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St. Regis Longboat Key wins final approval to replace Colony

Three generations of The Colony were pleased with the approval Friday. Tim Field (left) grew up at the Colony when his father, Herb, opened the original Colony Club in 1954. Katie Moulton. middle, helped run the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort alongside her father, Murf Klauber, who operated from the early 1970s until it closed in 2010. Chuck Whittall, right, is ready to usher in the future with his approval of a St. Regis Hotel and Residences.

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

It took days, months and years for Longboat Key to arrive at this moment.

On Friday at 3:11 p.m., the St. Regis Hotel and Residences plan was approved by a 6-1 vote of the Longboat Key Town Commission to replace the failed Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

It was not clear to any individual commissioner or any member of the audience what the outcome would be as they headed into the meeting Friday morning.

In the week leading up to the hearing, Commissioner Randy Clair wrote a memo with zoning code amendments,which he proffered to the Town Manager and fellow commissioners wherein he argued for a different methodology and suggested that if fellow commissioners agreed they should vote ‘No’ at the final reading.

Commissioner Jim Brown wrote applicant and Unicorp owner Chuck Whittall last week and asked if an entire floor of the condominium towers could be removed to reflect a reduction in the room count.

Additionally, a ferocious series of arguments against not only the plan, but the legality of the town even considering the plan, was made by the attorney for unit owner Blake Fleetwood throughout the hearings.

It also did not bode well that the room at the Islandside Resort was booked for Saturday in case the hearing continued an extra day.

But all of these efforts were for naught as the meeting proceeded rapidly and the Commission spent less than two hours in final deliberations before arriving at its 6-1 vote approving the proposal.

Only Commissioner George Spoll dissented in the final vote and he said it was because of his objection to using the remainder of the 165 units out of the town commission-controlled Tourism Pool that voters approved 2008.

The final approval allows the redevelopment of the 17.6-acre former Colony property into 166 St. Regis Hotel rooms and 78 St. Regis branded residential condominiums.

It will also allow three restaurants, two bars, a spa and an event lawn as well as 15,304 square feet of meeting space. The meeting space includes a 7,650 square foot ballroom, meeting rooms, board rooms and administration areas.

The approval also includes conditions for demolition such as eliminating all the rats and rodent pests before demolition takes place as well as a survey for any lead and asbestos.

At the first meeting held ten days prior, Commissioner Spoll asked Whittall to include comprehensive cellular connectivity and Whittall responded with a commitment to placing cellular repeaters throughout the residential towers and hotel.

The approval also includes a donation by Unicorp of $200,000 for recreational facilities in the town.

Another issue that Whittall put to rest last week was removing one of the departures from Town Code by eliminating the encroachment of four feet on the north and south side of the residential structures.

At the meeting, Whittall pointed out that over the past weeks he has eliminated 2,350 square feet of commercial space from the ballroom and agreed to regulate not only the ballroom, but the beach as well, to hold no event with more than 425 attendees. Any event that has more than 380 guests will precipitate the necessity of a traffic management plan to be submitted to the town.

 

No further reductions

Whittall was clear at the meeting that he could not further reduce the hotel room or condominium count nor the size of the ballroom and that any further reductions would mean St. Regis would not commit to the project because the financial viability would no longer be achievable. He said that by reducing the number of hotel rooms to 166 it put even more pressure on capturing the lost revenue through the ballroom and events.

Whittall told the Commission that the residential units would average about 4,000 square feet and that was necessary to make the project work in the marketplace. He said that he had gone over the complete financial model of the proposal with CitiBank, a possible lender. CitiBank said that any future reductions would make the project less likely to receive financing.

“If you cut it down more, we will not have a St. Regis on Longboat Key. I have no more pounds of flesh to give you,” said Whittall.

Vice Mayor Ed Zunz spoke of the report utilized by Whittall that he said showed a need for a smaller ballroom.

“I would strongly recommend that you seek a 5,000 square foot ballroom,” said Zunz.

Whittall explained that by cutting the condominium and hotel revenue that there were no more revenue streams he could reduce in the project and make it viable.

“I don’t know what going to 7,650 to 5,000 square feet gets you, except that we will not be able to book wedding events. It has to be successful for the Key. You want weddings to be there for Longboat Key,” said Whittall.

Zunz said that Whittall had “offered no substantial competent evidence to prove what you are requesting.”

