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The Colony: How did paradise on the beach devolve into lawsuits, bizarre plans and inaction?

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

I am tired of Colony metaphors. Tired of psychoanalysis. Tired of seeing plans like so many overbuilt sandcastles appear before us and then wash away in waves of resident protest.

Last and not least, I resent this whole charade of the “text amendment.”

These emotions sound personal, but they are not. What we are going through collectively watching and waiting for the Colony to redevelop is not a useful exercise in community soul-searching.

Rather, we are dividing ourselves due to the abject failure of our very Town Commission — a majority of whom walked into their posts unchallenged — to fashion a fair and meaningful zoning district to embody not only the outer extant of what we want to see on the site, but also to define the very fundamentals such as density, height and ultimately — market value.

Let’s play out what this means.

 

A brush with history

The Colony failed more than seven years ago. It now seems like a landscape out of another era.

The Sunday brunches, the tennis greats, the beachgoers plying the paths through the sand to the tan prayer rug that stretched from the pool and Monkey Bar to the dappled Gulf all are receding into a Technicolor glow. Children camps and laughs and screams of joy are now replaced by gnawing rats.

The Colony once offered a sense of coming home even for visitors. It became an apex for so many lives to spend time each year at the Colony.  And Murf Klauber — inimitable, colorfully clad and omnipresent — had enough energy to keep the ownership structure functioning like a family with his paternalistic and intense grip on every aspect of operation.

And then it failed.

Some say it was the mutiny of the unit owners who objected to his financial assessments.

Some say it was the Iago-like friendship Andy Adams had with Klauber. Adams wanted to expand his rights in joining two units at the midrise and that ultimately led to the denouement.

Others say it was the lapping waves of time that rendered the structures old and dilapidated and the accumulated deferred maintenance collapsed the way a wall shudders when termites reduce solid pine to a honeycomb of sawdust.

 

The suits enter the room

Then our community saw the final death of the Colony day by day. It was like watching cancer metastasize in slow motion. Murf only rented a small number of rooms as the unit owners dissented and defected. The restaurant hours contracted to a few meals a week. And then, it was over.

Soon the activity and the life at the Colony was traded for so many blue suits arguing in a courtroom. Mismanagement, conspiracy, missing money, agreements ignored all became fodder as the days and months and years passed.

And this is where our town, instead of acting with leadership, mimicked the inaction at the Colony. We did next to nothing.

 

The greedy owners

It is popular to blame it all on the owners. It is popular for some to blame it on Murf and his sometimes-intractable nature.

Some say the market for tennis collapsed and the Colony never adjusted and reimagined itself for the next generation.

In many ways the daughters of memory can debate these thoughts forever. What is tangible is the Town, as said, did nothing.

And by that I mean we knew someday — probably years in the future — the ownership issues would end and a developer would come forward.

Many years ago, our then Town Attorney suggested the Town ought to decide what it wants to see or encourage on the site and then zone and create regulations to both encourage the desired outcome and to offer clarity for both residents and the property owners. We did the opposite.

 

Murf still plans our Town

The Town grandfathered the existing units. It is as if the Commission says the 237 units that failed after 50 years is what makes the most sense on that site. And instead of creating a zoning district that allowed a new endeavor, the Town merely changed its own rules to allow the grandfathering — which was supposed to expire each year — into a perpetual allowance.

In essence, our Town has said, “Murf Kluaber’s plan for the site is what we want and we will not even create a proper zoning method to allow that — we will simply say you have the right to rebuild what you have.”

Then there is the issue of the underlying zoning being 6 units per acre. That was enacted in the 1980s and mathematically allows 103 residences or hotel rooms on the site.

And then the Commission has a strange pool of tourism units it can allocate if and when it desires.

So with this hodgepodge of methodologies, both applicant and residents might see anything from 40 to 65 feet tall. They could see 103 residences or as many as 237 grandfathered units plus an addition 165 units from a tourism pool. They might see Chuck Whittall’s plan of 103 residences plus 165 tourism units from the pool. Or Whittall could get approved the 103 residences and the Commission not allow the tourism units. It is all based on loose and subjective criteria.

And how does a developer negotiate a deal with unit owners not having any clear idea what will be granted or allowed?

How can Longboaters — especially neighbors — have any certainty whether they will be living next to a bustling resort of 237 grandfathered units or up to 402 units if the tourism units were granted?

The strangeness goes on and on.

Will Whittall go away or simply sit on the property if he does not get his text amendment? Is it a deal maker or deal killer? Is that what Preserve Longboat Key wants? Probably not.

