Colony Fate Drives Election Interest

Development

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY MAR 13, 2017

A plan to redevelop the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort site on Longboat Key has inspired huge political interest on the barrier island. Alongside elections for two seats on the Longboat Key Town Commission, voters on Tuesday will decide on a ballot question about a proposal from Unicorp National Developments that could mean the construction of a new hotel and luxury condo project at the former hospitality destination. But since the plan would also call for higher density than ever existed on that land in the past, much less what Longboat Key town code would allow today, voters may send everything back to the drawing board. 

The Colony introduced many a Longboat Key resident to the island in the first place. “The Colony had an uncanny ability to attract new people to the area,” recalls Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, “and we miss that to this day.”

Certainly, public interest in the site has led to historic political participation. By the time early voting closed on Saturday, 38.8 percent of registered voters in the Sarasota County portion of Longboat Key had voted early or absentee (Manatee County did not publish results this weekend). By comparison, a town election in March 2015 drew out 30.61 percent of voters. This is before polls even open on Tuesday, and Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections says the Colony plan is the likely reason for the high interest.

A website from Unicorp, which includes artist renderings and scenic videos of the prospective project, showcases the potential final results. If the referendum were approved, it would increase density on the property to add 180 residention units, creating a density of 24.11 unites per acre or 417 total units. Unicorp has announced plans to develop 18 luxury residences, 180 hotel rooms, a 20,000-square-foot spa, a resort restaurant and amenities including a ballroom, tennis club, lazy river and multiple pools. The plans also call for including such beloved sites as the historic hotel's Monkey Bar from the historic hotel, which closed in 2010.

The plan, though, raised raised concerns among many islands because of a significant increase in density. Peter Rowan, the registered agent for the Preserve Longboat political action committee, notes that the old Colony project had 237 units on property compared to the 417 in the current plan. Rowan says for a new project not grandfathered in before the 1984 code, only 103 properties would be allowed on property. To stick to The Colony’s original density might not draw ire, but the expansion seems excessive. “I don’t think residents here want Miami Beach-kinds of hotels and condos lining Gulf of Mexico Drive,” he says.

Unicorp representatives have told town officials they need not develop at the maximum allowable density proposed in the referendum, and could scale back on hotel rooms and building heights to allay neighbor concerns. Tourism officials now await the results, knowing it’s residents who will ultimately get the final say. “You have to live on Longboat to understand Longboat,” says Haley. “Whether this is the exact proposal or if it needs tweaks, I believe in my heart that Longboat Key needs the Colony. Any barrier island destination needs to continually reintroduce itself so new people fall in love.” 

Polls will be open Tuesday on Longboat Key from 7am to 7pm. Commission elections will be held in Sarasota and North Port the same day.

Graphic provided by Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections

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