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Some dumps cost more than others

 
RICHARD ESTRIN
Contributing Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

Once upon a time there was a lady who lived in a little pink cottage in a kingdom by the sea. The lady’s name was Susette Kelo and you may call the kingdom New London, Conn. The lady’s cottage was not one of the best in the kingdom but neither was it among the worst, and she loved it. Her neighbors lived peacefully in homes of equal worth, loving their neighborhood, and so they were all content — until tragedy struck.

This is a lesson in hubris, and let it be a lesson for us all.

Misfortune befell Ms. Kelo because the rulers of the kingdom knew that happiness could not buy money, and so they schemed. They lured the mighty Pfizer, king of pharmaceuticals, to build a research castle housing some 1,300 serfs in return for taxes so low that even a corporate giant could hardly refuse. It produced little in the way of taxes but that didn’t matter because Pfizer was only bait.

With Pfizer’s employees in town, the kingdom’s rulers summoned a developer to create taxable wonders. Where? Where the little pink cottage of Ms. Kelo stands, they replied, and on the lands of her neighbors.

The homeowners declared that their rulers could not take their neighborhood since it was neither a slum nor was it blighted, but the rulers cried, “Eminent domain!” The owners said eminent domain had never been used to take property and give it to other owners for higher taxes. But after a long and hard battle, the highest judges of the land said Ms. Kelo and her neighbors had to go. They were offered monetary compensation for their losses — surely not enough to compensate for the disruption of their lives — and were threatened with further dire consequences if they fought on. “Yes we can do that,” rulers said, and they could not have been more right.

So Ms. Kelo and her neighbors vanished. The rulers of New London summoned the developer and said they could now develop. They said they could build offices and upscale condos. They could and would even build a hotel where no hotel had ever stood before. Yes they could, they said — and they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The developer soon returned to them with empty hands. He had no money to build with, he said, and there were none who would lend any. And he vanished into the mist.

Oops and double oops! Pfizer discovered that its free ride was about to end. Its tax benefits were about to expire and its taxes would increase four hundredfold. Pfizer and all its payroll vanished into the mist.

It was a long while before new occupants were found for the vacant Pfizer castle. And it was a longer while before the kingdom found any use for the land on which a little pink cottage had once stood. But in the end, it became a municipal dump. Honest! The kingdom had one of the world’s most expensive municipal dumps — covering more than 90 acres of ground at a cost to the public of about 78 million bucks.

And that brings us to Whitney Beach.

After hearing many residents urge caution and restraint, the Longboat commissioners decided the other day to undo what they had recently done. Then they redid what they had recently undone. And when they were done, no one seems to know exactly what they had done. So they kicked the proverbial can down the proverbial road for a few weeks. Ultimately, they will probably restore the special overlay district that no property owner in the putative district has publicly requested or seems to want.

As the meeting was winding down, one commissioner chastised the audience, apparently for disliking some of the board’s wishes. And another commissioner explained that the overlay didn’t really mean anything since the property owners would have to request what the overlay might already appear to have given them. If such is the case, why bother now? I can think of only two possible explanations, neither of which may be correct:

Possible explanation No. 1: The board wants to look as if it had solved the problem, and then kick that old can even farther down the road. So far, in fact, that the commissioners’ terms will have expired and successors will have to deal with any future uproar if overlay district property owners ever return to cash what they might regard as an IOU.

Possible explanation No. 2: Some members of the board actually want a municipal dump on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

 

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11 Responses for “Some dumps cost more than others”

  1. Anne Arsenault says:

    I am currently sitting in my home on Whitney Beach with the water covering all the sand up to the plantings keeping the Gulf from my home. I knew this would happen in a storm, but no one seems to care. Previous Commissioners have worked for years for a solution which they believed they had found. Why is all their work being discarded?
    As for improving the Plaza, I think the idea of a shopping and restaurant area such as is so popular on Anna Maria is a great idea. There is no place like it on LBK and it might attract people from all over LBK as well as north. It certainly is worth a try. This part of LBK is very beautiful if only people didn’t look down on it. Some of us prefer qualint over high rise. quaint

  2. John Wild says:

    Gene: We have one Commissioner living at the very tip of the “north end” in District 5. Does she support your views? Depending on where you choose to define “north end”, arguably the District 4 Commissioner also could be potentially expected to support your position. Does he? How about District 3, where you clearly were not his supporter. I won’t even ask about those allegedly rich folk in districts 1 and 2.

