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Longboat Key Election 2013: Candidate countdown…

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Last Wednesday night, Feb. 27, the six candidates for town commission gathered at the Bayfront Recreation Center for Longboat Key News’ final debate before the March 12 election. 

In attendance were residents including former Mayors Jeremy Whatmough and George Spoll, as well as current Commissioner Lynn Larson and Vice Mayor David Brenner. Commissioner Jack Duncan who is also a candidate however in an uncontested race, was in Washington DC on commission business. 

Here are highlights of the debate:

After the Key Club lawsuit, and the town is stating its going to do community planning long term, why would we then rapidly be developing codes for the Hilton, and not put the community process first, but creating the policy first?

Mayor Jim Brown (District 4): We all know our codes are broken, and I’ve been saying we need to get to fixing our codes. We’ve reached a point where if we don’t fix then now it’s going to die. The Hilton applied under a plan to add 85 units, the 250 units approved back in 2008, were required to go through an outline development plan in order to be approved. I disapprove of how this is going as well, but we changed the way the 85 units are distributed.

Larry Grossman (District 4): I attended a Sarasota City Commission meeting where the Wal Mart appeal was discussed and the commission listened to 50 people speak who said they did not want a Wal Mart in the city, and decided to overrule the city planning committee which recommended one. This is in sharp contrast to what happened to the Key Club and what this commission did.

Commissioner Terry Gans (At-Large): the town said we need tourism via referendum…We already lost the Colony to a great extent, and we have an existing property that is in the beginning process — the Hilton — to address it through the one zoning district. We’ve had legal and zoning advice that says this is proper to do, its wise to do because we have to have a viable tourism center.

Irwin Pastor (At-Large): The commission is taking the codes and making it about what they can build. That’s the reason five judges came down on the commission, they didn’t represent the residents…I’m for the Hilton and I want to see it built, but I want to do it correctly.

Phill Younger (At-Large): As far as the Hilton goes, there is no opposition on this island to start what they were out to do without the comprehensive plan. We’re trying to work with the Hilton to keep the Hilton, we lost the Holiday Inn…we need a proper balance with residential and commercial in a way that is proper and sound.

Gene Jaleski (At-Large): I didn’t hear anyone talk about how difficult life is on the key while Publix is being built. We used to be a retirement community…I’m not sure we’re wanting that much tourism anymore…Mr. Pastor has said we broke the law when we re-wrote the codes after the Key Club plan was passed, we did not break the law, it was written in 1984, and it needed to be re-written.

 

Longboat Key News (to Gene Jaleski): You stepped down, can you explain how I can reconcile that with the demands of the job when I feel you have to lead under all conditions?

Gene Jaleski: The first year we had a split commission, the Key Club ginned up the town and we thought that we must get these two sides together. Once the commission was split, they only let me talk for two minutes, I wasn’t allowed to talk. Everything I said was right, first commission meeting I raised my hand and said we should get a land use attorney, but the current town attorney advised us not to.

(At this point former Mayor George Spoll stood up to defend the commission at the time that Jaleski spoke of, since he was also on that commission, and said that he had a letter that Jaleski wrote in which Jaleski stated his resignation. Spoll also stated that Jaleski had violated the Sunshine Law, which Jaleski vehemently denied.)

 

To me, the fact that Longboat Key kept losing places to have a snack or coffee made it so that you had to drive to the circle which is not easy to do during season with traffic. The question of commercial and tourism has been a question as along as I can remember. What is your vision for the key? Is it for retirement community, some commercial?

Gene Jaleski: When I moved here in 1985, the Village was filled with artists, the people I knew couldn’t afford the places that are here now…At some point we went from people who spend 6 months of the year here to 2 months of the year. This creates less people who are using the commercial. We need a balance, but I’m not sure how we get there, but we need to look into what we want for the community.

Phill Yonger: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t fall in a day, but it did fall. Longboat Key has been gradually built over the years and we have to face where we are today, or we will fail. I would like to see a balance between the commercial and residential. I don’t want Miami Beach and I don’t want Las Vegas. We need a certain amount of tourism on this island. When the Holiday Inn left, we lost 180 rooms, Harry’s lost 18 percent of his business. Publix has been a wonderful neighbor coming in. Mr. Guiliani at the north end is working hard to build it up. We need to make something so in the future our children will come here.

Irwin Pastor: I support responsible, sensible development. I think we are out of balance a little bit. I think we all agree that 250 units would help bring us into balance, but we can’t just put them anywhere. To overbuild a hotel, and build it on a hotel parking lot and make a Motel 6 is not what we want. We want a four or five diamond hotel, but we have to be careful as to where we’re going to put it. I agree we have to do something about it, but we can’t just overbuild.

