Brent Batten , firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-263-47767:38 p.m. EDT October 12, 2016
Only lawyers, politicians, land planners and bureaucrats pay attention to comprehensive plans.
Comp plans, as they’re called, have been required by state law since the 1980s and require local governments to create a vision for the future in anticipation of growth.
Most citizens are as interested in comp plans as they are in say, the brand of leaf blower their lawn company uses.
But for residents concerned about the future of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, the comp plan is suddenly very important.
On Friday, Mike Watkins, president of the Beach Club, informed City Council members the family ownership group is looking into alternatives for the property.
They’ve enlisted the help of a “respected international real estate firm” to identify prospects and evaluate options, Watkins said. One option he mentioned is “selling the resort outright.”
Discussing the letter Monday, Watkins and Jason Parsons, general manager of the resort, said it’s too early to say what course the exercise might follow.
The property starts at the beach and stretches east to U.S. 41, prime real estate in the heart of a market accustomed to fits of transformative growth and redevelopment. Traditionalists worry that the process could result in a change to something other than the oasis of green it has been since 1929.
Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
That’s where the comp plan comes in.
The land the Beach Club golf course occupies is zoned for residential use. Under the particular zoning category, the owner could put about 300 single-family homes there.
But in the city’s comprehensive plan, the golf course is designated for recreation and open space. Putting homes on what is now the golf course would require public hearings, a presentation before the city’s Planning Advisory Board and a majority vote of the City Council.
City Council members would be under no obligation to grant the comp plan amendment.
“They can say ‘No’ because they don’t feel it’s consistent with where the city wants to go,” said Robin Singer, planning director for the city.
Sentimental attachment to the old course, Naples’ first 18-hole layout, would be a strong force against any plan for drastic change.
But another strong force — money — could pull decision makers in another direction.
The entire Beach Club property — hotel, golf course and amenities — generates about $71,000 in annual tax revenue for the city, records show.
The taxable value is about $61 million, “Which, I assume, is well below the anticipated sales price,” observed Naples City Manager Bill Moss.
Some existing single-family homes abutting the golf course have taxable values of up to $4 million. Others are as low as $550,000, with values in the $1.5 million to $2.5 million range not uncommon.
Assuming a developer would tend toward the luxurious, an average assessed value of $2 million seems reasonable and might even be low.
Three hundred of them would amount to $600 million in taxable value, a nearly tenfold increase in the current tax base.
Then consider additions that could be made west of Gulf Shore Boulevard North, where the hotel sits.
Current zoning allows buildings as high as 75 feet. Only the main hotel tower approaches that height now, meaning the outlying buildings could be taller. That, too, would add taxable value. Under current zoning and the comp plan, the buildings could be condominiums or a hotel.
Putting commercial uses along U.S. 41, similar to what exists along the rest of the road through the city, would require the strip to be rezoned. But should a developer succeed in getting a rezone, it would add even more value to the land.
All told, the city could be looking at an annual tax windfall of $1 million or more if the Beach Club were to be redeveloped to its maximum density.
That would be a 3 percent boost to a general fund budget that runs about $33 million per year.
Nothing suggests the Watkins family is looking to cash out quickly to the highest bidder without regard for what might happen to the property going forward.
In his letter to City Council, Mike Watkins points out that the family has gone through the process of considering options before and always concluded that continuing to own and operate the resort was the right thing to do.
A $9 million renovation of the golf course is nearing completion, another sign the family has an interest in maintaining the property as a resort.
Other options mentioned by Watkins include bringing in a partner to diversify risk, and refinancing the resort to continue to make improvements.
Those ideas bode well for people hoping the property stays as is forever. But the thing that ultimately protects its status may be the often-overlooked comprehensive plan.