Colony drama unfolds on several Key fronts

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The Colony redevelopment drama unfolded on several fronts this week.

First, on Monday, the much debated and discussed text amendment was met with five-and-a-half hours of controversial wrangling with a packed Islandside meeting room filled with residents who were not short of opinion.

The majority of those who spoke were against changing the code to allow Unicorp President Chuck Whittall to develop 102 residential units on the site with an additional 166 hotel rooms.

The commission gave little indication with the exception of Commissioner Irwin Pastor and Jack Daly about how they felt about the request by Whittall to not incur what he called a density penalty for his ability to use the Town’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) process. That reduction, which amounts to a 25 percent of allowed units, is mandated in Town Code.

The commission was due to vote formally on the matter next month, but the very next day Whittall withdrew the text amendment and said he will stay within the confines of the code and simply ask for what is allowed under the existing rules.

“After much consideration in respect of the wishes of the community, we have decided to withdraw the text amendment. We heard the community loud and clear. We clearly understand the trade-off for our departures is the reduced density and we accept that,” wrote Whittall to the Town Commission following the meeting.

On Friday, Whittall submitted a revised plan that reflects the reduced density to comply with Town Code and the site plan will be considered by the Town Planning and Zoning Board on Feb. 22 at Town Hall.

The Planning and Zoning Board can only make an advisory opinion recommendation in its vote for passage or denial of the plan and the plan is then scheduled to be considered by the Town Commission on March 5. It takes a simple majority of the commission and a single vote to pass or deny a site plan.


Details of the revision

The plan submitted on Friday shows a reduction of 24 units with an aggregate of 78 residential condominiums and 166 hotel rooms for a total of 244 total units.

Other than the reduction in the residential units, the majority of the plan remains the same as the plan that was submitted last July.

Within the new plan, Whittall is seeking departures which are allowed to be made by the commission under Town Code. The reduction in density is the trade off for departures according to Town Staff.

According to Town Planner Micah Arnold, one of the departures that is under review is the request for a total of 40,539 square feet of commercial space to support the hotel functions. This square footage includes the ballroom, meeting and events space, lounge, restaurant, spa and bar. The departure is necessary because under the code no more than 10 percent of the total floor area of the proposed hotel is allowed to be used as accessory commercial uses. The request is for an additional 27,600 square feet to support these functions.

Whittall said that he is entering into the approval process, a restriction on the ballroom to hold events that serve no more than 425 people. But Whittall is clear that the size of the ballroom and accessory uses are not much more than existed on the previous Colony and that it is necessary in order to host events that will buy out the hotel, especially in the off-season. Whittall also said that guests will not exit en masse, they will be staggered due to valet and the fact that they will stay at the resort on the property in many instances.

“This project has been scaled back, and if it gets any smaller, it will no longer be viable,” said Whittall. He added that the economy can change, and that with the reduction in residences the loss in revenue will now have to be generated through higher pricing of the residential condominium units. He said that if the plan is approved on March 5, he hopes to break ground by the end of the year.


The tourism units

One of the other requests embedded in the plan is to utilize the remaining 165 tourism units in a pool that the commission controls. The argument against approval voiced by some residents in the community has been that Whittall is giving up the 237 hotel units that the town has grandfathered and is then asking for 165 from the pool, which will terminate any possibility of any other applicant receiving them.

The supporting arguments include the facts that since the tourism pool was created more than a decade ago, the Key Club has received approval and will be able to add more than 150 hotel rooms in a new facility that will be built where the Chart House on New Pass now stands. Another fact is that in the last 10 years, the advent of online rental services such as VRBO and AirBNB has allowed hundreds and hundreds of residential Longboat Key units to be rented to tourists, which has created yet another visitor marketplace on the island. Additionally, no other entity has requested the units over the last 10 years, other than Ocean Properties, which redeveloped the former Hilton into the Zota Beach Resort with the addition of 85 of the original pool of 250 tourism units.

Perhaps the final argument for Whittall in seeking approval, is the fact that residents have voted repeatedly in the last few years against any additional density on the key.

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4 Responses for “Colony drama unfolds on several Key fronts”

  1. ghostrider says:

    A terrific business model. You start out with 100%. You ask for 150%. You roll it back to 120%. That’s 20% more than you thought you would get. You then “flip” it to another party.

    Housing is contracting in price but why not tell ’em $6million.

    What ever happened to the $20million place at the North end? How did that turn out?

  2. Charlie Korbuly says:

    Enough already! The proposals submitted by Unicorp are all very good. If the additional available tourism units are not used at the Colony, they’ll just be used on some other project with the same affect on traffic. I find it ridiculous that having a great proposal as Unicorp’s cannot be implemented because of a few individuals hang-ups. Let them proceed with their project!!!

  3. No more densit< than 1987

  4. blake fleetwood says:

    The owners rejected Unicorps proposal.
    So why can Unicorp apply for this?

    Unicorp has never done a project this big.

    LBK cannot support a Five Star resort.
    Whittall is planning to sell the condos for $6 million,
    There is no market for that in LBK

    It will all end in lawsuits for the next seven year.

    There are three other developers waiting in the wings for Unicorp to finally pull out.

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