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Vision plan revisited

Residents and town officials shape LBK future.

MELISSA REID
Staff Writer
mreid@lbknews.com

The Visioning Plan that was accepted in November 2007 is being re-examined by a subcommittee, which will ultimately determine the future of Longboat Key.

Brenner

From 2005 through 2007, a series of town-hall-type meetings and a consultant company, Arrington-Marlowe, conducted mail surveys to determine what the residents of Longboat Key thought the community should be in the future. In the existing draft of the Vision Plan, the document states the objective of the plan as: “The challenge and opportunity is to manage change in ways that reinvigorate, retain or enhance the quality, the distinctiveness, the culture, and the lifestyle that make Longboat Key so special. The purpose of the Vision Plan is to anticipate longer-term trends and issues, while dealing with short-term factors that will impact the key and propose strategies that will ensure Longboat Key remains a high-quality residential community.”

Members of the Visioning Plan subcommittee are Commissioner David Brenner, Dick Pelton, Planning and Zoning Board member George Symanski, Commissioner Jim Brown, and Planning and Zoning Board member Patricia Zunz. Commissioner Brenner chaired the original Vision Plan committee and ran in the March 2010 election with the idea of adopting the Vision Plan as part of town policy, much like the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

At the previous subcommittee meeting, Dick Pelton noted that the idea of “Keeping Longboat, Longboat,” means different things to different people. Residents who visited or bought property in 1987 will remember a different Longboat Key than those who visited or bought property in 1998.

Planning and Zoning Board member Patricia Zunz discussed options with the renovation of Publix, particularly with creating a town square. Zunz stated that if designed correctly, the area between Publix and the tennis center could be purchased by the town and turned into green space, making a park. This, Zunz said, would encourage those at the tennis center to walk over to Publix and businesses to rent at the Avenue of the Flowers.

Also at the previous subcommittee meeting, Planning and Zoning Board member George Symanski discussed the Comprehensive Plan and what should be considered upon its review as well. Among the topics for consideration of the Comprehensive Plan review were the Longboat Key Club renovation plan, what should be done with the Publix plaza and Avenue of the Flowers, Whitney Beach Plaza, The Colony and considering the Hilton with regard to whether it will want to apply for the available 250 units.

The following are two excerpts from the current Vision Plan document, which address some of the more controversial subjects such as encouraging tourism and retail/businesses on the key.

Visitor/Guest Facilities and Tourism on the Key
At its core, Longboat Key is not a typical tourist community, but tourism is an important part of the economy that supports retail services, real estate and restaurants, beach renourishment and other quality of life features of the town. Many Longboat Key residents first came to Longboat Key as tourists or visitors. Tourism is part of the town’s history. This plan proposes that it continue to be part of its future. The word “tourism” evokes many reactions depending on the connotations one associates with it. There are clearly types of tourism that are not desirable for the Key.

The only type of tourism that will fit well with Longboat Key in the future is its historic model: individuals, families and business groups seeking a quiet and leisurely retreat. Residents benefit by having tourists on the island, although the income of most residents is not tied to tourism. This fact coupled with the negative connotations, for some, of the word tourism makes it easy to say that tourism is not something to be encouraged in the future. However, limited tourism has been part of the key and is an essential ingredient of the economy that supports the commercial services useful to all residents and provides future buyers for the town’s residential properties.

Keeping Basic Retail Amenities for Residents
Concerned residents want two things to occur with the commercial or retail sector of the town. First, they would like to see improvements made to existing physical facilities. By this, they mean that too many of the existing commercial facilities look either dated or poorly maintained. Second, they would like to see: expansions of some current businesses such as a larger Publix and vacant stores filled with additional services that would reduce the need to go off the key such as health care services, bookstores, computer repair and supply services, and clothing stores.

In both cases, the desired improvements are designed to better serve those living on the island, not to attract shoppers from the mainland. Part of the charm and distinctiveness of the town is the fact that the key is to a good degree self-contained. One does not have to drive off the island for most basic services. This fact is part of the calm, slow-paced, quiet nature of the community. Keeping the current commercial spaces viable will serve to help maintain the special character of Longboat Key into the future.

