‘Now, here and nowhere’
The notion of “what is happening” and “what ELSE could be happening” brought to mind the recent history of Longboat Key and what might have been our history. Not that this sort of musing has any bearing on where we are right now as a community. Perhaps just thinking constructively about how we got here may improve our vision going forward.
I am not sure there is really anything that needs changing by a small group of residents who have managed to concentrate power in a town government, that for the most part, is appointed rather than elected by the people. I feel this is the most unhealthy situation for any community. Behind the void of citizen participation in the community lies a resident base that inhabits seasonal houses as opposed to living in them as homes. Longboat Key is a town without any intrinsic energy. This is freezing our community between a vanishing past and an incalculable future.
I predict that no one will challenge the current group of mostly appointed town officials this election cycle. This speaks volumes for the sort of community that has evolved on Longboat Key over the past five decades. The question in my mind is, what does what we have become, say about our future as a town? If no one is interested in that happens, then someone will fill the vacuum and will ultimately determine future directions and town policies. Since almost no one is willing to participate in community affairs, the way is opened up for a sort of unintentional oligarchy. In essence that is what exists presently on Longboat Key.
The flap over the Colony is just one example where our current oligarchy has created a new land use zone, not enumerated in our Comprehensive Plan, that constitutes a government supported private entity, immune form existing codes and ordinances. The rational of the commission is that tourism is good for the island at any cost. How do they know this? If they are correct, why have so many pieces of tourist zoned land been converted to luxury condominium use? The answer is they don’t know, and they are not giving the taxpayers a voice. See what happens when we as a community do not participate in our own political process?
Unfortunately the aspirations of a few individuals can have little impact on the future course of the island, unless they are part of the small group of people in power. Once a political system is entrenched in a community, it is usually fairly difficult to control politically. Especially in a community of snow-birds and foreign property owners who are not allowed to participate in local government.
I believe it is impossible to predict how the emerging global economy will affect Longboat Key. If there is a global economic contraction, then the market for 2nd homes will mostly likely not fully recover, and Longboat Key will drift towards being a relic of a lifestyle that has, in general, been abandoned by home buyers. If that in fact does occur, then our community needs to find a way of transforming itself into a place where people live as their primary residence.
The idea that is being promoted by the town commission that the Key Club will somehow transform the fortunes of the entire island is ludicrous. All that will happen is a few additional hotel rooms will dilute an already struggling tourism market, and yet more condominiums will be for sale that do not even offer beach access. Since the Key Club is a private non-equity enterprise, that most Longboat residents find not worth the yearly costs, life for all but those living at Islandside will not notice anything different. Perhaps longer waits to get off the island during the height of season.
The commission might better expend their energy working with the airport to reduce aircraft noise pollution that currently adversely affects the northern half of the island. If we are to attract quality home buyers we need to improve our image as a community. The commercial signage along GMD is spotty and often unattractive and even shoddy. The town’s signs at each end of the island are “plastic looking” and uninviting. We even have trailers being used as billboards on GMD. This is stuff one expects to see on Tamiami Trail and downtown Bradenton. We can have all the gated hotels and condominiums we want and still present an unattractive facade to anyone driving onto our island.
Previously I have proposed using the commercial property at the north end of the island to build a high quality private school. Where I grew up, and it is still the case, people move to and pay top dollar for the Westchester County schools. If we offer a superior educational facility, I believe high quality families will be attracted to Longboat Key both for its beauty and for the opportunities it offers their children.
If we are unable to become more attractive as a place where people live, rather than inhabit seasonal dwellings, then it is hard to see how more retail business will survive. A small increase in tourism will likewise have little beneficial impact on either the island’s quality of life or the few remaining retail businesses. If people are not concerned about the real estate market on the island, then we are doing fine just the way we are, as a place where people spend a few months in the winter.
Most everyone agrees that Longboat Key is a special place. We are not alone in confronting changing times and the new economics, whatever that is. It is possible to make things a lot worse by making bad decisions. The lack of dialog on our current homogeneous political body has accomplished nothing in the past three years but divisiveness and making several attorneys richer. I am going to out on a limb and say I believe the courts will nullify the most recent changes the town commission created to legalize the Key Club expansion. If Ordinances 2012-6 and 2012-8 are struck down by the courts, the people of Longboat Key need to find new leaders who do not further impede any hope of economic recovery on our island.
As the trend on Longboat Key towards further absentee property ownership progresses, more owners merely inhabit their dwellings during the cold month up north, the less likely we will see any change in appointed government. There are four commission seats up for election this year. So far, with about a month left to file, no new candidates have applied. Under Florida law, unopposed candidates to not appear on the ballot. This year voters may well be presented with a blank piece of paper when they go to vote. This will be a carte blanche for the current, mostly appointed, town commission. Forgive my sad double entendre.