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Town rebuffs Colony height inquiry

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Colony developer Chuck Whittall asked the Town Commission last week if it would consider an 80-foot redevelopment of the 17.3-acre resort.

A majority of the commissioners said it would not be possible to give that kind of advanced feedback, and one commissioner called the request “out of order.”

Whittall stated that his company, Unicorp, will submit an application on June 26 for redevelopment of the Colony and he made clear that while he can legally build a 65-foot plan, he preferred an 80-foot redevelopment to maximize green space and allow greater setbacks from neighbors and Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Whittall told the commissioners that it would take a very simple code amendment for the project to go to 80 feet, and that the neighbors support an 80-foot plan and it would not shadow adjacent properties.

“I don’t want to bring something in front of you that you won’t support. It costs $300,000 in engineering to develop a plan, can I get feedback?” asked Whittall.

Whittall was met with plenty of feedback.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor told him it was impossible to give him any indication.

“I’m not prepared to deal with it now,” said Pastor.

Mayor Terry Gans said that Whittall asking the commission for “snap decisions” was a mistake.

“Just looking at this on the surface is not good enough for me to make a decision,” said Gans.

A small skirmish about what height is allowed on the site ensued.

Commissioner George Spoll said his understanding is the zoning is T-6, which means tourism and six units per acre, and the maximum height is 50-feet or four stories.

Whittall said that was incorrect, and that 60-feet of height is currently allowed on the property.

Then, Pastor said he thought the town had to at least go in some direction.

Gans then stated that neighbors on either side of the property had petitioned the town with favor on an 80-foot plan. To that point, Pastor asked rhetorically on what basis would it not be 80 feet?

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t grant this. It is almost counterintuitive. The purpose is to take a look at the property. I can tell you that from behind the gates there is a very strong feeling that they want something built that will enhance their property values. There is a very large tract of land on the island that we are addressing right now. It’s in everybody’s best interest for us to grant this,” said Pastor.

Commissioner Randy Clair disagreed. He told fellow board members that the town has a zoning code that has been enacted by the commission and he didn’t think they should be giving advisory positions.

Commissioner Jack Daly characterized the situation as inconsistent with the fact that the commission last month instructed the Town Manager and staff to bring more information and background on a Planned Unit Development ordinance or a different ordinance that might affect the Colony and other redevelopment sites.

Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said that Whittall’s request was a “purely hypothetical question” and would be it would be inappropriate for the commission to make a decision on this.

At this point in the meeting, Commissioner George Spoll accused the Mayor of being out of order.

“Mr. Mayor, I think you are totally out of order. This has not been noticed,” said Spoll.

Mayor Gans hit the gavel and said, “The man asked a question. I could say a lot more but I won’t.”

Pastor spoke out: “I totally agree with the Mayor; I think you’re out of order,” he told Spoll.

To clear things up, Whittall told the commission that he was told to ask the commission in this format whether they would consider the 80-foot plan.

Spoll asked who told him to do that.

Whittall replied, “town staff.”

At this point, Zunz said that the commission had already said too much about the matter and he thought any change to the regulations could and should only be considered at the time of application.

The commission agreed, leaving Whittall without his answer.

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