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Keeping Longboat ‘Longboat’

JOHN O. SUMMERS
Guest Columnist
editorial@lbknews.com

Most residents are in favor of permitting property owners modest increases in housing density whenever these owners clearly demonstrate that these increases are critical to the owners being able to upgrading their properties.  However, on Longboat Key (LBK) the recent requests for increases have been neither “modest” nor “clearly demonstrated as necessary.”

Whenever property owners are allowed to substantially increase the number of housing units (either residential or tourism) on their properties, the effect is to increase the value of those properties and consequently to enrich the owners.  Increasing density has the effect of lowering the total cost of each housing unit built by reducing the per unit land cost.  This allows these owners to make a better profit on each unit.  Moreover, the developer has more units to sell and/or rent.  Hence, it is not surprising that developers and real estate investors seek to get Town codes changed and/or their properties rezoned in a manner that will permit greater housing density.

This enrichment of the developers and real estate investors does not come without a cost to others, usually the town’s residents.  As housing density increases residents have to deal with more traffic congestion, less green space, more parking lots, and taller buildings.  This makes their homes less valuable and the island less enjoyable.  One need only drive around Anna Maria during season to see what it is like to live in a densely populated tourist community.

Let us never forget that the key to Keeping Longboat “Longboat” is maintaining the island’s low density.

Town Commissioners are critical to increasing housing density.

The Town Codes cannot be altered and/or land zoning changed to allow for increased housing density without the consent of the Town Commissioners.  Of course, some Commissioners will insist that the Town Codes say whatever it is these Commissioners want them to mean at any given point in time.  Hence, the first order of business for developers and real estate investors is to help elect Commissioners who, for whatever reasons, are sympathetic to a large increase in housing density on the island.

Providing political cover for the Commissioners – distracting the public.

Once the “right people” are elected (or appointed), “political cover” must be provided for these officials when they are preparing to take actions that would allow for significantly greater housing density.  Residents will not willingly accept anything that obviously focuses on increasing housing density.  Hence, there is a need to divert the public’s attention away from the density issue.

What better way could one find to distract the public than to convince residents that the Town is facing major problems (real, real but greatly exaggerated, or imaginary) that “must be solved” before these problems become completely out of control and threaten the well being of the community?  Those supporting increased density on Longboat Key have focused their efforts on promoting four such “problems.”

1) Small business failures:  Every community with a substantial number of businesses will experience frequent business failures.  In the United States the 2012 five-year, small business survival rates for services and retailing were 48% and 41%, respectively.  This provides an excellent opportunity for those who wish to declare that the Town must do something to “save its local businesses or residents will have to go off the island for all of their basic needs.”

2) Declining number of tourism units on the island:  This is frequently cited as a factor contributing to the “small business failures” noted above.  This prompts some to insist that the Town must do something to “save its tourism units.”

3) Deterioration of commercial properties:  Mature communities usually contain a small number of commercial buildings and shopping areas that are candidates for renovation, redevelopment as commercial properties, or redevelopment as residential properties.  This leads increased density advocates to insist that the Town must do something to “save its commercial properties.”

 

4) Deterioration of residential properties: In most communities that have been “built out” for several years, a large proportion of the residential homes will fail to meet current building codes and/or will not have the newest desired features merely because codes and features change over time. This makes it easy for some to claim that the Town must do something to “reinvigorate the community or housing prices will plunge and you won’t be able to sell your home.”

All of these “problems” have been greatly exaggerated.

With respect to “small business failures” and deteriorating commercial properties, it is the owners’ responsibility, not the Town’s, to operate their businesses in a manner that will make these businesses successful.   Moreover, the Law of Supply and Demand” indicates that supply will increase (decrease) with increases (decreases) in demand, but supply will not go to zero unless there is no demand.

That there are literally thousands of prestigious, upscale, residential communities around the country with NO tourism units clearly demonstrates that tourism is not critical to the well being of Longboat Key.

Anyone who drives down Gulf of Mexico Drive and looks at the impressive new homes that have been built in the past ten years knows that the island’s residential properties are not at risk.

In Emerald Harbor, where I purchased my home in 1999, almost every property is more attractive today than it was twelve years ago.  About forty percent of the homes have been rebuilt, expanded and renovated, or extensively renovated.  Only two of the 82 Emerald Harbor properties currently have a “for sale” sign in front!

Recent attacks on LBK’s housing density restrictions.

Two proposals have recently been submitted to the Town (i.e., the Longboat Key Club and the Hilton proposals), both of which involve large increases in housing density.

Longboat Key Club (LBKC):  The LBKC proposal was “sold” as a “renovation” and it was declared that the project would result in a revitalization of the entire island.  A consultant was hired to produce “research” that would show that the proposed project would result in increased housing prices and to testify to the same.  It was also claimed that Loeb Partners Realty was offering to give the Town $400 million.  What an attractive package!!!

