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Longboat Key Election 2013

Three regions ripe for renewal. The Key Club, Islandside, the Colony and Whitney Beach Plaza.

 

This year’s March 12 election is one of busiest the town has experienced. With the election a little more than three weeks away, the candidates for Commission are in the middle of various debates and seemingly endless campaigning. A total of four seats on the Longboat Key Town Commission are up for election on March 12, with Commissioner Jack Duncan as the sole candidate running unopposed for re-election to his District 2 seat.

The three remaining contested races are comprised of incumbent Mayor Jim Brown being challenged by resident Larry Grossman for the District 4 seat; At-Large incumbent Commissioner Phill Younger against former Commissioner and Village resident Gene Jaleski and the  At-Large Commission seat held by Commissioner Terry Gans is being challenged by south Longboat Key resident Irwin Pastor.

Longboat Key News is publishing a series of in depth interviews in the weeks prior to the March 12 election. The following are questions Longboat Key News asked of all seven candidates.

 

Is there too much commercially zoned property on Longboat Key? Should Town Hall and the Commission be focused on increasing tourism on the Key or what should be its economic development emphasis?

Brown: The answer to this is unknown at this time. There appears to be too much commercial property at this time but how do we know what the future will bring. In the future business owners may chose to locate their corporate headquarters to LBK so they can enjoy our assets while they still run their businesses. This is the reason this commission has started the process by bringing in an outside planning group to help us analyse what we need in the future. Part of the problem today is the depressed economy that keeps us from determining how our existing commercial services would be doing if the economy were better. This commission has been working for some time to establish through the Vision Plan what the citizens want LBK to be. Now we are working to determine how to get there.

Grossman: I think there is especially isolated commercial sites along GMD and certainly the Whitney Plaza Shoppes. However, I would await drawing such a conclusion based on facts and analysis. I have proposed that the City conduct a market assessment of all its land uses including residential. tourist facilities and commercial retail, personal services and small office. We hope the Urban Land Institute (ULI) experts can help the Town address this issue. So no policy prescriptions before there is a careful and thorough analysis as may be provided or framed by ULI.

Younger: Buildings and considerable commercial space have been dormant for years, especially on the north end. There appears to be too much commercially zoned property for now and the foreseeable future.  However, owners must be willing to make a request before property can or should be rezoned, as happened recently for two parcels.  The Town needs a proper balance of tourism to sustain the island’s overall vibrancy, but this does not mean wantonly increasing tourism.  The 250 units approved by over 80% of the voters several years ago indicated recognition and desire to seek the proper balance.  Recent new home construction is an encouragement that the economy is turning around, as is Publix’s investment in a new shopping center, and the effort to rejuvenate Whitney Plaza.  The north end overlay was designed to encourage such rejuvenation.

Jaleski: When the island was rezoned in the 1980’s the island’s density was reduced from 75,000 to 25,000. When that occurred a surplus of commercial real estate was created. There is 3 times as much commercial real estate land available as is needed. The result is that commercial property has lost a great deal of value due to simple over supply. There has been absolutely no public outcry for more tourism, except from this commission. The referendum was to “replace” lost units, not to increase tourism which no one wants as far as I, or the commissioners, know. I do not believe any other Florida commission has ever been so resoundingly rebuked by so many judges on so many courts. Obviously, a jointly amicable development was always possible, since that is exactly what has happened. Now we have a new and better designed Key Club, thanks to the new KC owners working with our community.

Gans: Tourism and the viability of retail properties are linked. They comprise two thirds of the balance that has made Longboat the community it has been historically and that we want it to be in the future.  We need to continue the effort to return the levels of tourism to what it was before a number of properties were converted to other use.  Tourists want certain services and retailers need customers.  Residents too want a certain level of shops and services.  The interdependence is obvious, and our codes and policies should reflect this needed balance.  The Publix/CVS renewal is an indication that demand exists for the right project and store mix.  The owners of other properties need the chance to succeed in today’s environment, and that requires an increased number of tourists.

Pastor: Let me first state that Longboat Key is unique and we enjoy a wonderful balance of residential,commercial and tourism which makes us a prominent national and international destination. I would support and encourage responsible redevelopment which protects the rights of current property owners. This takes good governance and long range strategic planning. This is what this election is all about. As we go about changing our Comprehensive Plan and Codes we should recognize this will guide our future history for the next 25 to 30 years. Therefore; it would be a smart investment by the Town of Longboat Key to hire an economic planner to advise our community about how do we maintain the proper balance of residential,commercial and tourism. The emphasis and goal should be to create as much economic value for property owners without giving up the current life style we enjoy.

Duncan: The Town Commission is currently seeking the services of an outside Planning consultant to help the Town answer these complex questions. The Long-term (10 to 20 year plans), Mid-term (5 to 10 year plans) and Short-term (1to 5 year plans) required to answer these questions are at the heart of making the right decisions, as it relates to Longboat Key’s future.