The businesses reported as most at risk are the local small businesses that may not be as financially strong or diverse as the chain stores doing business on the key. These same businesses may be more sensitive to fluctuations in the number of people on the key and have less capacity to survive business slowdowns due to fewer numbers of people on the key for a period of time. The irony, of course, is that small local businesses make a business sector distinctive. They are the businesses that one cannot find everywhere. They are also the types of businesses that people associate with a small town feel. Having a national or regional chain store does not make a community distinctive by definition. Having a one-of-a-kind restaurant does. To keep the key distinctive, retaining a small-town feel, the continued viability of the retail sector is important.

Upcoming Vision Plan subcommittee meetings will be held Wednesday, Sept. 1 and Tuesday, Sept. 7. According to Planning, Building and Zoning Director Monica Simpson, both meetings will be held in the antechambers of Town Hall.

Vision Plan Review Subcommittee Member Comments

Dick Pelton:
“Keeping Longboat, Longboat:” A plan for managing change over the next 20 years—I am bouncing back and forth on this—on the one hand it says to the reader that we respect the past and what the island has stood for/represented and the changes contemplated/planned over the next 20 years will enhance that positive image. And from a PR point of view to the community it says we will not be an Anna Maria or a Sanibel/Captiva or for that matter Ft. Lauderdale.

BUT—here is the BUT—Keeping Longboat, Longboat has no historical perspective. It means many things to various people, e.g., we bought a condo in 1987 on LBK and we remember how the town was; we bought our property that we built on in 1991 and the town was different then; we moved full-time here in December 1998, the town was different. The focus group I participated in (for the vision plan) was 2005, and the town was different. And it has certainly changed from 2007 when the Town Commission accepted receipt of the plan. This vision plan is now a 2010 vision, ending in 2030. I don’t think we want to keep Longboat, Longboat as it is in 2010. So, I guess I answered my own question—I would drop it BUT…

George Symanski:
The Comprehensive Plan review process should consider, among other things:

• The Whitney Beach Plaza area commercial properties for alternative uses should a consolidation of properties be achieved in an application with a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal approach. Just as an example, would some combination of tourism and commercial be appealing to the community??

• The Avenue of the Flowers shopping area. Address what the community would like to see should someone be interested including whether reintegration of the Einesman property into the commercial core would be favorably considered with an appropriate redesign. What has Publix done elsewhere that we would like to have? Should we encourage a gas station? Mr. Brown mentioned other ideas for the broader area.

• Is there any place for some aging in place housing, which would provide residents with ready access to the commercial? This was raised some years ago as missing on the key.

• Any comments for The Colony? Perhaps that process cannot be influenced but perhaps it could be with the thought of favorable consideration for some additional units (assuming some are remaining of the 250), IF the future plans are what is wanted.

• Protect Mar Vista and consider language which could encourage Moore’s to stay, reconvert, etc.

• Double-checking on the Hilton as far as whether any consideration is needed should they wish some of the 250. Believe David Persson or someone said language had been added to the plan for the 250 so maybe not.

• Addressing the Key Club language, assuming legal staff approves since it is in litigation.

Patricia Zunz:
I raised concerns about the apparent lack of green space—parklands—on the colored map you gave us. The following addresses that along with ideas related to the Publix Redevelopment.

An additional thought for the Publix Redevelopment possibilities to be added to the second bullet point:

We should explore the possibility of working closely with Publix to change the essential character of that complex from almost exclusively a supermarket/drugstore location into a vibrant town center. This could provide great advantages to both Publix and the community. The complex could become a destination for more than one-stop shopping for food and medical essentials.

The Tennis Center, which has grown into such an important amenity open to our entire community, has recently undergone a major upgrade with the construction of the new building. However, this vital public facility stands alone, separated from the Publix complex by the defunct Einesman condo site. If the Einesman site could be acquired by the town, with creative imagination it could be converted into a park that would connect the Tennis Center to the Publix complex. It might contain facilities to appeal to a variety of our residents. For example: a shuffleboard area, a small putting green, benches, tables and chairs, better access to a platform that now exists for watching tennis, a water feature. This attractive and convenient connection would encourage the ever-growing number of tennis players to walk over to the new restaurants and outdoor cafes in the Publix complex for coffee, lunch or snacks.

A creative re-conception of the Publix complex as a genuine town center would provide Longboat Key with a first-ever nucleus. At the same time it would make the area an attractive destination for more than shopping for essentials and would help to support a wider variety of shops and cafés within the complex.

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