|

Longboat Key Candidates talk development rights, power line burying and dog park

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

On March 10, 2015 Longboat Key voters must decide which commissioners to elect in two contested races, in the At-Large seat is Commissioner Phill Younger who is running against former Commissioner Gene Jaleski, and in the District 4 race, Larry Grossman is running against Jack Daly. Vice Mayor Jack Duncan is running unopposed for his District 2 seat.

Longboat Key News asked each of the four candidates in the contested elections questions regarding three issues: burying power lines, Bayfront Park Recreation Center and development rights. In the coming weeks leading to the election, Longboat Key News will publish questions and answers with the candidates. Here is what they had to say:

 

Should the town bury power lines on GMD or the entire key? Why or why not? And how should the project(s) be funded?

Jack Daly: I fully support the proposed burying of the utility lines along Gulf of Mexico Drive, for safety, reliability and aesthetic reasons; as the best alternative to FPL’s original plan for larger, more bulky above-ground towers. The Town would also experience a financial savings of a 25 percent credit from FPL. Because all Key residents would enjoy the benefits of the GMD project, we should all equally fund said project.

While the same beneficial reasons are applicable to the neighborhoods, we obviously need hard cost numbers, and specific plans, comparable to those provided for Gulf of Mexico Drive, which are not yet publically available, and which are critical to any decision.  Have said that, any underground project for the neighborhoods should recognize that some 70 percent of the neighborhoods on the Key have paid for their existing underground facilities. Accordingly, some proportional funding, perhaps similar to the A and B Zone approach for beach re-nourishment would, in my opinion, be appropriate. The hard cost numbers and specific neighborhood plans, essential to determine the appropriate funding options, should be available at the February 2015 Commission meeting.

 

Larry Grossman: I favor the undergrounding of utilities for the entire island. I think we would all await the utility consultant report which is due in February. I have questions about the viability of undergrounding utilities in terms of their resilience to storm surges and sea level rise. I have participated in undergrounding projects as a planner and they have been very successful aesthetically and in terms of economic return and I believe this project would have the same benefits for Longboat Key plus new lighting and a high optic fiber platform.

I know there are differences of opinion on whether the neighborhood poles and wires should be included. I have suggested that voters get to choose one of two referendum-GMD alone or GMD plus Residential Streets. Financing would be through a 30-year bond with special assessments on property.

 

Gene Jaleski:  After we have the final results of the costs studies for underground utilities, and as I have previously proposed to the town, we need to ask all the stakeholders (taxpayers) if they want to encumber their homes with the additional debt required to fund such a project. This can be accomplished quickly, and almost cost free, via a survey in water bills and condo associations’ newsletters. Otherwise 10 percent of the taxpayers will be allowed to create a significant tax burden for the other 90 percent.

If a majority of the true stakeholders (taxpayers) want to bury the power lines, I am in favor the project, but only for the entire island.

The only economically credible way to approach the underground utilities is doing the whole island at once. Otherwise only GMD will ever get done. Actually, it would be a disservice to taxpayers to do otherwise.

 

Phill Younger: Burying power lines on Gulf of Mexico Drive has been estimated to cost about $19 million. Yet to be determined costs for other power lines could prove roughly proportional to their associated linear footage. Burying any or all of the lines will rightfully be determined by the voters. Gulf of Mexico Drive is unique. It has a tremendous impact on perception of our island by residents and non-residents alike, and it is a significant formative block in drawing new residents and visitors. In addition to safety aspects, undergrounding the GMD power lines would enhance the aesthetic beauty of Longboat Key’s route of passage. Given that about 77 percent of Longboat’s GMD residents and 70 percent of all residents already have underground wiring, fair and equitable funding will in all likelihood be the decisive factor for any aspect.

 

Does the town need a new recreational building at Bayfront Park or should the town focus on just improving the amenities and use the current recreational center as it exists today? Also, should there be a dog park at the future Bayfront Park recreational area, why or why not?

Jack Daly: The proposed expansion of recreational facilities at Bayfront Park, after substantial public input and coordination with Sarasota County, is moving from the conceptual phase to the design phase. The current plan includes more open play space, Tennis/Pickle Ball Courts, Bocce, Shuffleboard courts, a kayak launch, picnic tables/shelters, and walking trails. It specifically includes small and large dog parks, for which there is substantial community support, and which I endorse and support.

