A credo

Although the controversy over the Key Club expansion has occupied the limelight, this issue is really peripheral to the overall strategy of the municipality

Contributing Columnist

Occasionally I will get an e-mail from a reader that tells me that I am not always communicating my point of view as accurately as I think. With your indulgence, let me try to clarify my guiding principles during my Longboat Key life and beyond.

I have always thought of LBK as if it were one gated community. Like all large successful developments of this type, there is a conglomeration of different types of homes and commercial activity.

If it is done properly, it results in a theme. You know when visiting what the intent of the developer was. For example, you assume Sarasota Square must have fine shops because Saks Fifth Avenue is there. Arvida certainly was one of the best at this, and Longboat Key greatly benefited by their presence. I think if Bob Wilhelm is anywhere where he might read this, I will hesitate a moment while he picks himself up off the floor…but in actuality, the town and the principal developer worked hand in hand to set the tone.

Although the controversy over the Key Club expansion has occupied the limelight, this issue is really peripheral to the overall strategy of the municipality.

My objection to that expansion was based on the simple fact that to allow the project to go forward in the fashion it has, the town fathers had to throw under the bus the closest residents, resort owners and the golf club members. I would have been in favor of any compromise that got the approval of these groups. I just didn’t think it fair to ignore their issues just to achieve some possibly imaginary result.

In the general sense, I am concerned about the feeling I get that the current P&Z and Town Commission are giving up any future control of development throughout the entire island and losing the strong bargaining position the town has always held.

By agreeing in advance to actions by future applicants, the town will place the town officials in the position of starting on their own 10-yard line and with the builders having the ball.

For example, if you have already designated an area for tourist or commercial development, you no longer have the right to decide whether the hotel should be the Four Seasons or Motel Six or whether the new store will be selling Gucci or $10 tee shirts. In the first case it raises the value of all of the adjacent properties, in the latter, it drives them down. If you haven’t given away the store in advance, you can still have some control. Under the changes being contemplated, you surrender this option.

When I was still a commissioner, Michael Saunders and Art Falls came to us with a lovely plan to create a charming site with sidewalk cafés and a restaurant at Buttonwood Plaza. It violated all of the codes, but because it seemed to those of us who looked at it that it would enhance the area, we changed the rules to allow it to happen. Unfortunately, one of the partners, Art Falls, changed his mind, but it demonstrated that the town always had the right to make adjustments when it made sense.

There are many commercial eyesores up and down GMD. They do nothing to increase values, either for their own properties or those adjoining. A plan that would encourage the gentrification of these areas would be very desirable. At one time, we thought that making them mixed use might do the trick. Another idea is to change them all to residential zoning, therefore making the major commercial tracts even more desirable, and by doing so, encourage those owners to rebuild in a more upscale manner.

Much of what will happen at the largest commercial site, the Avenue of the Flowers, is now being planned without input from the town. This is the rebuilding of Publix. They will be revising their store to incorporate the CSX building. It would be good for the town if the new construction also incorporated the properties in the back along with the restaurant to make them all more accessible and give those merchants a chance to do business. Having observed the way the club’s proposal was accepted lock stock and barrel by the Town Commission and with absolutely no input from the P&Z Board, it would give the Publix people no reason to think it necessary to seek pre-approval of their plans.

Speaking of the P&Z, I commend the newest member, Brad Saivetz (you can get up now Brad), for pointing out the lack of involvement of that body in the club approval process. He did express himself in his usual fashion—Brad is not one to hide his brilliance—and P&Z chairwoman BJ Webb will come to realize it isn’t a fun thing to fight with Mr. Saivetz and you had better do your homework. I have known and contended with Brad for more than 20 years, and the nicest word I have ever heard used to describe him is “impossible;” but the town will be well served as long as he sits on that board.

In Florida, towns the size of Longboat cannot be all things to all people. They need an identity, and that persona is vital. Longboat Key has in the past worked hard to create an image. The current negative political climate, a climate that is not confined to LBK or even Florida, must not be aloud to harm this perception. This is the issue, not tourism versus residential. If handled correctly, that determination will occur naturally if controlled and guided by a philosophy that keeps the overall aura of the town in its consideration, not special interests. If this can be made to occur, the future will continue to be as successful the past.

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1 Response for “A credo”

  1. George McFarland says:

    As dumb as the writer herein has portrayed himself, the one thing he did right was praise Brad Saivitz for his acute wisdom.

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