Longboat Key Colony resort will have 18 months to find options

LONGBOAT KEY -- The owners of the abandoned Colony Beach and Tennis Resort will have another 18 months to come up with a plan to fix the blighted tourist destination.

But a bankruptcy dispute and series of lawsuits leave it unclear exactly who holds legal ownership.

Longboat Key commissioners agreed Monday to temporarily extend density rights grandfathered to the resort 40 years ago, protecting condo owners from losing their units until the courts bring more clarity to the issue.

The condo association now will study if the midrise tower, deemed unsafe by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., is even repairable or if the buildings must be razed to make way for something new.

"Had the Colony been a single-family residence, it would have never reached this point of deterioration without a whole ton of code enforcement issues," Town Manager Dave Bullock said. "That leniency has to end now."

Town officials posted warning signs at the run-down resort this month after the property's mid-rise condo tower was deemed unsafe in an inspection ordered by Citizens.

The town's planning department will no longer let anyone enter the building until it passes a new inspection.

The 237-unit Colony resort has been mostly deserted since 2010, when the site fell into unlivable disrepair. Original resort developer and the last remaining res

ident, Murray Klauber, has been chased from the property by mold.

Because the resort has been vacant for a year now, it was poised to forfeit special zoning that granted the builder additional units in the 1970s -- a move that would have severed about 130 of the resort's condos from the books by the new year.

The town commission on Monday agreed to postpone that automatic density change for another 18 months to give stakeholders more time to vet a solution. The decision will be finalized Oct. 1 once some language in the resolution is tweaked.

The association, which now stands as the property manager, must provide the planning department with a $50,000 bond for property maintenance, quarterly updates of the progress and comply with existing town codes.

"We think there's no question it's in the town's best interest to keep these tourism units," said Donald Hemke, a Tampa attorney representing the association.

Many commissioners expressed concern Monday with the lack of progress so far and the hurdles that still could prevent redevelopment.

FEMA rules mandate any improvements must stay below 50 percent of the structure's value or the entire building must be brought up to current building code, which would require raising all of the structures at least 15 feet for flood elevation. That 50 percent rule includes values of all of the units in the building minus land.

Commissioners and residents Monday cast some doubt on whether the required repairs could be done within the purvey of that FEMA rule. Early estimates have tallied the repair costs upwards of $14 million, records show.

"Here we are two years later, and I'm not sure we won't be here in another two years with no commitment from the owners of the units to do what we they want to do," Longboat Commissioner Lynn Larson said. "I see them as a little boat in a sea of sharks with no motor and no oar. They're just floating around, and it seems like we're wasting our time."

The inspection by ProNet Group Inc. earlier this month found the steel bar joints now supporting the property's six-story hotel are severely corroded, with the floor framing system no longer adequate to support weight as originally designed.

An engineering review provided to the town planning department Sept. 15 by the condo association highlighted many of the same problems.

The 14-page study said in order to feasibly reopen the beachfront mid-rise, repairs also are needed to the north elevator, plumbing and generator system, among others. Water intrusion mitigation and mold remediation have made the building "potentially hazardous."

"The uncertainty that exists is problematic," Commissioner Patricia Zunz said. "Their plan is built on a house of sand, and that's very concerning."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman