St. Regis sales office meets approval from Longboat Planning Board

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St. Regis Hotel and Residences developer Chuck Whittall wants the Town of Longboat Key to allow him to erect a sales office at the site of the former Colony Breach & Tennis Resort. Last week, he gained a sweep of support when members of the Planning Board voted unanimously recommending support for the plan.

Technically, the Planning Board voted in support of amending the Town Zoning Code that has a condition for a sales office that the applicant must be in possession of a building permit for the project he or she wished to sell at the site.

In the case of Whittall, although he and his company Unicorp have been approved by the Town Commission to build a 166-unit hotel and 74 condominiums on the site, he cannot get the permit until he consolidates ownership. And in the case of the denoumant of the Colony this has proven difficult with Whittall and part-Colony owner Andy Adams embroiled in a court process to force the issue.

Because the Town cannot approve “spot zoning,” the amendment will allow sales offices on sites greater than 8 acres with approval to build at least 40 units. The other requirement is the sales office project must ne guaranteed by a bond in case the Town has to remove the facility or to offset any possible damages or liability.

The bonding requirement is what led to Town staff recommending the Town approve the text amendment allowing the sales office.

The Planning Board at the meeting appeared it had concerns. Members asked about the ownership issues at the Colony site as well as if the bond amounts were adequate.

Whittall made his case at the meeting.

“The code was written in the 1970s before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the change in lending rules. This will accelerate the sale and reconstruction of the Colony site by at least 12 months.”

Whittall added that the change in the code would not only apply to the St. Regis, but to Whitney Beach condominiums, Longboat Harbour, Seaplace and Beach Place and others. He said if a hurricane of any magnitude leveled these buildings the owners would want a sales office and need to raise capital.

“Lenders want 50% to 60% of the units presold prior to construction when it comes to larger projects with expensive units,” said Whittall.

Board member and Commissioner candidate Mike Haycock said that he agreed with Whittall’ s case for sales offices on larger properties but had lingering concern on the ownership issue.

“How can you get a permit on something you do not own?” asked Haycock.

Longboat Planning Director Alan Parsons explained that it is the condo association that is allowed to apply and represent owners and has standing for permits. It was explained that that is how the application and approval for the St. Regis Hotel and Condos were granted. Often owners disagree, he said, but condo associations are the authorized agency for permitting and development.

One board member asked how water and sewer would be arranged as well as parking,

Whittall replied that it would happen the way the code allows, through representation by the Association.

“I ask you what is for the greater good? Will this benefit the Town? asked Whittall.

Green asked Whittall what the time frame is for the ownership issues. Whittall answered,  “Andy Adams’ attorney is here and they have been an obstructionist.”

Soon after this statement, the attorney for Adams, who owns 74 of the Colony’s 244 original units, spoke. He objected to “Mr. Whittall imposing his development plans on private property owners.”

Planning Board Chair BJ Webb made clear that the matter under consideration was the zoning text amendment and not the ownership of the Colony assets.

The Adams attorney vowed to challenge administratively and legally any text amendment and any permits issued.

Haycock made the motion to approve the ordinance and discussion ensued.

Board member Phill Younger asked that the amendment be amended to make the acreage requirement 8 acres and 40 units for the sales office to apply to more properties. That change was accepted.

Webb said she thought approving the measure would be a proactive step foreword in facilitating redevelopment on the island of aging properties.

“Why would we not want to give our town the ability for real estate taxes to come in and allow redevelopment faster?”

The board vote in unanimous approval of the sales office amendment.

The issue will now go to the Town Commission for consideration.

The Longboat Key Town Commission voted 4-3 last fall against a different code change that would have allowed a temporary sales office to market future St. Regis condominiums at the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort site. Whittall hopes the modified language will be met with Commission approval.

On a side note,  Younger said the Colony property looks better now than it did when he got here in 1987.

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