Terry Gans: Everybody is for the proper balance, and its easy to say that we want responsible development but it helps to have been there while its been developed. We’re all interested in doing it the right way…Not every issue is a referendum, I think we’re going to be a residential/commercial retirement community. We need the tourist aspect of it to give the chance to have the number of heads for businesses to survive. It is a balance, and this commission is working on it.

Larry Grossman: This goes back to the issue, its losing small businesses, something like the Whitney Beach shopping center, it’s looking forward to the future, you need some information and guidelines then you can do your policy and set your goals and objectives and make your decision. I see very little studies like I’m used to so that you can make your plan. Residential is our primary use, commercial services both residents and visitors. You can’t afford to blow it, you have to look at it in the overall zoning of the island. The Hilton is a tired property that needs to be refreshed, and we have to look at the whole island.

Jim Brown: The key has gone through an evolution, and it’s very difficult to determine where we stand with the economics being where they are. The minute the Publix opened in 1984, Whitney Beach Plaza started going downhill. The thing that we have to do is to have a study, an economic analysis of where we are, where we need to go and try to rectify the problem. Balance will always be important. I don’t know anybody on this commission that wants too much commercial, we don’t really want a commercial town, we want a place to go for a few goods and services. This commission is continuing to work on it.

 

Do we need a cell tower?

Jim Brown: I hope not.

Larry Grossman: No.

Terry Gans: We have to have service.

Irwin Pastor: We have to solve it because you’re talking about health, safety and welfare and sometime we’re going to have to solve it.

Phill Younger: We need to improve communications; do we need a cell tower? Unlikely.

Gene Jaleski: We will have 4G next year, no cell tower, you’re signal will double without doing anything.

 

If a community center could be accomplished with private funding, would you go to residents for conceptual approval (a referendum) and would you support it? 

Jim Brown: The voters would have to look at it, yes.

Larry Grossman: If we keep neglecting these basic functions that we have, no one will want to visit us, so yes.

Terry Gans: If we have a private funding source, and we have a public input, I don’t see the need to have public input.

Irwin Pastor: If a private enterprise is going to build it, I’ll assume they’ve done their homework, so I would allow them to do it. I would support it without a referendum, it’s a matter of supply and demand.

Phill Younger: I would support it if we have a properly sized and priced community center. Well there probably would be a referendum, because in order to finance it would need to pass a bond. So in a sense yes, a referendum on it would be needed even if it is privately funded. We would have numerous hearings on it, and then yes, would have a referendum.

Gene Jaleski: I am against any community center that is not put before the voters. I am for a community center — something that brings people out of their homes and into our parks. Yes, a referendum is needed to see if people even want it.

 

 Tell me something that you think is a positive thing the town has done, and the most egregious thing you’ve seen, and for commissioners the best thing you’ve done or accomplished and what you would have done differently?

Gene Jaleski: Somebody came into the town to organize the town departments, and this commission has organized and streamlined town hall. They have cleaned house where they need to be cleaned. The most egregious thing is what is going on right now with the Hilton. The commission wants to get rid of height codes, density, and setbacks.

Philll Younger: It’s hard to pick just one of them. The re-working of the beach nourishment plan was one of them and it was my proposal based on the research of our beach engineers. It allowed us to maintain our properties and saved us $30 million…We don’t always vote the same way, I’m not going to criticize a vote I didn’t agree with. I wish that when the Club plan had come to us it had been a little more tempered. But it wasn’t, and we had to vote for what was in front of us.

Irwin Pastor: I honestly believe that every commissioner believes what they believe in and work hard. My disappointment is that they’ve had a terrible record, they’ve forgotten the electorate…They went in the wrong direction, they were going to fix things, they’re going to support developers. I think they recognize it at this point. They should have represented the people first, the developer second.

Terry Gans: The thing I’m proudest of is to be part of a consensus of a good working body that is willing to address issues which has laid unaddressed for years. They are looking at what is best for the entire island. I prefer to talk about the ‘we’ instead of the ‘I,’ it’s been a participant effort. Thus far in my tenure I regret nothing.

Larry Grossman: I would echo about the amount of time that is spent working if you are on the commission, you are always going to be available to respond to complaints. So I appreciate what the commission is doing. So I would say that everything that they have done, I have real problems with, just the way people are treated, I don’t find its treated with respect. And the way they go about making decisions, the cart before the horse, writing the codes before having the study. Process results in a good product. Everything from dogs on the beach to passing an ordinance before the study.

Jim Brown: I have a lot of things I’m proud of, the beach renourhsment in particular. The fire union negotiation with a new negotiation is a good solution and probably will be copied all over the state. We are now capped at 13 percent. We all recognize the problems that existed and it’s easy to criticize the Key Club decision: Would I like to do it a different way? Yes ,but I had no choice.