For example, on the surface determining the right balance of commercially zoned property vs. residentially zoned property may sound simple, but that is hardly the case.  Before we can even begin to understand what the right balance of our Town’s assets needs to be, an in-depth analysis of the Town’s:

• Existing and projected demographics

• Existing and projected assets and liabilities

• Vision and Mission consensus

• Infrastructure and facilities life cycles

• Recreational Facilities

• Business / Economic attractiveness

• Housing growth potential

needs to be completed and vetted by the community.

 

Does Longboat need tougher codes to reign in aging and dilapidated properties?

Brown: No, the State of Florida has some of the toughest building codes in the country regarding building structures. LBK is in the process of bring our town into line with other communities across the country regarding property maintanance. The challenge for Longboat Key is to convence the property owners of the key that it is in our best financial interest to keep up our properties and in some cases make major investments to being their properties into line with the expectations of our future visitors and potential buyers.

Grossman: I wouldn’t say tough codes. I would say we need effective codes that are preventative so that serious deterioration of structures can be forestalled. The expectation is that private owners will protect their investment. We don’t live in a blighted neighborhood where concentrated code enforcement “raids” are needed. And we are talking primarily about structural issues where code deficiencies might endanger inhabitants or others. Maintenance codes are not about aesthetics; they are about protecting health, safety and welfare of island residents and visitors.

Younger: The codes should be changed in a prudent manner.  Onerous codes become an infringement on property rights, and codes too lenient detrimentally impact the surrounding areas.  No good purpose would be served by necessitating a cadre of overly intrusive code enforcement officers or “paint police”.  The Commission is carefully evaluating our code structure, with a goal to achieve a reasonable balance.

Jaleski: We are an increasingly exclusive community. Property values have been on the rise for the past twenty-five years and will continue. How this commission can sit on their hands year after year and do nothing about deadbeats and their blight is inexcusable. I, and three other commissioners forced the previous town manager to double the number of code enforcement officers. When this commission gained power, they allowed code enforcement to deteriorate once again and return to an ineffective over-worked single employee. Shame on them for being remiss in their duty to maintain our community as a premier island community. Apparently the commission was so focused on the Key Club legal battles, that they took their eye off the ball.

Gans: Yes.  No one wants to be “big brother,” or dictate paint colors, and nor will we be.  At the same time, we don’t currently have the mechanism to assist neighborhoods in having poorly maintained properties brought into even the most basic acceptable condition.  Planning and zoning is preparing suggested ordinances that will ultimately come before the Commission.  And there will be full opportunity for public comment and participation.

Pastor: The Town Of Longboat Key should have codes to protect property owners against dilapidated properties which compromise safety, health and the welfare of the community. The Town of Longboat Key should enforce the present codes but not be unreasonable when dealing with older properties which is part of the charm of LBK. However; I believe the Town of Longboat Key should revisit it codes both residential and commercial to be more competitive with today’s market place. This would lead toward allowing older aging properties to increase their values in the market.

Duncan: I believe the answer is yes. I feel it is unfair for a property owner to look directly across the street and have to stare day after day, week after week and month after month at:

• a boat trailer in the neighbor’s front yard

• a car parked not on the driveway, but in the yard

• a wash machine in the driveway

• an open, uncovered storage area with items strewed  everywhere

• paint cans cluttering the neighbors yard

• holes in screens and dilapidated paint falling off the house next door or across the street

• an unfinished construction sight

I agree that this topic can be subjective; one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.  However, when your property is for sale and the value begins to diminish because the house next door or across the street looks like a junkyard, is this not a violation of your freedom.

 

Where do you stand on dogs on the beach? Please explain why.

a) Only in a controlled area at certain times

b) Anywhere on the beach during certain times

c) No way, no where on Longboat Key

Brown:    I personally think we can allow dogs to be allowed on the beach on a leash with their owners during specified times. I think most people would hardly notice. However, I do not think an issue that apparently has caused so much controversy should continue to tear this community apart. I would not favor a dog beach or allowing dogs on the beach at this time.

Grossman:  I have written on this subject (see Who Let the Dogs Out?) and testified against allowing dogs or any pets on the beach. The law on Longboat Key prohibits pets on the beach. We have a Turtle and Shorebird Nesting Beach and the beach habitat must be preserved to maintain turtle and bird populations especially those species under threat of extinction. Dogs are not part of the beach’s natural habitat. For the last three years I have been a volunteer with the Mote Marine permitted LBK Turtle Patrol and understand how difficult it is to manage and protect the Turtle nests and how susceptible the hatchlings are to disorientation and predation. Dogs are the last creatures we need to make helping Loggerhead turtles emerge from their nests and make it back into the Gulf without being someone’s breakfast.

Younger: A clear-cut majority of our residents appear to oppose dogs on the beach, period, and I feel that it would my duty to support this majority.

Jaleski: No! Need I say more? I do favor a fenced and camera monitored dog park at Bayfront Park, using a portion of the presently fallow land.