Of course none of this was true.  Not a single building was to be renovated, the consultant’s “research” was not even relevant to the question of whether the project would cause housing prices to rise or fall, and, of course, Loeb was not offering to give the Town $400 million.  Basically what the Club was actually proposing was to eliminate recreational facilities (i.e., 16 tennis courts and the driving range), and to replace them with 196 additional hotel rooms, 176 additional condominium units, new administrative facilities, a meeting room facility, a parking garage and additional surface parking spaces.

To get the maximum out of the Town, the Club insisted that it would not accept a scaled down version of the project and “would walk” if they didn’t get everything they wanted.  This “threat” was clearly absurd.  It’s like saying “If you don’t act to increase my land value by $20 million, I will not do any project.  I would rather make nothing than accept a $10 million increase in land value.”  The Commissioners pretended to accept this “threat” as real and capitulated.  One even commented, “I know it is not perfect and believe me, I know it’s larger than I would like, but the alternative – more deterioration – is not acceptable”.

The Hilton:  The Hilton proposal asks the Town to approve an additional 85 units at the current site, which already contains 102 units, for a total of 187 units.  Given that this property is currently zoned T-6 and totals approximately 5 acres, this creates a real challenge for the Commission.  At six units per acre, this site should only contain 30 units.

Housing density is only part of the problem.  The Commission has to close its eyes to other difficulties with this proposal.  They need to agree to allow the building to be twice as large and they need to be willing to cut the currently mandated open space in half.  Finally, the Commission has to agree to allow a permeable paved parking lot to be counted as open space!  Do these represent the standards we wish to be applied to “our special island?”

One commissioner tried to justify the Board’s accepting this proposal by pointing to the fact that the voters were asked and approved by more than 80% the desire to create the pool of 250 tourism units.  However, it is also clear that the residents never intended the Commission to trample on the Town’s codes in order to award these units to a particular applicant.

To most people the above would seem impossible to accept.  However, our current Town Commissioners had no problem passing this proposal on first reading.  It is difficult to think of anything our current Town Commission would reject if the proposal served to increase housing density on our island.

LBK’s residents must soon decide whether they are willing to allow a large increase in housing density on the island.  If they wait too long, it may be too late to save the island and Longboat will no longer be the “Longboat” we all learned to love.

We need Commissioners who care first and foremost about the residents of this island and their desire to Keep Longboat “Longboat!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses for “Keeping Longboat ‘Longboat’”

  1. Ghostrider says:

    Mr. Johnson,

    Mr.Summers communication is quite possibly one of the best reasoned pieces that I have read here to date. I enjoyed your response as well because it clearly shows those attributes that you believe are necessary for a quiet and successful coastal community. One need only go North over the bridge to see what you believe should be the standard. (You need to cite EXACT numbers on how the tax base is threatened.)
    People now have two opinions to base their judgements on. If we are to follow your recommendations one need only visit Key Biscayne in Miami to see see the future circus that incremental development holds for Longboat.

  2. Georgie McFarland says:

    The gas station with the highest price per gallon of fuel in all of Sarasota and Manatee Counties we can well afford to lose as most residents buy their gas elsewhere and save a minimum of .24 cents per gallon. As far as the restaurants are concerned, many of their customers come over from the mainland. For a business to survive, no matter where it’s location, it has to offer the consumer value to stay in business. Perfect examples of restaurants that can survive are the Lazy Lobster and the Dry Dock, both of which are crowded year round.

  3. Ron Johnson says:

    Dear John,

    Having spent 8 years serving as a Commissioner on LBK I find your comments somewhat thought provoking but lacking in reality. In fact, you have created an exercise in building a Conspiracy Theory. You speak of many issues that are germane and somewhat relevant but used in a twisted way that confuses the reader and confounds the subject.

    Yes, density is a very important issue to the residents of Longboat Key. But before we lost
    the 250 Tourism Units Longboat was Longboat and was accepted by everyone as just that.

    But after we lost the 250 Tourism Units Longboat was no longer the earlier Longboat we loved. And now that we have lost those many tourism units, the reductions in customers has also put financial pressure on the businesses that are trying to succeed.

    The loss of those units was very significant to the Town and the many small businesses that the residents depended upon when Longboat was the earlier Longboat. The Commission and the voters all agreed on this and decided by vote to get back to where we were when Longboat was Longboat.

    The physical structures of many of our businesses have gone into an accelerating state of physical decline. The ever changing and constraining codes as established by FEMA are having a profound affect upon many businesses on Longboat Key. The codes do not allow many of them to rebuild. The other businesses simply cannot afford to rebuild to the latest costly FEMA codes and restrictive Town codes. This situation has and will continue to cause many of our small businesses to fail.

    Could Longboat Key survive as a residential community only? Certainly. But people would no longer enjoy living here. If we were to lose the several successful restaurants, the Publix complex, the hardware store and gas station I guarantee you this would have a very negative impact on this community and its immediate future.

    The Town Commissioners have been trying to cope with these many issues and are not pro-business but rather they are attempting to keep our community the Longboat we all love.

    I suggest that you put all of your conspiracy theory’s and disputable facts back into the that bubbling cauldron of yours and stir them around a few more times. You may be surprised to find that you might come up with a much more positive theory for the future of Longboat Key.

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