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Short questions for Longboat in the long run

RICHARD ESTRIN

Contributing Columnist

opinion@lbknews.com

We have questions.

Here on north Longboat Key, some 34 civic-minded residents have been pondering the increasingly urgent problems of our neighborhood under the rubric of “The North End Revitalization Project.” The 34 are generously donating time to look at the sad situation, with particular emphasis on the Whitney Beach Plaza and the vacant service station, and to suggest solutions in a process sometimes known as brainstorming. Those in charge identify the 34 as “stakeholders,” and we are grateful for their valuable efforts.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I must inform you that I am a resident and homeowner in the area, an office tenant in the shopping center and a real estate broker with an exclusive right-of-sale listing for the service station — and apparently that is insufficient to be considered a stakeholder since my participation was not invited. Nevertheless, I have attended two presentations of the group’s conclusions, hoping that they could help us to find a buyer for our listing. If you own property anywhere in town, I urge you to pay attention as well. No man is an island entire of itself, as the poet said, and you are a stakeholder invited or not.

If you attend one of the presentations, you may notice that many pertinent questions are not discussed and certain words are not mentioned. The most important of the missing words may be “dollars.” It is explained that the group is concerned with generating ideas rather than practical matters. OK, so be it. But as the process continues, questions will need asking after all. Here are some of mine:

Item: The key is construction of a “boutique hotel” at Broadway Street and Gulf of Mexico Drive. Questions: How big? Since we have heard figures ranging from 100 rooms to 150, how high would the building rise? Given the nature of existing construction around it, could it turn out to be a whale among minnows? Would the town allow three stories “over parking?” Five? Would the town contemplate rezoning that sets a precedent and changes the character of a neighborhood whose tallest structures generally rise no more than two stories over street level?

Item: Would the hotel guests go boating on Bishops Bayou? Question: Would the state allow increased traffic on a fragile body of water often visited by dolphins and frequented by manatees — protected and endangered creatures?

Item: Since the state has declined to allow a traffic light there, the idea includes a roundabout to “slow down” highway traffic and allow guests to scurry to and from the beach — the area’s principal attraction — on foot. Questions: Would the state allow the suggested traffic roundabout on its road? Who would pay for it — the hotel or tax dollars? How much more can you slow traffic that hardly moves on afternoons in the season and during summer weekends anyway? Given the heated tempers common on hot days, would the roundabout be safe as up to 300 men, women and children scurry back and forth across the highway all day?

Item: If the hotel is filled, a small public beach might suddenly have to accommodate 10 or 20 times its usual number of visitors. There are no drinking fountains or bathrooms. No lifeguards. Questions: Would the town have to provide them? At whose expense? Would we be liable for deaths and injuries if protection is lacking? Nonresidents can be careless with litter and trash: who would clean the beach? If visitors ignore regulations and bring dogs or beer, who will enforce the rules? Who will stop ball games and bar boom boxes? Will the town have to hire additional police officers to keep order and enforce the law? At whose expense?

Item: Such a project, with all its ramifications, would have to be financially viable. So take your best guesses. Questions: How much would it cost to acquire the necessary sites through negotiations with the owners — $6 million? $8 million or $10 million? More? How much to demolish the structures and clear and prep the land? How much for architects and engineers? How much for the lawyers needed to fight the legal battles that are a standard part of any project on our island? How much for builders and subcontractors and materials? How much for workers to staff the boutique hotel? And when it is all done and the hotel is open for business, how much could the owners charge for each room and still remain competitive with full-service facilities that are actually on the beach? And finally, at those rates in a community where the tourist season is no longer than two or three months a year, how many years would it take to recover the millions invested in the project and turn a profit?

You guess.

 

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