LONGBOAT KEY -- Keen to build up to 300 hotel rooms at the Longboat Key Club, the newest owner of the seaside island golf vacation and luxury residence property is ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a special election to get permission to do so.
Longboat Key's town commission indicated its willingness to go along with the plan Tuesday afternoon, unanimously voting during a special meeting to move ahead on an ordinance that now seems likely to go before the town's 6,100 voters in a tentative May 12 referendum.
The only question was whether to conduct a traditional election, or one done completely through a mail-in vote.
Ocean Properties, a Delray Beach hotel and resort owner that purchased the Longboat Key Club for an undisclosed amount in late 2012, is two years into planning a hotel near the southern tip of its 410-acre property. To make the project happen, the company needs Longboat Key to change one of its development rules.
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Ocean Properties plans to build its hotel in the town's 314-acre mixed-use community or MUC-2 zone, also known as Islandside. It's an area in which the city allows just 12 percent of the 1,588 living units permitted there to be overnight or "tourism" rental units. According to city documents, 245 such units have already been allocated within the zone, which leaves little or no allowance for the 300 additional rooms the developer is requesting.
The referendum is aimed at giving the town council authority to convert some of the permitted residential units to hotel rooms. At present, 696 permitted units have not yet been built or otherwise committed.
John Patterson, a Sarasota attorney who represents Ocean Properties, requested the referendum in November. A recent Florida circuit court decision requires the town to take any new tourism uses in the MUC-2 zone to a referendum vote.
Ocean Properties has not yet submitted a site plan or permitting documents for its planned hotel development. Patterson said its final form is still being negotiated, largely with neighboring residents group Island Property Owners Coalition. However, he did say it will involve the construction of multiple buildings. A well-known waterside restaurant on the property, The Chart House, is expected to be the site of a later phase of the development, but is subject to a 24-year lease that would have to run to its completion or be renegotiated to allow earlier redevelopment, Patterson said. Chart House owner Landry's Inc. states that it has no plans to vacate the property.
Patterson said his client will likely submit a site plan to the city in the near future after it works out final details, including a rerouting of Longboat Club Road. "It's complicated in terms of the players," he said.
Bob White, president of the Island Property Owners Coalition, said the more than 700 members are not necessarily all of the same mind on the hotel development. Talks with Ocean Properties, he said, have, nonetheless, made the project more palatable.
"I hope we will have an agreement we can support," he said.
With the town commission's vote, the ordinance moves to a second reading and another public hearing on Jan. 5. While the commission voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a mail-in election, Commissioner Lynn Larsen asked that the issue be reconsidered in January. She said her preference is to hold a standard election that allows for part-time or out of town residents to vote via absentee ballot.
Town Clerk Trish Granger said the mail-in election will cost about $10,000 more than a standard election. Patterson told members of the commission that his client is willing to pay for the election regardless of cost. Granger said the standard election is estimated to cost between $19,000 and $23,000.
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale said an election is the only method provided by the court for changing tourism use in Islandside.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.