Colony code changing showdown hits Monday

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The Longboat Key community and anyone interested in the redevelopment of the 17.6-acre Colony property will be watching the outcome of Monday’s Town Commission workshop.

At 1 p.m. the commission will convene at the Longboat Key Club Islandside to consider a zoning text amendment that Unicorp, the Orlando-based company that seeks to redevelop the resort, has requested be approved to allow the development of 102 residential units and 166 hotel rooms on the Colony site.

Semantics have dominated the community discussion with numerous residents who are opposed to the amendment advising the commission to “Keep the Code” and not allow any changes that would facilitate additional development. Those opposed have also told the commission to not allow any increase in density on the site over what is allowed.

Applicant and Unicorp President Chuck Whittall and those in support of his plan see it differently. They say the underlying zoning allows six units per acre, but in order to use the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process, a penalty is imposed which strips 25 percent of the allowed density from the site. In their eyes, the text amendment does not add density, it merely removes a penalty.


The path chosen

Whittall wants to use the PUD process because it allows two things: The first is the ability to request and for the commission to grant 165 tourism units to the site from a pool the commission controls that was approved by voters 10 years ago.

The other reason is the PUD process allows numerous ways a developer can “depart” from town codes if the developer can prove and justify to the commission that the “departures” render a better project than otherwise could be developed under the “straight zoning” process.

In short, Whittall seeks to depart from the strict height limitation of 40 feet, which he is allowed to do, and build the residential buildings at 65 feet each. It also allows changes in setbacks, lot coverage, floor area ratio, and other governing principles of the development code.


Details of the zoning text amendment

On Monday, the Town Commission cannot formally vote on the text amendment because the meeting is merely a workshop for discussion and possible consensus. According to Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale, the commission must at some point vote on the text amendment whether as a body that wants to support it or not, because it is applicant-initiated. Zoning changes promulgated by staff or the Town Planning and Zoning Board, can die in a workshop if consensus is not reached to move them forward. But town code says that if a code change is initiated by an outside party, it must be voted upon.

If the zoning text amendment is approved, which takes two successful formal votes, it will allow Whittall to develop at the full six units per acre, which amounts to 103 residential units on the 17.6-acre site. If the amendment is not approved, that number drops to 79 units.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Board narrowly vote to 4-3 to recommend approval of the text amendment approval and pass the matter into the hands of the town commission at its December 19 meeting. The majority said the text amendment was a minimal change to the zoning code, and added that the Planning and Zoning Board had gone through a lengthy process recommending the Town eliminate the density reduction from the code.

Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Director Alan Parsons wrote in a memo to the Town Commission that in most every other jurisdiction other than Longboat Key, a Planned Unit Development is a zoning district with site-specific regulations and allowances. On Longboat Key, it is unique in that it is a process used to approve a site-plan that may contain departures.

That distinction is important because the town spent the last several years on the path to create a PUD zoning district wherein the developer and community would know exactly what the maximum densities, departures and regulations within that zoning district would be permitted. The town abandoned that path last spring after several Planning and Zoning Directors and a series of consultants brought numerous drafts of a PUD ordinance. According to Parsons, there are three approval options available for a developer of the Colony property.

One of the methods is the one Whittall is attempting, which is the PUD process and the request and hopeful allocation of additional tourism units. Another method is to utilize and stay within the constraints of the grandfathered 237 tourism units that made up the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort for more than 30 years.

The Town Commission, ironically, amended its code to allow the continued grandfathering of those units for more than five years.

The other method is to use as said earlier, ‘straight zoning’ absent the PUD process, but the additional height and departures are not allowed in this scenario.

Interested parties and residents may have to manage their expectations prior to the meeting because the commission is not bound in any way to vote the measure up or down and in essence, must continue the text amendment to a formal meeting to be voted upon.

The meeting for this item will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 22 at the John Ringling Room, which is located at the Longboat Key Club Resort, 220 Sands Point Road in the Islandside development on the south end of the key.

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2 Responses for “Colony code changing showdown hits Monday”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    Whitthall has backed down on the change in PUD requirements. Now the Commissioner’s will have to decide how many units from the Tourist Pool, which Whitthall want to deplete, leaving none for anybody else. The showdown will also likely involve the 17,000 sq. feet of Ballroom space, three restaurants, plus a 10,000 sq. ft. spa.

  2. Ross P. Alander says:

    Enough. Why don’t we put up a big sign up in front of the Colony that reads “Future Home for a Super WalMart” and see what happens:)
    Ross LBK

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