Judge agrees: Colony must be demolished

Editor & Publisher

An attempt by a small group of Colony Unit Owners to stop the Emergency Demolition Order issued by the Town of Longboat Key of the once famous resort failed in court last Wednesday.

The owners of units in three waterfront buildings that are situated on the very Gulf-front edge of the Colony property attempted to convince Sarasota Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll that the Emergency Demolition Order violated their due process rights and “constitutes an impermissible taking of their property without adequate and proper notice and a property to be heard.”

The attempt to stop the demolition was spearheaded by Andy Adams, who owns 70 of the 237 units at the Colony, and Sheldon and Carol Rabin who own two units.

To succeed in stopping the demolition, the plaintiffs attempted to convince the Judge that the harm caused would be irreparable and irreversible and that their particular structures were not in imminent danger of collapse and posed no undue threat to the public health, safety and welfare.

The Town of Longboat Key issued its Emergency Demolition on May 31 of this year following numerous findings by the Town Fire Marshal and Building Official.

At the hearing, Fire Marshal Lou Gagliardi provided abundant testimony of termite and  water damaged walls and support beams, delaminating roofs, collapsing structures and mold so prevalent that Longboat Key Firefighters have a standing order to not enter any Colony structures to protect their safety even if a fire were to occur. Gagliardi also made clear that the Colony structures are vulnerable to both the possibility of any major wind event as well as ignition through lightning strikes.

The Judge did agree that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm and recognized the intrinsic value in the loss of the waterfront units that are built seaward of the erosion control line and cannot be rebuilt due to government regulation. Although that constitutes a loss, the remedy or only recourse would be for the owners of these units to possibly sue the Association of Unit Owners for failure to maintain the property and for the loss.

Judge Carroll agreed with the Town in perhaps what became the most important criteria that was necessary to decide the issue. That criteria is what is in the public’s best interest. To that end, the Judge found that the Town clearly demonstrated the imminent danger to the public and Judge Carroll said in his ruling, “The public interest vastly outweighs the private interest of the plaintiffs.”

The hearing lasted more than six hours and the outcome marks a major transition in what residents will soon see at the former Colony site.

Within a month, the 237-unit resort that was developed into an internationally renowned tennis resort operated by Dr. Murray Klauber for more than four decades, will meet the wrecking ball’s fury. After the demolition, the site will be cleared and seeded with grass to look like a park until redevelopment commences.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said bids will be solicited through next week and then a decision will be made as to whom the Town will hire for the demolition work.

Unicorp President Chuck Whittall says his company will bid on the project.

Orlando-based Unicorp was approved by the Town Commission in March to build a 166-room St. Regis Hotel and 78 condominiums on the site.

The only step remaining for Whittall to accomplish before he can receive a building permit from the town is to consolidate ownership of the remaining unit owners. To that end, Unicorp has initiated a termination lawsuit in an effort for the Court to arrange and compel the consolidation through an equitable process.

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