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Potpourri

RICHARD HERSHATTER
Contributing Columnist
hershatter@lbknews.com

The more things change, it’s also true

The more they stay the same;

Local, State and D.C. too,

There’s just ourselves to blame.

 

As these words are being written, only several days remain before the polls close and another Longboat Key Town Commission election has come to an end.

The contests this year have been marked by an unusual amount of sound, fury and general angst, stemming largely from the tremendously expensive and vehemently fought battle over the Key Club’s abortive attempt to add buildings to its golf course properties while amending the town’s comprehensive plan to make it all possible.

For those who have not been following events too closely, a little clarification may be helpful.

First, the Town Commission itself is composed of seven individuals who serve, without pay, to set policy and direct the Town Manager and Town Attorney to carry out whatever policies have been established.

In a community largely composed of retirees who have come here to rest on their laurels and relax, it is not all that easy to find citizens willing to put in the time and effort to oversee an enterprise as complicated as a modern city.  Whether one agrees with their decisions or not, the incumbents are entitled to appreciation for their willingness to serve.

When the New York Loeb interests purchased the Longboat Key Club and Resort, it was anticipated (and proclaimed by the new owners) that the golf club would be revitalized, redesigned and improved, even to the extent of installing water desalination equipment at great expense, in order to keep the club up to present day standards.

That did not happen.

There is something in the DNA of New York moguls that reacts to the sight of vacant land without high rise buildings on it as wasteful and against nature.  They will tolerate golf as a game, but not to the extent that profit-making edifices are ignored.

The true intentions of the Loeb interests became clear when their new plans not only ran roughshod over Longboat’s established planning and zoning regulations, but sacrificed the existing golf practice range for another new building.

What was promised as a $400 million dollar improvement was really a ploy to make the Key Club more valuable on paper so as to make it more saleable.

And lo, it came to pass that after the Courts shot the scheme down, a buyer in the form of Ocean Properties, Ltd., which already owns the current Hilton Hotel, bought the Club.

There is every indication that whatever is planned for the future, the new owner will consult with and take into account the sensibilities of the neighbors most nearly affected, who, as a group, expended nearly a million dollars to reverse the actions of the current Commission.

Ironically, even if all three of the challengers prevail, the remaining majority on the seven member Commission will still outnumber the newcomers four to three, and from a strictly “political power” standpoint, there is no guaranty of change.

Whatever the outcome of the election, however, it is to be hoped that Commissioners realize that there has been some community dissatisfaction with what some termed a rush to cater to commercial interests.

Whether true or not, it appears that the real reason for unease at what has occurred is that the Commissioners felt that they were acting in the best interests of the town, without first consulting those interests.  It was a “father knows best” kind of operation, where Commissioners had the view that a referendum was not needed – that if they acted in good faith, all would be well.

Nothing can be more basic to the character of a community than its Comprehensive Plan, and it is to be hoped that any further changes to the current plan, which has been in effect since 1984, be submitted to a town-wide referendum before enactment.

Meanwhile, Longboat Key is not the only place where weighty governmental issues are in play.

In Tallahassee, the State Legislature is in session, and a great deal of damage can be done in the forthcoming two months.

State legislators are currently trying to correct the mistakes they made the last time they were in session, when they inadvertently decreed that Canadians could not use their drivers licenses in Florida – that they had to obtain international driving permits.

Unless changed quickly, tourism is going to be lopsidedly hurt, unless similar licenses are required from New Yorkers, Michiganders and Chicagoans. (The rest of Illinois residents are presumed to be decent drivers.)

The State is also making every effort to screw up our Citizens Insurance Company, which has become the insurer of last resort for many coverages that private companies have refused to cover.

On the national level, there is nothing to say.  Washington has become the poster symbol for dysfunctional government, and the United States today resembles nothing so much as a banana republic.

Richard L. Hershatter is a retired Connecticut lawyer and novelist who writes an occasional column of interest to Floridians.  He can be reached at Banyan502@AOL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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