And if the Text amendment is denied and Whittall still has enough profit and resources in his plan to deliver his vision, than would not denying the text amendment help preserve the low-scale charm of the island?

 

A compromising position

The problem is the community and Whittall should not be in this position.

It leaves residents in fear of possible outcomes instead of embracing the very moment we might be on the cusp of seeing a new resort rise from the termite dust.

It also leaves an applicant growing cynical. Whittall could do exactly what we do not want to see and simply wait it out until a Commission comes along that might say, “yes” to his plan.

This is not clarity. This is not proactive planning and zoning. This reminds me of Hamlet.

Hamlet was handed too great a destiny. His heart was in the right place, but the demands of his father’s ghosts plunged him into a moral crisis and ultimately inaction. In the wake of that inaction, Ophelia kills herself in anguish.

This Commission resembles so many small-town Hamlets. They are charged with one of the most important tasks of their community. They need to steer a ship and bring light and clarity to the great injustice we all are suffering through — the moribund and decrepit Colony.

 

What to do…

I find it hard to get on bandwagons. I do not wave flags for developers, but at the same time I see the rallying cry of Preserve Longboat Key as short sighted.

Both are right and wrong.

I believe Whittall and Unicorp can develop a great resort minus the 26 units that are at stake. But we run a risk. I do not know that for sure. I also have little to no confidence that the pecuniary nature of some of our Commissioners will likely not grant him the tourism units.

On the other hand, I do not see the 26 units he does not want to lose in the process as destroying the ambiance of the Key. Could the opponents be enjoying an inflated sense of purpose in being reflexively against anything and everything — even a single unit if it makes sense?

At this point we would hope the applicant would present his best and final plan. And at this point I would love to see the Commission debate, discuss and react and help shape that plan in a way that shapes the deal without destroying the deal.

 

The vote will go like this…

I will take a realist tone. Mayor Terry Gans, and Commissioners Jack Daly and Irwin Pastor will likely support the text amendment. Commissioners George Spoll, Jim Brown and Randy Clair will fight it. The Commission will forward it along on Monday and then try and kill it at a vote in February. And that leaves Commissioner Ed Zunz as the presiding judge and jury.

Can you imagine destiny and our future devolving to this scenario?

Is this the best we can do for our residents as well as those investing hundreds of millions of dollars?

My suggestion on Monday is to not get too caught up in the text amendment debate. It is little more than an apparition. It is little more than yet another ghostly and flimsy reminder of the work that must be done on this island.

We need an era of true long-range planning. We need codes that protect us and offer clarity.

The best we can hope for this spring is to steer clear of lawsuits.

And let’s all dream of that day when a new Colony or St. Regis or some Palace by the Sea opens. Maybe Murf will still be alive to raise his voice in joy.

But we may have to do one thing before that dream arrives: vote for a Commission that can lead us somewhere other than into a courtroom.

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10 Responses for “The Colony: How did paradise on the beach devolve into lawsuits, bizarre plans and inaction?”

  1. Jef Kors says:

    What once was will never be.
    I believe it is foolish to think the inevidable will not happen, the Town of LBK keeps dragging their feet on this long enough and soon the investors (Unicorp) may soon cut their losses and the town will be left with nothing but a black eye AND an eyesore.
    In it’s heyday The Colony was like no other, that being said, lets move on…

  2. David Siegal says:

    Well said as always Steve. You have from the start researched and written clearly on the Colony. As you know I was long involved in the Colony but have no “dog in this fight”, no pecuniary interest in the Colony. We are finally at the point where the complex Colony structure created by Murk Klauber has coalesced to a single developer, experienced and knowledgeable, extremely well financed, with millions invested into the Colony and who is aligned with the Association. At last. Whew. So now the delay and confusion sown by our own Town Commission does nothing but prevent the return of this property to a beautiful and productive condition. I believe that some of the members of the Town Commission have private agendas and an improper desire to promote one developer over another. The former Colony resort has a developer. It is beyond time to make the property productive and attractive again. It will never be what it was for many reasons, some legal, some economic, some practical.
    Traffic is not an issue, whether Mr. Whittall gets 20, 30 50, or 100 more units. Except for a two year stint on Anna Maria, I have been a resident since 1992. You can get from one end of the island to the other in 15 minutes. Any traffic issues are attributable to St Armand’s and Bradenton Beach. I recall Jack Daly stating similarly at one of Mr. Whittall’s public meetings. It is the lack of a North-South corridor other than 41 which also a cause. The Town Commission should act with fairness and impartiality.in approving a plan with Mr. Whittall and a ground breaking on the new development in 2020. The Town Commission should do right by us and end the long Colony blight, get the tax revenue, help the businesses on the island and provide us all with the opportunity Mr. Whitall’s proposal has promised.

