Mar Vista debacle latest in damaging decisions

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Who should the Longboat Key Club, residents and IPOC members blame for not having an approved and legally justifiable expansion application at Islandside?

The Longboat Key Town Commission.

Who should the residents hold accountable for removing the longstanding controls in our land-use laws and Comprehensive Plan that made a cell tower a near impossibility and the bullish effort to twist new standards that will soon make a tower a likelihood and lower all of our property values and standing as a premier unspoiled destination?

The Longboat Key Town Commission.

And who should Ed Chiles, Village residents and anyone who sat through endless hearings for a proposal the Commission approved and that pitted neighbor against developer and neighbor against neighbor hold accountable?

Same answer — The Longboat Key Town Commission. But unlike Reggie Jackson in 1977, this Commission achieved three home runs for failed decision-making and poor judgment and a lack of true leadership. Let me stop labeling and explain why.


When the banal meet the ad hoc

Longboat Key is a premier community that has enjoyed cresting property values and has an international destination quality. Cell towers, commercialization and dogs on the beach are not part of the brochures that Larry Starr and vacation planners email to Europeans and Manhaatanites. Nor does Michael Saunders and Coldwell Banker agents and Sotheby’s agents like to talk up cell tower plans, failed expansion approvals and residential zones in the village where Friday and Saturday are being staged to rival Clearwater Beach.

But more specifically, the role of our Town Leaders is to not try and play economic developers in the most banal ad hoc fashion. Nor are they charged with taking edicts from a redevelopment task force. All these Viagra laden dreams of revitalization and commercialization are missing the very balance of beauty, property values and residential enjoyment our island was founded upon.

The Commission, in failing to reach difficult and unpopular compromise between developer interests and commercial interests and that of the existing residents is so apparent, appalling and egregious that concerned residents are adopting a fearful “what could they possibly do next?” attitude.


You will learn to say thanks…

Was the Key Club application too massive, too much and out of proportion? Yes.

Did the Commission give every indication that it would give the Club most anything it asked for at whatever cost to the neighbor? Yes.

Was the Town warned of the illegality and possible failure in its approach by its own counsel? Yes, repeatedly.

But residents got the old castor oil treatment or prostate exam edict that, “this may hurt but it is for your own good.”

The same is true in our leader’s Cell Tower discussions. Longboat, which has the distinction of having fairly decent cell service without a large tower, has a large group of mid and north end residents who not only do not want a tower, they will sell their property, they will hire attorneys and they will question the legality of any manner of tower approval.

But according to the Redevelopment Czar Force and others who do not live on the north end, it is needed for safety, tourism and revitalization. Again, “this tonic is good for you” is the message.

But instead of making real policy and finding a way to meet the need for seamless coverage with the insistence that a tower does not go up, we have Town Staff and Commissioners changing the rules to open up many many more possible tower sites. They will argue that the criteria of evaluation will make a tower the last possible and least desirable option. And the idea is if the Commission evaluates according to these simple rules, we will never have a cell tower.

But then just last Monday, Commissioner Terry Gans suggested that the Town should be able to consider the financial viability of a tower in consideration of proposals. In other words, if a tower is economically viable and is the most profitable solution, we should be able to use that in our consideration.

That attitude shows little regard for policymaking, variance process or an objective method of evaluation. We already know Commissioner Lynn Larson would love to see a cell tower on the end of the Key she does not live on.

But then again, these things are good for you they will say.

We have to give credit to Commissioner Jack Duncan, who is the only commissioner actively fighting the devaluation of the Key with a cell tower.


Failure to strike balance

Then the Mar Vista.

Again, it is Duncan who voted against the Mar Vista Jordon House expansion plan based on his very real concerns for parking and the overtaxing of the small public streets surrounding the Mar Vista in the historic Village. Commissioner Pat Zunz also said the proposal would distort the Village and the Jordan House expansion was just too much.