    Since both “at large” Commissioners live south of the county line, do you believe they simply don’t care? You won’t win support by creating an “us versus them” mentality, I assure you. Perhaps concerned north end resident voters who share your thoughts should pursue these “at large” seats, exercising the power of the ballot. That is, if indeed your position actually has the wide support of people willing to seek these offices and advocate public purchase of land for a park where an ‘eyesore’ currently exists. I think LBK has bigger issues to resolve before encouraging public purchase of north end land. Stick to beach re-nourishment and cell phone towers – public land purchase using whomever’s tax dollars is a bridge too far, even for you.

  3. geneonlbk says:

    John, I lived in South Lake Tahoe, CA for a decade, population 12,000. At that time we had incredible local officials, who somehow managed to convince both the county and the state to participate in local projects and control large developers. I believe that our town government is also capable of great things if they put their heart into it. Creating a community park at the north end will increase the taxable value of 500+ properties ($250 Million) by on average 10% should make sense to any county politician. At the current millage rate that is somewhere around $100,000 annually. Why aren’t our commissioners doing more for the north end? We need positive results instead of generalized minor tweaks to our land use ordinances.

  4. Richard Estrin says:

    Why do people insist that a thing will not work before it has been properly tried? We all know that airplanes cannot work, of course, but why are we so sure about retail businesses in a retail business location — provided that said location stops looking like a slum (as it has for years)? Speaking of hubris…

  5. John Wild says:

    The fact that “we give Manatee millions a year in property taxes” won’t mean spit to politicians who count voters, not dollars. Gene, consider this: 1) the residents of the north end are few when compared to the many living on the mainland or elsewhere in those same political districts; and 2) many of your north end neighbors are NOT registered to vote from their LBK address. That’s why they don’t care.

  6. geneonlbk says:

    We give Manatee millions a year in property taxes, year after year. We get precious little in return for being a cash-cow. The north end park is perhaps the ONLY stable use for the underutilized commercial property. Why haven’t the commissioners leaned on the county to do the right thing? A beautiful transformation of the north end commercial properties will greatly increase surrounding real estate values and increase county and town tax receipts. It is a win-win.

    The proposed north end overlay is kicking the can down the road, using the other foot. How long do Longboat Key residents have to live in a community where there are more land use law suits than property sales? The commission has been unable to improve real estate conditions for over two years. This past record tourism season had absolutely no correlation to anything the commission has managed to accomplish in recent times.

    On what do the commissioners base their unbounded support for the proposed overlay at Whitney Plaza? Do they honestly believe that lipstick and roof patches will revive retail at Whitney Plaza? Several commissioners have stated that retail does not work at the north end. Then why the zeal for a vague overlay in direct opposition to packed houses of residents opposed to an overlay, based on nothing, no impact studies, no community outreach and no reality check.

    Times have changed yet the commissioners don’t appear to get it.

    I believe the overlay will only cause more wasted years of depressed home sales. Who wants to buy a house on the north end with Whitney Plaza next door? Go take a look. You won’t believe the appearance. Why have the owners of record allowed such deterioration? Have they been good neighbors? You decide.

  7. Randy fowler says:

    Howard,
    You nailed it right , why is it so hard for everyone to put this together ????
    After years of the same model why do you think people will change ,
    The island is a great place for winter living , summer sucks, 100 in the shade who can change that ?
    Ask the people who are in office how many stay all year long haha

  8. geneonlbk says:

    Link to Whitney Plaza Overlay discussion –

    http://lbk-folk.blogspot.com/2012/06/niceplace-to-shop-and-live.html

  9. Howard says:

    There is insufficient year-long population and traffic for small shops to survive in the absence of appropriate anchor tenants. Given Publix mid key, if there was a Winn-Dixie this would draw traffic from both LBK and the Bradenton Beach areas. Or a large chain restaurant or nationally recognized boutique restaurant, i.e. Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday, Red Lobstor, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris. Or a quality boutique hotel. But without a quality anchor tenant or tenants that is/are able to draw from within and without LBK, the north end, unless you make the plaza into a park, will never succeed.

  10. William Kary says:

    Very well stated Richard, but far to reasonable of a stretch for Longboat Key… It’s very apparent that there are residents that don’t want what they have in their backyard, but don’t like what they might get instead so they just continue to whine and bellow about what they have, don’t have and feel they are ENTITLED to have.

  11. carol rebert says:

    I think all the rich commissions should be fired from longboat. Whitney Beach plaza used to be a nice little shopping center. There were stores there and a deli. But all the commissioners did not and do not want any business, stores or places where people can go and relax. It has been almost two years now and the shopping center is empty and looks awful and run down. There is no where for anyone to go on that end of the island. I can not believe they would want a dump there. How awful. If it was up to most of the commisioners there would be no shopping centers, or anything. Maybe they should have gone to an island with nothing on it. i just think everyone killed the whitney beach plaza just like they did with the lady with the pink cottage. What a shame.

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