  3. ghostrider says:

    Marglo
    My eyes are going. I read generic as geriatric. 🙂

  4. Who's on First says:

    Hopefully the P&Z board will come around in greater numbers (4-3 isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement) to help Mr. Whittall build his five star facility. Then, the Town Commission will also green light whatever it takes to end this long nightmare of NIMBY voters and CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people who prefer to live in the past century. TO me, it’s like the Ringling Bridge – after much gnashing of teeth and complaints galore, that bridge became a signature image of Sarasota. Let’s allow the Colony to recover the iconic status of its glory days, as Longboat Key embraces its future, rather than to continue living in its own past.

  5. Shannon Gault says:

    Great distillation of what happened and what might happen. Or might not. You have summarized the years and years long tragedy that has been the Colony and the necessity to more forward in a positive direction.

    If we don’t approve this opportunity to have a world class resort rising out of the ashes of the Colony I fear that our island will have created the reputation that we are impossible to work with.

    And another ten or more probably 15 years will pass before anyone else tries to make something happen there. Why bother if we always say no!

    Let’s take this last chance to fix the horror that is this blighted place in the heart of our island.

  6. Bob Gault says:

    Well done Steve. Every property owner on Longboat will benefit from a five star St. Regis rising out of the blight of the Colony. Let’s hope the Commission doesn’t get tangled up in the “weeds” and does the right thing.

  7. Marglo says:

    No one is going to visit a generic 5 star hotel in Longboat Key. There are much better places in the world to visit and vacation. A beach is a beach and no one cares without some other factor. The only concept that makes sense is a tennis resort with some indoor courts and making the Colony along with the Longboat Key Club the tennis center of the United States and the world. The difference would be indoor courts for those damp and cold days of winter, night and summer thunderstorms. Otherwise the interest in a 5 star hotel is zero and within 3-5 years it will go bankrupt and the new Colony will be 100 percent condos. There is no vision in the new plan, just to take the money and run.

  8. Jennifer Gonzalez says:

    We had been coming to the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort since the middle 1980’s and we knew all of the Klauber Family members very well!! We loved it when the evening Dinner attire was actually a suit and a tie even in July!! I would wear the same type of evening dress heels and a well choose Chanel just as if we were dining at Bern’s in Tampa!!As the Colony’s Dining Restaurant was definitely a one of a Kind!! Even on the beach!! We enjoyed the best service and hospitality and management with Katie running the Colony and her brother would be great in the Kit hen with new and interesting dishes to try!! Together with my husband they started the “Crab Festival”! Which would be a full 3 days of fine dining paired with fine wines!! And of course the most important part a big open beach area lots of fluffy white sand, a nice cool tented Monkey Bar for a casual lunch still in our swimsuit with a cover up on! Right next to a beautiful pool and still within sight of the ocean!! The best Deli for all day dining g and then came room service and of course daily maid service and fresh beach towels to use on the beach under real Tiki Huts!! There was much to love about this o my beautiful full service Beach and Tennis Resort anywhere near the beach, as the Colony was the number of it’s kind anywhere in the world and it was always voted #1 in the World for its amazing Tennis Resort and it’s fine dining restaurant!! We are still interested in seeing it revived in the way it was!!Not another Tall high rise like the Ritz in Naples!! So far back from the ocean and you must walk a mile through the groves to get up to your room!! We don’t want a big city type hotel on this cottage type Beach Resort!! We want it brought back to the double stack of condo units with the tennis courts which we used every day and all day on the beach and all evening at the Colony Beach’s fine dining restaurant! We never had to leave for anything except shopping at the Circle on St. Armand’s!! Bring “Old Schoool Beach Units” back to the way it used to be at the Colony!! We have missed it everyday since it closed in October of 2010!!

  9. Dean Feltham says:

    Here’s hoping that the Unicorp proposed development gets approved and the Town of Longboat Key reaps the benefits from a five star development and the resulting realty taxes

  10. Chuck Whittall says:

    Steve,

    This is very well written. I hope all the community knows that we want to make Longboat the most special place there is to live and visit. We are truly putting every effort in the world to create something magical. It becomes harder and harder every time the rug is pulled out from underneath us. I will tell you we will NOT go away. If not approved we will wait and explore all options.

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