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Candidates speak out on tourism, boat trailers and managing blight

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: whether to adopt a boat/trailer ordinance, if the town needs more tourism units, and whether the town should acquire the north end gas station. 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:

Currently boat trailers are not allowed in front yards or to be parked in driveways in Sarasota and Manatee Counties or in the City of Sarasota. The Town of Longboat Key, however, allows the storage of boat trailers in front yards. Do you believe rules should be adopted to regulate to not allow boat/trailer parking and storage in front yards on Longboat Key? Why or why not?

Jack Daly: I do not believe rules should be adopted. While the Planning & Zoning Board recommended that boat trailer parking and storage rules be adopted, (I was the lone dissenting vote), the Commission did not adopt such rules. The majority of the boat trailer activity occurs on the north end of the Key, and that affected part of the community expressed confidence that they could self-regulate such activity when necessary. Accordingly, in my opinion on this issue, letting impacted neighborhoods effectively self-police is a much better alternative than Town-wide regulations.

 

Larry Grossman: Boats and watercraft are part of living along the Florida coast and especially living on a barrier island. I live on a canal and there are boats docked on the canal and some stored on the side yards. I believe that reasonable accommodation should be made and boats stored along side yards should not be prohibited or regulated away. If there develops nuisance or safety issues associated with the storage of watercraft and boats, then these issues need to be brought forward and some regulation may be necessary.

 

Gene Jaleski: Democracies are founded on political parties and pressure groups. That’s a good thing. However, in the absence of an active and participating electorate, a small organized group can seize control. That is what happened recently, when the commission tried to find a solution to the visual blight of boat trailers in a few yards, to the chagrin of the great majority of the residents in a neighborhood. There is no trailer solution that will satisfy all residents. I am not afraid to act on behalf of the majority. This commission caved-in to a vocal minority.

 

Phill Younger: We live on an island, and boats and boating are an integral part of the existing lifestyle. Many neighborhoods rightfully use their HOA’s to establish parking requirements, while some residents in non-HOA neighborhoods wish to impose personal preferences island-wide via Town ordinances. Balancing the desire to maintain a vibrant, well-ordered community while also recognizing reasonable and personal liberties is a difficult tightrope to walk. As you – the editor posing this question are already aware, the Commission considered this issue about a year ago and chose to continue to allow boat/trailer parking as is.  Careful review island-wide indicated that there is very, very little abuse of the current freedom. It also indicated that most of the parking situations occur primarily in the Village and in the vicinity of St. Judes, where the residents prefer to maintain the status quo, and their desires must also be taken into account. If this ever becomes a situation of rampant abuse, I am certain that the sitting Commission will revisit the issue.

 

 Would Longboat Key be well served with more tourism units at the Longboat Key Club & Resort beyond what has historically existed? Assume The Colony will redevelop and Ocean Properties will complete its expansion of the former Hilton that is slated to double the number of previous rooms. Also, keep in mind the 250 tourism units already approved by voter referendum, traffic, and the fact that the Dry Dock and Lazy Lobster Restaurant have reported record business and that the Mar Vista is in the process of expanding and renovating its facility. 

Jack Daly: The voters will decide the fate of the Longboat Key proposal to convert already-approved 300 residential units to tourism. I will vote yes on the referendum in May. In order to maintain and enhance the wonderful Longboat Key lifestyle we enjoy, we need to strive to achieve a balance of residential and tourism units in order to maintain and support essential retail services on the Key. Approval of the referendum, in my opinion, would come very close to achieving that balance.

 

Larry Grossman: No one, I believe, wants Longboat Key to function like Anna Maria Island where tourism is driving permanent residents to look elsewhere to find peace, comfort and quality of life. My wife and I briefly lived on Anna Maria Island when we first moved to Florida and we felt uncomfortable with the constant churning of people through the weekly rental mill. Recently, new housing construction has been designed for the short rental market which will make the situation worse for full time residents.

However, the construction of new tourism units on the Key Club property is not going to turn LBK into AMI. Redevelopment of the Key Club along Longboat Road coupled with redevelopment of the Chart House property should be part of a functionally and physically integrated mixed-use project. This development, at the southernmost part of the island, will be more oriented toward the City of Sarasota and have less of a traffic impact on Longboat Key. Nevertheless, as I have done on other projects I have worked on, we need to use creative ways to mitigate traffic impacts emanating from this project that could have deleterious affect on traffic flow.