But for the redevelopment task force and the five other Commissioners, resident enjoyment of their streets and neighborhoods is of secondary concern or certainly not a strong instinct. They only paid notice when Town Hall was flooded with letters and residents. Commissioner Phill Younger said he wanted to reconsider his vote after all the brouhaha.

And at last Monday’s Commission meeting, Gans wanted to reconsider the Mar Vista application if possible in June rather than in October when the residents are back. But thank goodness that was moot because Mar Vista owner Ed Chiles pulled the application and he himself intelligently and sensitively asked that it be reconsidered at a public meeting.

And now Ed Chiles action is moot because Town staff did not even properly notice the neighbors of any of the meetings.

But all of this could have been avoided with a strong Commission and a strong Planning and Zoning board.

Classically, towns get sued when all they say is “Yes” to developers or all they say is “no” to developers. It just changes who sues.

And we saw it all play out at Mar Vista just like the Key Club. The applicant asked for a bit too much. Staff tried to twist and use rules to accommodate these expansions. Then the applicant got everything he wanted, the upstairs, additional seats, the Jordan house — everything. Mayor Jim Brown exercised all his elected authority by asking for a few shrubs beside the building. The Commission really pushed a good compromise — “you get everything you want at the resident’s expense and you must install 12 plants valued at 10 dollars apiece.”


Girls who can’t say ‘no’

And like the Cell Tower, the Key Club and now the Mar Vista — it is the resident and citizen action that has to stop Town Hall and a Commission that is like the proverbial girl who just can’t say no.

Now Ed Chiles, who I find to be a down-to-earth and reasonable person, must try and heal a divide, re-notice residents (and that was all the Town’s fault) and he must himself do what the Town ought to do instinctively — find the right balance for his most precious enterprise in a fragile Village environment.

But the Commission cannot be thought of as the leaders or protectors of balance or good judgment. We have now squandered so much energy on bad land-use processes and decisions that every grandchild of every land use attorney in the Southwest Florida region has college, their first car, first two weddings and house paid for by our mistakes.

So do not expect things to change. Expect the next maneuver, the next behind-the scenes contrivance.

Trust is earned when people represent your interests, not when someone thrusts something tasteless down your throat like a cell tower and says, “This is just what you need — this is good for you!”

Unfortunately, other than Duncan on most issues, Zunz on the Mar Vista issue and sometimes Younger — you better watch your property for signs of devaluation at the hand of your chosen leaders.




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6 Responses for “Mar Vista debacle latest in damaging decisions”

  1. Nito Incog says:

    This Town Commission is the most inept, incompetent bunch of people that has ever occupied public office. They have absolutely no idea what they are doing, besides being vindictive and overtly antagonistic and outright mean to their town employees. Longboat Key has the money for the best public employees, yet they nickle and dime, take more and more from employees of the town and overall, decrease the level of service. People at various departments are leaving left and right. If you don’t think that affects the level of service, think again. There is absolutely no need for this incomprehensible behavior against the very people who take care of them, whether fire, police, public works, etc. You can thank this elected body for deconstructing the previously excellent morale, productivity and happiness of your town employees. But, the taxpayers have some culpability here. You had the opportunity to replace several of them this past March and by reelecting them — or not having anyone run against a candidate ensuring their seat remains — you get what you get. The fact remains that until these folks are gone, this Court Jester methodology of town management will remain.

  2. Ross says:

    In the history of the world and all of the really bad current life and death,hunger issues going on, the Mar Vista parking issue seem fade. Let’s move on.

  3. William Kary says:

    Enjoy Naples!

  4. steve psaila says:

    As a future Longboat Key resident, youre making me very nervous. Please do right by the owners and the island or Ill buy a place in Naples which doesnt seem to have this in-fighting.

  5. William Kary says:

    “Our property values?” Am I missing something in the “Our”?

  6. spencer ross says:

    The buffoonery will continue on until the taxpayers wake up and stop electing those with no talent, skill, integrity or morals.

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