Town to vote on Colony altering code amendment

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Although the Longboat Key Town Attorney and Town Staff will tell you that a vote on a request to amend the Town’s Zoning Code has nothing to do specifically with the Colony, the company that hopes to redevelop the site says it will cost about $100 million in lost revenue if it is not approved.

It all comes down to a technicality in the nuances of Longboat Key’s zoning code. The code says that if a tourism site, such as the Colony, is allowed to develop at a density of six units per acre. The code further says that if a tourism site such as the Colony redevelops using the Planned Unit Development Process (PUD) at six units per acre and also seeks to add Tourism units from a pool that can be allocated by the Town Commission, that the allowed underlying density then drops from six to 4.5 units per acre.

When the math is done, the current rule means that the developer of the Colony will lose 24 units if he uses the PUD process. The PUD process generally allows more flexibility in where to locate roads, structures and amenities with the idea that flexibility and the ability to depart from certain code restraints will lead to a better project or outcome.

President of Unicorp Chuck Whittall seeks to develop the site into 103 residential units and then he seeks to have the Town Commission allocate an additional 165 tourism units to the site. The site plan he has submitted anticipates a St. Regis flagged hotel and residences.

Whittall requests that the commission at its Jan. 22 regular workshop agree to amend the code to not “penalize” their proposal and change the rules to allow the full six units per acre while using the PUD process.

The Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board voted 4-3 in support of the text amendment and Unicorp’s request.

Those opposed to changing the code stated at the meeting that the reduction in density is the trade off for the increased flexibility. Others have stated that using the PUD process allows the elimination of many of the roads and driveways associated with a traditional development and that the regained land from not having to develop so many roads is why the reduction in density was put in place. The idea being that the additional developable land even with the density penalty will amount to about the same overall number of units as if the PUD process were not utilized.

The Planning and Zoning Board will formally consider the site plan for the Colony redevelopment in February, but wished to have that discussion after the Town Commission workshop, which will determine whether the text amendment will go forward or not.

If the text amendment is not passed, the site plan would have to be modified to show the lost 24 units.

Unicorp attorneys argued last month in front of the Planning and Zoning Board that the Town Code was contradictory and illogical. That the basis for that charge was stated by attorney Robert Lincoln who said the town mandates PUDs for redevelopment and then penalizes applicants for using the method. He said that was contradictory to land use practices everywhere else in the country.

Others who support amending the measure said that the Town Commission has all the tools and power necessary to limit the site and scale of the development in its consideration of the site plan. They contend that the commission is not bound to give all or any of the tourism units in the pool and it can use its discretion. They have pointed out also that the Town Commission can restrict or shape the project because Unicorp is seeking departures from several elements of the code and that allows a large degree of interpretation and discretion for approval or disapproval.

If the Commission moves forward on Jan. 22, it would hold a first reading of the text amendment on Feb. 5 at the earliest. The Planning and Zoning Board is slated to consider the site plan and project at its Feb. 20 meeting.

If the text amendment is not passed, it could mean the consideration by the Planning and Zoning board would be delayed because the plan would have to be amended. Whittall has also indicated that while the 24 units amount to $100 million in revenue, that there is a point where the mathematical equation simply will not support the deal he has made with the Colony Unit owners to buy out their interests in order to consolidate his ownership.

Currently, Unicorp is the official redevelopment entity for the Colony and has been approved by the Colony Association of Unit Owners to represent it before the town.

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