company has done everything by the books. It certainly has damaged our interests and has had a negative effect on Longboat Key and does not appear to be proper.”

Other sources say that since the PAC is opposing a referendum question and not a candidate, the donation may be proper.

Whittall has spent the last two months holding dozens of community forums in an effort to convince voters to approve allowing 180 residential units to be added to be allowed on the Colony property in addition to the 237 grandfathered tourism units that comprised the original resort.

Numerous residents on the Key and especially neighbors to the north and south have actively encouraged residents to vote against the measure saying the proposal is too dense, too tall and does not fit the character of Longboat Key.

Last week, Whittall has committed to voters as well as Town Hall that even if voters approve the additional 180 units he will only build 150 of them and he will reduce the height from the originally proposed 11 and 12 stories to no more than nine stories.

In his memo to Town Manager Dave Bullock, Whittall wrote: “I wanted to go on record with the Town and state as I have in several public meetings that we will not request any more than nine stories in height and we will not request any more than an additional 150 residential units. People have questioned me on how will they  know that I truly mean to reduce the scale of the density and so I wanted to tell the public and make this of record and I’ve copied to papers on this email as well.”


Voters to decide

Whittall seeks to redevelop the Colony and has maintained that the path to a five-star resort and a successfully negotiating and winning approval of his plan from the unit owners is through building the additional residential units on the site. If he wins the referendum on Tuesday, he must still gain approval of his contract with unit owners to sell their interest so he can consolidate ownership. He must also gain approval from the town for several elements of the plan such as the mixed use zoning and height to allow his proposal to move forward.

Conversely, if he fails in the polls, Whittall has vowed to come back with another plan and that he will not sell the 2.3 acres and assets he controls at the Colony to another developer. The current zoning code allows either the redevelopment of the 237 grandfathered units or the development of 103 residential units by right without any public approval. The Town Commission does control 165 tourism units in a pool that it can allocate to an applicant at its discretion.

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