 

Gene Jaleski: Overwhelmingly, residents I talk to see no advantage to them in further expanding tourism. Town records show that LBK can already accommodate over 11,000 tourists at any one time. Anyone trying to leave the island during season can see we already have a problem that affects taxpayers more than a typical tourist, who is only on island for a week or so. Residents are fleeing the town of Anna Maria as a result of over expansion of tourism there.

I am opposed to any expansion of tourism on Longboat Key.

More Cars:

Key Club hotel and meeting center – 400

Colony hotel + bungalows               – 450

No-name hotel (use to be Hilton)    –   85

2 new condominium projects          –   75

That’s another 1,000+ cars on the road. Residents need to think about what it is that they want and vote.

 

Phill Younger: Beyond the first sentence, I do not believe the question is objective, and 200 words are insufficient to properly address it. Eighty-five of the 250 units overwhelmingly approved via a Town referendum are allocated to The Hilton, an 83% increase over the prior 102 units, not a doubling. One hundred sixty-five units remain unallocated, not 250 as implied, with no one yet to request them. Sadly, the Colony redevelopment appears years away, and it is uncertain what form it will finally take. The 237 units lost there occurred after approval of the 250 replacement units. The Lazy Lobster did not exist when The Colony or The Holiday Inn closed, and a before/after impact cannot be fairly measured. Mar Vista is expanding its footprint, not seating capacity and is not germane to the issue. It could be that any Key Club expansion in tourist units may prove to be the event that essentially fills the gap between what once existed and what now exists. One thing for certain is that the voters will rightfully decide whether or not The Club will be allowed to convert 300 existing units of already allowed density from residential to tourism via the May, 2015, referendum.

 

Would you be in favor of the town acquiring the north-Key gas station, which is reportedly no longer under contract, to be able to control the north entrance to the Key and remove what many refer to as blight?

Jack Daly: No. I do not think the Town should be in the business of acquiring private property without a very substantial, overriding public purpose and interest. I do not see that in this instance. Without such, the Town’s role should be limited to providing a Master Plan or a zoning overlay in order to support and attract private investment.

 

Larry Grossman: Yes, yes a thousand times yes, in the name of removing blight and tied to the redesign of this intersection to make a beautiful and functional entry to Longboat Key. I’ve long advocated designing a roundabout for this intersection and this finally may come to fruition at least at the design feasibility stage. The Town could use the residual of land excess to the needs for the intersection redesign to leverage redevelopment of the adjacent parcels. I’ve done this in my professional career and it resulted in the construction of the headquarters for the American Statistical Association.

 

Gene Jaleski: Recent land purchases – last eight years

1) town center – $1.6 million

2) Albritton property at Bayfront Park – $1.6 million

3) Klauber property at Bayfront Park – $ 500,000+

Total land purchases $3.7 million – as yet none of this land does any good for taxpayers.

I have been begging the town for a decade to rid the north end of the blight cause by the ugly gas station.

I have stated, many times in the past, that a beautifully redesigned  gas station will make a wonderful visitor greeting center and house the chamber of commerce.

Cost for gas station $450,000. Benefit to island aggregate property values? Probably millions.

 

Phill Younger:  Everyone, including me, wants the North End gas station to disappear or become a vibrant asset to our Town. Although improved somewhat, it is still not the best of situations. Purchasing it, however, could prove problematic. What’s next: The empty, adjoining bank building, or another commercial enterprise somewhere else on the island?  Where does it stop, how much would it cost, and how much property would we keep taking off the tax rolls, thereby negatively impacting the remaining taxpayers?  Commercial property has already begun to shrink to a small degree via property owner requests for rezoning, just like across the street from the gas station, and perhaps it could happen there as well. Not too long ago a clamor was made to purchase Whitney Plaza for either a park or even a Town funded school. Thankfully, it did not happen, and Whitney Plaza is beginning to once again become an asset to the North End of our island. The economy is improving, overtures have already started regarding revitalization of the gas station, and I am optimistic that a proposal to suitably return it to becoming an asset to our Town may occur relatively soon.

 

 

 

 

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