Gans: I have a dog and love having dogs in my life.  I also like living in harmony with my neighbors, and I can see this issue has the real potential of being extremely divisive.  There are exaggerated claims on both sides of the question.  We have had a group discuss and study options, and I believe we owe their report a consideration and discussion at a future workshop session.  My dog has lived a happy, healthy life without being on the beach, and I have lived with missing the experience of sharing the beach with her.

Pastor: I am a dog lover and I have had a dog as a pet my whole life. However; I do not think dogs or any other pets belong on the beaches of Longboat Key. We are a barrier island and a sanctuary for birds, turtles and wild life in general. Pets on the beaches could have a very negative effect on the balance of nature. I also think our beaches have public access and it will attract outside residents who may not be as vigilant as residents in following the proper hygiene.

Duncan: No way, nowhere on the beaches of Longboat Key.  Why?  Because we do not allow dogs (pets) on our beaches now and yet, you will see dogs on our beaches every day.  Why, because we do not have the resources to enforce our existing rules.   Thus, I feel if we open up our beaches to dogs, even in confined areas, in a short period of time the rules we put in place for clean up, leashes and whatever else will be ignored and will not be enforced.  Also if visitors see dogs on the beaches in one area, they will think the beaches are open to dogs in all areas.

 

Is Town Hall handling the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort situation correctly? If not, what should the Town be doing? What do you hope to see at the Colony?

Brown: Yes, I believe the issue is being handled properly at this time. If however, the parties who are currently dealing with the legal and other issues that have prevented them to coming to a resolution, do not show progress by the next deadline set by the commission, we will have to look very hard at whether a further extension of the properties grandfathering is in the best interest of the town. These people have a huge burden to resolve their problems but the town has been more that generous up to this time. I believe there is a limit to how long this matter can remain unresolved.

Grossman: Based on a site analysis I would amend the Comp Plan and Zoning Code to create an overlay zone and not grant any further extensions to extinguish the right to voluntarily rebuild under the nonconforming conditions. The Overlay Zone would be designed to encourage a developer to redevelop the site under new guidelines and provide an expedited review process to get redevelopment underway as soon as possible. The ownership interests are going to have to merge or to convert their interests to an FAR per square foot value so that each of the owners that remains has an interest in the new development if he/she so chooses. The owners can’t wait forever because the buildings are going to seed. The value is in the land anyway.

Younger: The Colony situation is being handled as best as can be under the circumstances.  Until a clear stakeholder arises out of the 5 contenders (with one having branch factions) and all fighting like “cats in a wet paper bag”, little can be done other than code enforcement, which is taking place. Destroying the property rights of well over a hundred owners by letting their “grandfather’ rights elapse would be counter-productive and would likely result in a multitude of lawsuits against the Town.  I would like to see “phoenix” arise from the ashes, to restore the once world-renown status of this landmark facility.  Since current structures are essentially beyond repair and considerably out-date even if repaired, my preference would be a new facility.

Jaleski:  First the town needs an actual real and detailed plan. What to residents really want? Having a few dozen of the usual suspects attend a few meetings about a community center does not constitute and resemblance of a certified community development plan. Personally I want to see only redevelopment that is in keeping with today’s exclusive Longboat Key. I do not want tourist development just for the sake of development, that lacks quality. Everyone would probably welcome a Four Diamond resort. Likewise at the Colony people would prefer to see a luxury seaside resort as opposed to 1950’s style cabins.

First the town should rescind the Colony’s expired tourism density. Then the town should create a new viable zone that encourages the best possible use of the site as a luxury resort that enhances the community while offering true opportunity to a developer and protect the interests of all the Colony owners.

Gans: The Town is doing all it can with an extremely limited number of options at its disposal.  The situation is a tragedy for everyone:  for the unit owners who do not have use of their units, for the founder whose dream and investment helped build today’s Longboat, for our Town’s tourism needs and tax base, and for all those with financial interests held in limbo.  This is tied up in complicated litigation in which the Town has no standing.  The Town can and has applied pressure by recognizing the Colony operation has been abandoned and that its current tourism density can be revoked. There is a real chance that it may come to this, but that action has its own negative consequences.  The Town has required the parties in possession of the property to improve landscaping, pest control, and dangerous structures.

Pastor: When you are dealing with bankruptcy and litigations involving 5 entities and over 230 people you have a private matter which only can be resolved by the parties of interest. The Town of Longboat Key is in a most difficult position. There are but two options. They are status quo or because of abandonment the commissioners could revert the property back to the 6 units per acre. Reverting back would mean the grandfather status of 237 units would be lost. This ultimately would allow only 90-100 units to be built on the property. This may encourage all parties to resolve their differences or suffer the consequences. However; taking away density from property holders could put the Town of Longboat Key into a litigious situation. Wouldn’t it be nice to tear down the structures which are beyond repair; and develop  a four or five star beach hotel with all the amenities ?

Duncan: Yes.  Colony is a privately owned property over which the Town has little control.  As long as the Colony does not violate Town codes, ordinances or negatively impact on the health and safety of the community there is little the Town can or should control.

 

 

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