Democracy rules — but alas, not always well
“…he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” –Stephen Leacock
When the poet wrote those lines early in the last century, many readers assumed that he was mocking bad writing. Little did they know that he was prophesying our town government in the glorious year of 2012. But the truth became evident in recent days when our commissioners voted for a proposal, then voted against the proposal, then voted again for the same proposal in a way that left no one sure of what had been voted. And then they revoted for it one more time, having ridden madly off in all directions.
The vice mayor explained Thursday afternoon that he was for it after having been against it after being for it because he found out that not all residents were against it as he had thought for a time. That was borne out on Thursday when only four taxpaying voters (myself included) rose to speak against passing the proposal in haste but were apparently over-balanced by the two who spoke for it: an ex-mayor and his wife.
Were the comissioners all listening or had their decisions already been made? We know that the current mayor, at least, was hearing us since he was careful to remind us all promptly when our time was used up.
The issue was the creation of a Whitney Beach overlay district for a number of properties whose owners (or many of them) had not requested it and may not even want it.
Some commissioners and town officials explained that we need not worry since it didn’t really do anything and would not mean anything without further action even though it would mean something by encouraging development in the Whitney Beach area. Oh.
One official said it “provides opportunities” — but for what? One said it would “give a developer some flexibility” — but to do what? The mayor said it would help property owners — who may not want that help. Would it help an individual owner sell an individual parcel for individual use, or simply make buyers think that they must now buy all the properties involved?
One official said it would make construction of a large hotel “unlikely.” But how unlikely since we have seen failed attempts at other unlikely projects resulting in predictable problems. The four “anti” speakers questioned the need for haste to pass a half-baked plan, but the commissioners — though agreeing that it was very incomplete — seemed to be in a great hurry for something, although no one knows what.
We have heard interesting proposals for the area, mostly from people who do not own the properties involved. We have heard the idea of copying the condos-over-shops development on Anna Maria’s Pine Avenue. But this is not Anna Maria, which has relatively few condos. If you want a Longboat condo, talk to Realtors and they will show you condos for sale all day every day till your head spins. And Pine Avenue isn’t a highway. Would people buy condos, however cheap, so they can gaze through their windows at beautiful sunsets over GMD traffic jams? Would you?
Then how likely is it that a hotel can succeed in a non-beach part of a beach community? Are there cost studies and market studies? Are there investors with actual cash in hand and hopes of being repaid this side of Armageddon? Are there developers with real experience in running hotels? Do we have a shortage of tourist facilities anyway? Are guests being turned away from Longboat for lack of space even though the Colony is not operating right now? If so, I haven’t heard of it. Given the cost of building a shopping center hotel, can it become price-competitive with beach facilities by eliminating expensive frills — like beds and bathrooms? What kind of guests would it attract? Would the bayou be turned into a raw bar for guests who bring outboard motors and dine on manatee sushi or protected dolphin tartare? Would guests of a third-class caravanserai treat themselves to potluck dinners, or maybe picnic on streetcornet pot? Bring your own smack and blow? Would the guests entertain themselves in a BYOB cocktail lounge by watching bar fights? How about bedrooms with freelance hostesses renting by the hour? Can it happen here? Are you sure?
Owners of property at mid-island or on south Longboat should not think that these things could not become their concern. Once started, blight spreads and spreads fast. I hope the town’s leaders, in their wisdom, remember that when the issue next comes up.