 

Resident (to Irwin Pastor): What is the status of the Key Club deal?

Irwin Pastor: Ocean Properties came to the owners, which is what should have happened in the first place, and they felt they had a great opportunity here building a four diamond facility. I worked with them myself and we went through 54 points of the code. We have a tentative agreement, we spoke to the 26 property owners and asked them what they thought and they were absolutely delighted with what Ocean Properties had to show. Obviously, next they have to submit an application. Everything on the north side, the driving range and clubhouse is going to stay. They’re proposing to move the road to the north, because of the safety concerns and business reasons. Proposing an Inn on the pass hotel with 11 stories, three of which were residential. You’ll have what they call a seven-story tower. The meeting space will be a conference center in what they call building number five, where the beach restaurant is, and a brand new building will be added as well as some pools put in.

Bob White: My understanding of the details were that they were not going to be made public. I would not characterize us as having a tentative agreement, I am optimistic we will have an agreement. We are not committed to it, and I have not presented it to the board leaders of IPOC. Ocean properties is vastly different than dealing with Loeb, which I’m sure we never would have reached an agreement with.

 

Resident (to incumbents): Can you give us a sense of when we’re going to have good cell phone service?

Jim Brown: The town has been working the entire time by using studies and we’ve identified the problem areas…Government is set up that we can’t just do everything overnight.

Terry Gans: We have to have service throughout the island, I think we have to deal with what we have now, there’s always new technology around the corner…I would rather have it sooner than later.

Phill Younger: I don’t think we need a cell tower. And I feel like that it’s only fair to open the question up to the opponents.

Gene Jaleski: I’ve been at this for 6 years, and I have put in more time and effort into finding better cell reception than anyone else. For half the cost, we can have town-wide wi-fi.

Larry Grossman: I don’t think it’s a government function to provide a service, I think we can make recommendations on how to improve service, there’s a lot of ways of doing this and some of that responsibility would be user with a carrier.

Irwin Pastor: The town has a responsibility to solve the problem. You’re talking about safety, health, and welfare in case there would be litigation in case something would happen. Hopefully, this would be solved without a huge cell tower.

 

Closing statements

Gene Jaleski: My opponent says he’s saved us $30 million, maybe. Sand erosion doesn’t take a holiday, it just keeps going. Nobody that made this decision is a beach engineer and I doubt they have the credentials. We’re going to have to dump sand on the north end beaches and we’re going to have to do it again next year. Over and over again I’ve said why don’t they at least ask the cities that are using sand bypass or sand recycling and see how they say it performs. I’ve also introduced the idea of LED turtle lighting which would benefit the entire key.

Phill Younger: I have served this community for 3 years now. I’m open-minded and fair, I do in depth research.

As a rebuttle to GeneThere’s an allegation that the beach plan is in shambles. I have a letter from Gene Jaleski dated Jan. 12, 2011 which states, “I personally believe that Commissioner Younger’s idea is a compromise between doing too much and too little.”

Gene Jaleski: That statement from the letter is taken somewhat out of context.

Irwin Pastor: Terry Gans is quoted on his campaign flyer as stating, “This election presents a clear choice.”  It also says, “Re-elect Terry Gans,” you were appointed. I think that could be a violation. I’ve gone to the meetings, I think you haven’t accomplished anything. This island is only 57 years old, the Key Club is a major issue, and how could you possibly say that I haven’t been involved. The knowledge of issues, several debates, numerous debates, I’ve also addressed pension issues.

Terry Gans: I was concerned about the re-elect statement and I asked Town Clerk Trish Granger ‘Can I say this?’ Trish Granger said I can use this, and its fine. I think you should have more of a record on Longboat Key instead of pitting one small issue in one region versus the rest of the island. I think it’s more important for us to look for the future of the island. What kind of island are we going to find? To do that you have to have some involvement and knowledge with the island as a whole. I think I have done that with my service on the commission.

Larry Grossman: One of the problems I found on this island is I’ve seen the lack of civility. But this is an example of denigrating the citizens of Longboat Key. (To Terry Gans) “A small portion?” These are citizens of Longboat Key. I’ve seen this island stagnate and it is going in circles on some of these things, not all of them the fault of the commission. The colony is difficult. The Whitney Beach Plaza is deteriorating. The question is how we go forward in resolving these issues and I think I have a much faster learning curve than I’ve seen this commission display.

Jim Brown: I hope we can stop bickering over something that’s already happened, Mr. Pastor, and Mr. White, and it’s not going to happen again. My opponent and I come from a similar background, I have spent the last 10 years on this key servicing the public, I think it says something about my ability to lead and get things done. It’s hard to do things I want to do when I have constraints, its hard to work within government, and I would like to have your vote for two more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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