The need for and possible funding of an updated, solely recreational building, consistent with the present proposal, should not yet be decided, and is related to the finalized components of the Town Center proposal, which is still in the conceptual public input stage, leading to a Commission workshop in April 2015. For example, if a cultural center is included in the proposed Town Center, then the amenities and related functions for a solely recreational building could be determined. Having said that, the building is in poor condition and does not meet the needs of the community.

 

Larry Grossman: I favor the eventual construction of a new recreation center and the demolition of the existing structure. The new recreation center should be closer or oriented to the bay and water dependent activities, which would be part of the overall plan. This is part of the overall theme of modernizing the island and sustaining its attractiveness for future generations. There is plenty of room for a well-managed dog park.

 

Gene Jaleski: The sad ballot of a relatively unused park:

1) Sarasota County purchases land at Bayfront Park  – $1.6 million tax dollars

2) Town buys land at Bayfront Park – $500,000.

3) For ten years the commission hires an endless procession of experts, planners and lawyers, and untold amounts of staff time – $200,000+.

Total for absolutely nothing – $2.3 million of your money, and not one grain of dirt has been moved so far.

There are no visible indications from the residents that anyone even wants an additional expensive building at a park that few taxpayers have ever visited.

 

Phill Younger: A recreation building is and should continue to be an essential part of a vibrant and active newly developed Bayfront Park. Unfortunately, the current one is antiquated, outdated, and in far less than desirable condition. It is long overdue for demolition/replacement. Sarasota County has already partnered with Longboat Key to address Bayfront Park’s amenities other than the recreational building, and given the County’s heavy investment in recreation facilities elsewhere, there is no reason to believe that it will do otherwise relative to Longboat Key. Given that there are about a thousand dogs on the island, a contained, properly regulated dog park is worthy of consideration, perhaps at Bayfront or even Durante Park.

 

Do you think the town should allow condominium and tourism use owners to redevelop with larger units than they are currently allowed to make them ‘more marketable’? Why or why not? 

Jack Daly: The short answer is yes. While the present Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Code would grandfather the current number of living units, or density; any voluntary or involuntary re-development is limited thereby to the existing buildings’ cubic volume or “box.” While these restrictions may have been appropriate some 30 years ago, in my opinion, they do not make sense today. The Town should encourage re-development of tourism and condominium units that meet the demands of today’s marketplace, such as larger units with higher ceilings: this is absolutely essential, as I see it, for Longboat Key to retain its status as a premier residential and visitor community.  Accordingly, it is critical to achieve a balance of marketable residential and tourism units, in order to maintain and support Longboat Key retail services that are essential to our Longboat Key lifestyle and wonderful community. The ongoing efforts of the Planning and Zoning Board, of which I am a member, and the Commission, to upgrade the Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Code to achieve these objectives, in my opinion, is one of the most important ongoing activities currently underway.

 

Larry Grossman: This is a very abstract question because it depends on the circumstances of each site and development. This is why localities do planning to assess what is best for the Town or City or County in terms of overall land use objectives. This is something the Town is in the process of doing although I’m critical of the lack of analysis I’ve witnessed so far to serve as the basis for policy making. There are sites which are under developed with small tourist facilities and other sites that are maxed out. As a Commissioner I would require a more rigorous analysis of redevelopment potential for non-conforming uses. As we have seen with the Colony trying to update and modernize multiple owned properties is not a simple problem to resolve.

 

Gene Jaleski: I own a 1,400 square foot, eight foot ceiling, beach front condo unit at Longbeach. The average acquisition cost for units such as mine is around $400,000.

Price per foot for new construction = $300+ per square foot.

New 2,200 sq/ft replacement for my unit = $660,000+.

My new total cost of ownership will be $1,100,000.

My taxes and insurance will more than double.

Will you ever be able to sell your new $1,100,000 unit for a profit that justifies the investment and increased cost of ownership?

Would you, and all your fellow elderly condo unit owners, be willing to make the investment? Do you really want to double your taxes and insurance for the remaining years you will be using your unit during the winter months?

This commission is all about expanding tourism on Longboat. Their proposal is not viable for the average condo owner. We already can accommodate 11,000+ tourists on the island. Do you feel you want more tourists to clog the roads and restaurants?

 

Phill Younger: Many of our condos and tourist units are outdated and in need of modernization in order to keep our island attractive to new residents and visitors. For example, 10-foot (+) ceilings and more expansive kitchen are now the norm versus thirty to forty years ago when many of our units were built.  The world moves on, and we must and will find prudent ways to allow modernization without detrimentally impacting the beauty and aura of this paradise in which we live.

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Longboat Key News

Leave a Reply