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Perspectives on proposed Urban Land Institute study

JOHN SUMMERS
Guest Columnist
editorial@lbknews.com

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is a very credible non-profit research and education organization whose stated mission is “to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities.”  As such, it is easy to understand how they could produce a report well worth the $125,000 they would be charging the Town.

Unfortunately, residents cannot be confident that the Commissioners will make appropriate use of the consultants’ findings.  The Telecommunications Services Study was completed over a year ago, yet our Commissioners are still vacillating over what to do about cell phone service on Longboat.

 

The question development process.

It is disturbing that the Town Commission has struggled with the task of developing ten questions to serve as the basis for the proposed ULI study.  Initially, the Town Manager was given the task of developing these questions.  However, the Commissioners deemed his questions to be inadequate.  Next, a committee of Commissioners and residents produced a second set of questions. The Town Commission subsequently approved this set of questions, which is not surprising since several Commissioners contributed to this set of questions.

That this “approved” set of questions is also subject to substantial criticism should be expected because of the manner in which it was developed.  Well-managed organizations don‘t initially look to hire a particular consulting firm and then search for questions they can ask the consultants to answer.

Instead, they start by recognizing that they require additional information to assist them in making one or more important decisions.  Next, they prepare a detailed list of information needs related to the alternative courses of action available to them.  These information needs can then be transformed into a set of questions to be answered.  Clearly, the Town Commission did not follow this procedure.

 

Problems with the committee’s questions.

Below are a few selected comments about the subcommittee’s questions.

It is unfortunate that the committee’s set of questions does not focus on a limited number of major issues facing the Town.  Instead it appears that each committee member came up with his/her own favorite question to contribute to the set.  This reduces the chance that the study will enable the Commission to determine how to resolve any of the major issues facing the Town.

The most serious problem with the committee’s first three questions is that they all erroneously portray Longboat Key as a “premier residential and visitor destination.”

It is grossly misleading to label LBK a “premier residential and visitor destination” for the following reasons:  1) the island has a limited number of tourism units; 2) residents derive very little of their income from tourism; and 3) the island has very few tourist facilities that could reasonably be labeled “premier.”

The Hilton has not been extensively renovated in decades, the Colony is uninhabitable, and most of the other tourist facilities look much the same as they did in the late 1960’s.  Only the tourism units at the Longboat Key Club could realistically be called “premier.”

In contrast, most single-family home neighborhoods have experienced a steady stream of home renovations and redeveloped properties.  Moreover, there have been many rather exquisite homes built on both the Gulf and the Bay in the past fifteen years.

The term “premier residential and visitor destination” also suggests that tourists are roughly as important as the island’s residents, and should be treated as such when the Town Commission makes decisions about the island’s future.  LBK’s residents clearly do not hold this view.

LBK has been an “upscale residential retirement community” for over a decade and will likely continue to be so.  Household income is well in excess of $100,000/year and the average age is approximately 70 years. That the very successful Holiday Inn sold out to a residential developer who subsequently built luxury condominiums on the property demonstrates the fact that land on LBK is most valuable when used for residential purposes.

The case being made for tourism.  The rationale used for accommodating tourism interests at the expense of adjacent residential neighborhoods has been based in large part on the following two claims:

1) Tourism is crucial to LBK residents being able to sell their homes.  Without tourism there would be no one to whom residents could sell their homes.

2) Without tourism there would not be sufficient demand for LBK’s businesses and all would fail, forcing residents to go off the island for all of the products and services they require.

It seems appropriate that assessing the validity of these two rather dubious claims should be one of the major goals of the ULI study.

Question 2.  Who will be the likely future residents and visitors of Longboat Key over the next 20 years (age, retired/families, fulltime/part-time, etc.)? How do we target and attract those who are most likely to help Longboat Key remain a viable premier residential and visitor destination, with both short and long-term objectives?

Comment:  Is there anything wrong with the affluent senior citizens that have been buying homes on the island for the past two decades? They were willing to pay more for their homes than other potential buyers.  Why would it make sense to change Longboat in ways that might make the island less attractive to them merely so that younger and/or less affluent people would move to the island?

Question 3. What should be the balance of residential, tourism and supportive commercial services to ensure Longboat Key’s status as a premier residential and visitor destination?

Comment: Premier residential communities don’t balance residential, tourism, and supportive commercial services.  Instead, they encourage only those tourism and commercial services, if any, which satisfy the needs and wants of the residents.  Any particular tourist facility or commercial enterprise is judged by the extent to which it serves the interest of the residents.  Those that excel at meeting the needs of the residents will automatically be rewarded in the marketplace. Those that don’t will disappear.  Town officials should not focus on what the Town can do to make a particular tourist facility or commercial enterprise more profitable.  Let the marketplace work!

Question 10. Should Longboat Key have a community center and, if yes, what attributes should it include and where should it be located?

One could argue that the Bayfront Park Recreation Center, in spite of all of its inadequacies, currently operates something like a community center.

Whether Longboat should have a new community center depends heavily on what specific goals the center will serve.  If the goals were merely those of providing additional and/or better facilities for the Art Center, the Education Center, and other existing organizations on the island, it would be difficult to justify a new community center.

However, if the new center is charged with the task of dramatically increasing the number and variety of interesting activities available to all residents, one could make a good case for a new community center.

There are two parts to building a community center.  The first is concerned with developing, promoting, and maintaining an ongoing program of physical, mental, and social activities for the residents.  A full-time director with substantial experience in managing community centers for affluent senior citizen communities is a must.

The second involves that of designing and constructing the physical facilities needed to support the desired program of activities.  These physical facilities should be designed and built after, not before, the program of activities has been developed.

It is not at all clear what is meant by “attributes” the community center should include.  For example, does this refer to such things as whether the community center should contain an exercise pool and/or what activities the center might offer?  A listing of several of the “attributes” that might be considered as likely to be “important” would be helpful.

The Town already owns sufficient land around the current recreational center to build a new community center facility.  Moreover, this property is close to the center of the island.  Are there really any realistic alternatives to placing a new community center where the recreational center is now?

The task of developing good questions is far more difficult and time consuming than most people realize.  The Town should continue to work on refining all questions in its current set to make them more precise, concise, and consistent with LBK residents’ views of where the Town should be headed before submitting its list to ULI.  Moreover, it should be prepared to work with ULI to increase the usefulness of its final list of questions.

 

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1 Response for “Perspectives on proposed Urban Land Institute study”

  1. Ghostrider says:

    I was told forty years ago that when the word “optimal” did not appear ten times in these studies you were to be fearful. When the word “future” appeared ten times you were to run. When the word “now” appeared ten times you listened to the study.
    I haven’t seen the study, but hey, surprise me.

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