Mayor Terry Gans intervened and said that Zunz was holding Whittall to a standard that was not appropriate.

Next, a lawyerly conversation ensued discussing what was and what was not ‘competent substantial evidence.’

It emerged from applicant attorney Robert Lincoln that ample competent substantial evidence had been submitted to request the ballroom.

After the conversation on competent substantial evidence, Spoll remarked, “God help us: a simple question with an answer that goes on forever.”

Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck spoke on behalf of Colony unit owner Blake Fleetwood and said that he saw a clear case for appeal and argued that the town should not even consider the application. The town attorney, staff and ultimately the Commission did not agree with this assessment.

 

Motion made

Commissioner Irwin Pastor made a motion to approve the three components of the application: the site plan, the outline development plan and the planned unit development. Commissioner Jack Daly seconded the motion.

Before voting, Pastor congratulated the town’s process. He said that the process involved the entire community as stakeholders and he added that the plan became improved and reflected the community as it proceeded.

Daly said that the application in his mind met the competent substantial evidence test required for approval as well as the standards required to receive the units from the tourism pool. He added that with the approval by voters of allowing the Longboat Key Club to convert 300 residential units to tourism units, the loss of the grandfathered units that concerned some of his fellow commissioners was offset. He said it was a small net increase of 63 units, and he believed it was consistent with voters’’ wishes. He said that the major impact on the public interest at this point was traffic and he felt that the agreement capping events at 425 guests as well as the traffic management plan stipulation was sufficient to offset the concern.

Spoll said what really bothered him was getting rid of the 237-grandfathered units that existed at the Colony and added that he did not believe a 5-star category hotel was in concert with Longboat Key.

“The money is here, but it is quiet money,” said Spoll. He added that if he voted against the plan, which he did, it was because of the loss of the grandfathered units, which necessitated using the 165 from the pool of tourism units that he helped create.

Zunz said he had no problem with the hotel units or number of condominium units, and that he had seen the evolution and changes in the plan that made it more attractive and he realized that most residents seem to be for the proposal.

“Great credit goes to the developer. He’s made changes along the way. I’m fully on board with this and intend to vote in favor of this,” said Zunz.

Brown said he was going to support the project in his vote, “Because I have to according to the rules. But I’m not happy about all of it,” said Brown.

Gans made a final statement and said that he had heard strong arguments opposed to the plan, but added, “They did not reach over the threshold of the applicant’s arguments. Sometimes you have to let the operator operate.”

 

Whittall responds

Following the 6-1 vote of approval, Whittall said he was going to enjoy a bottle of wine.

“It has been a very long battle, consuming not only my time, but my life,” said Whittall.

Whittall added that there are two paths immediately ahead. The first is to fully engage the architects to develop the interior designs and the restaurants and everything from the artwork to the décor of the hotel.

The other path is not a fun path, said Whittall. He said that he has a team of attorneys working diligently on the termination proceedings to consolidate ownership. He said if it goes well, that will take six months, or 18 months if it does not go well. He added that he has offered Andy Adams, who owns 74 units which must be consolidated in order for Whittall to receive a building permit, what he calls “a very attractive and reasonable offer.”

“That offer has not even been considered by Adams. I am not negotiating against myself anymore. When it gets to the courtroom it will end up being consolidated at fair market value,” said Whittall.

Whittall said the community can expect to see demolition of the site in about 90 days after the town finishes condemnation proceedings.

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7 Responses for “St. Regis Longboat Key wins final approval to replace Colony”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    Don’t get your hopes up too high as more litigation will follow, as more than 35% of the Condo Owners are not on board with this as major player being Andy Adams.

  2. Carl F. Berg says:

    “Time takes care of everything”. This “time” was way too long.
    Congrats to all for finally making a decision, patience is a virtue sometimes.

  3. Ross P. Alander says:

    Yes indeed let’s move forward ASAP.
    Ross

  4. Dean Feltham says:

    Great

    Let’s get on with the project

  5. Freda Grusmark says:

    Awesome news!!!
    I worked at The Colony at the Gourmet Deli for 7 years. Many wonderful memories with the guests. Employees there were more like family and we were all very close. So happy for you Kate Moulton, well deserved!!!

  6. Barry S. says:

    Traffic, traffic and more traffic….

  7. Charles J Weber Jr. says:

    AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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