A new look

Contributing Columnist

The IPOC/Loeb Realty Partners decision gives the town the opportunity to retake control of their own destiny. The proposal by Loeb for a $400 million extravaganza of condos, hotels and a conference center was too much for a group of untrained community volunteers to assimilate so they just said ‘yes’ without considering the full extent of their folly.

To this day, I think it would be hard to find any resident who could accurately list what was approved. If you are quizzing yourself, here is the package:

• Hotel: 11 stories over a parking garage, 196 rooms for tourism, 76 residential apartments

• Residential condo tower: seven stories high over a parking garage, 27 apartments

• Three villas containing 20 units

• Five mid-rise buildings, residential with 32 units

• One conference center

• One clubhouse

• One spa/wellness center

• One large parking garage

This number of separate projects would be overwhelming if they were distributed throughout the entire city of Sarasota, let alone a small bit of one gated community at the bottom end of one very small town.

To avoid being sandbagged in the future this might be a good time for the town to look carefully at very specific sites that will be addressed one way or another down the line.

To serve as a guide, you could look back to how potential problems were anticipated with the intention of attempting to guide the final results.

In the case of the Village, the planners realized that normal building codes would be impractical on the smaller lots that had preceded the current codes. As a result, they created an overlay zone that allows different standards that make for better rehabilitation of older residences.

A second example of thinking ahead was the problems created by the lots adjacent to the very narrow canals in the northern portion of the town. If an owner wanted to rehab, once again the lots were very small and backed right up onto the water’s edge. Setbacks from the canal have been changed and in the future, a home can be rebuilt with the porch almost on the canal, a very attractive prospect. This concession has been used to almost totally remake Venice, Calif., where an aging area was converted to upscale development. Hopefully, as the demand for waterfront property once again becomes high, the same results will happen in this currently run-down area.

Looking ahead, the Longboat Key Club has an empty piece that was created when the tennis center was moved to Harbourside with enough courts to satisfy the most ardent member. This would be a good time for the town to figure out what they wanted and amend the site plan that allows for the club to update and also pleases the neighbors.

The last issue that should be addressed is the overabundance of land zoned for commercial use. This would include not only undeveloped or virtually abandoned property but the older decaying strip malls like Whitney Beach, Buttonwood and the area around Harry’s Restaurant. I think they should be rezoned as residential either multi-family or single occupancy depending upon the site and the surrounding area. It is a fantasy to think that any developer is going to rebuild commercial property that could generate the rentals such an investment would require, so all they are doing is decaying more every day and contributing very little to either the commercial renaissance or tax base. Of course, all would be grandfathered and the property owners would make their decisions on an ad hoc basis.

The amount of commercial put aside in the early planning called for a population of 75,000 people. You could rezone more than half of the commercially zoned area without hurting commerce or creating any inconvenience for the residents.

While reviewing the commercial zoning, I think it is time to revisit the correlation between number of tables in a restaurant and parking spaces. If we really looked closely, I think you would find that three of the four most successful restaurants are already in violation of the parking allocations. Maybe if a restaurant is so good, people will double up before they get there or usage can be spread out over the day into night. It is a very demanding provision for a start-up restaurant and is counterproductive.

By cutting back the amount of commercial property available, you make what is left more attractive and increase the demand for the businesses that serve the town. The Centre Shops plaza is OK but it could use a facelift and some additional outdoor dining. With more tenants to choose from, the elimination of some of the other commercial land might be just the motivation needed.

These are just some ideas. I am sure that there are others that might improve on these but it would be a start toward making sure the town determines its own future. There are enough citizens who have spent their professional career doing this work to create a committee that could really set Longboat Key on a smooth course. It is how we wrote the sign code that was accepted almost unanimously.


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