Candidate countdown…

Longboat Key News held its annual candidate debate on Wednesday in which the candidates answered questions regarding topics such as tourism, traffic, development and beach renourishment. The following are highlights from the debate, and early voting is held March 2 through March 7; culminating with election day on March 10, 2015.

Opening statements…

Gene Jaleski: People on Anna Maria are having a ‘packed-in’ experience into a single residence. Tourists are not booking hotel rooms anymore, they are renting houses and condos and packing six to eight people into a place. It makes too much congestion. I do not want this for Longboat Key; we are exclusive, our quality of life is at stake. Eleven thousand tourists can sleep here on any night of the year, and that’s quite enough. I’m against more tourism.


Commissioner Phill Younger: I have been on the commission since 2010, I have a background in engineering, I am an attorney and when it comes to evaluating town policies and issues, I’m deep into analysis. I work well with others to get things done for the community. I offer honesty, integrity and loyalty. I take my position very seriously, it is a tremendous honor to be able to serve this community, and I am steadfastly serving the community.

Larry Grossman: My wife and I came here six years ago from Alexandria, Virginia from where I was a planner. I came here and saw there seemed to be no rhyme or reason why things are planned here. I’ve been very active on Longboat Key, I’ve written many letters and served on committees. I’ve noticed a lack of planning. I’ve done planning for a city of 150,000. I see a lot of simple stuff that could be done here, things that are just left languishing. I go to commission meetings, and the commission seems to go around and around. As a commissioner, I will get things done.


Jack Daly: I’m going to give some idea of my skill set. I am dedicated to my service here in the Longboat community. I’ve done the same thing in Connecticut. I’ve been on the Planning and Zoning Board for four years, I’ve been introduced to most of the issues. I’m an engineer, a lawyer, I’ve been the CEO of an interstate pipeline company. I’ve served on boards of directors and the like. Serving on a board is very much like being a commissioner on Longboat Key. I’m dedicated to look at the facts and get public input. I’ve done that on my service and business experience, and I’m committed to doing that here.


There seems to be a lot of work about burying power lines along Longboat Key, should the town bury power lines in separate referendums or a single referendum and how should it be paid for?

Commissioner Phill Younger: I feel that you the voters are going to get to decide where you want to go with this. I think the power lines underground would be a good thing, I feel like it should be two referendums. I think undergrounding on Gulf of Mexico Drive has a definite benefit; everyone uses it. Side streets would be a benefit, but 70 percent of the side streets already have undergrounded power lines and the problem is that there is some push back from that 70 percent to pay for the other 30 percent. So the trick is how to get a way to pay for that equitable. Ad valorem is a tricky question. If you do ad valorem you’re going to have a tax benefit from it. The overall cost is $41 million, if you do it over 30 years, it’s about $60 million. That’s a lot of money to deal with on a tax right off basis. The side streets I feel I’m not sure if it should be ad valorem or not ad valorem.


Larry Grossman: Ideally, we should have consensus, and not a ‘we versus them.’ There should be one referendum item to underground utilities on the entire island. We don’t have information on the non ad valorem, the study would take $50,000 and take until June. I’ve done undergrounding on commercial streets, the benefits are enormous. I think you will regret it if you do Gulf of Mexico Drive and not the side streets. You’re not going to get a chance to do it again, so if you do it right the first time, you’ll not regret it and you’ll not look back.


Jack Daly: I think there are two pieces. The Gulf of Mexico Drive piece and the side streets. The benefits are to all people on Longboat Key. The fairest funding would be the ad valorem approach and that simply bases the tax on your home. The neighborhoods are a different matter; I think two referendums would matter here. The neighborhoods would have to recognize that most of the homes have already paid for undergrounding on Longboat Key, I think that should be recognized. To the neighborhoods, there should be two referendums and we need a little more information to figure out the proper funding. The effort should be to underground the entire island.


Gene Jaleski: I am in favor of two things, this is going to affect people who aren’t here. Eighty percent of the people won’t be here and will be affected. If you elect me, there will be some sort of referendum. If you’re going to split up the referendum, the only thing that’s going to get done is Gulf of Mexico Drive. The other side streets are not going to get done, there are millions of dollars in mobilizations and it will not happen. The second one won’t get done. If the attitude is, “I’m going to have to pay for them but they did not  pay for me, and I’ve got equal protection under the law,” you can get sued and stop everything. There’s only one way to do this; it’s one referendum across the board.


If Longboat Key became a single person dictatorship, and you’re the dictator, what would you consider as the most important issue and what would you do about it?

Jack Daly: My first official act as King would be to recreate the original structure, because I feel the town manager form of government with a commission is the best for Longboat Key. In terms of single most important issue, my thought is that it should be to revamp the comprehensive plan and land use codes, in terms of long-term benefits to the community.


Larry Grossman: There’s nothing that I would do to try to impose a dictatorship on Longboat Key. I think the commission form of government is the best one. I’ve worked on one for 30 years, I think that works best. The one thing I would change, and I don’t have to be a dictatorship to do this, is that the citizens are given short shrift in terms of their input. At the commission meetings, you get your three minutes in the public to be heard, and you’re closed off. And yet the citizens are not able to say, “I have another question.” I have seen city councils where they have their hands raised, they get recognized and they have their input.


(to Jack Daly): In an interview in the paper, you said balance and support are necessary in retail and tourism but what does adding number of units add to traffic?

Jack Daly: I think you’re referring to my comments about the Key Club where it is converting residential to commercial units and I said ‘yes.’ I think an important aspect of the Longboat Key lifestyle is to maintain, as best we can, a balance of residential with tourism units, all of which are important to support the lifestyle we have here. When you look at the units here to support tourism I would look on that favorably. With regard to traffic, the more we can support local services here on the island, the less traffic we have going off the key.


 (to Larry Grossman): You said that you thought that more units wouldn’t matter. Have you heard of any creative ways to minimize traffic?

Larry Grossman: As a planner in Alexandria, Virginia, I passed the first traffic ordinance. It was very creative, for the first time there was a requirement of developers to mitigate the traffic they created. The requirements were to control parking, use a metro rail system and because there were alternatives, this transportation management ordinance passed in 1987. I would apply these measures to the Key Club. But this would only be a drop in the bucket.


(to Phill Younger): You mentioned the new units proposed would not affect traffic, but traffic is getting to be a problem. If somebody said to you, even if the Key Club is creating units based on what is allowed now, there will still be more cars when the project is finished, what can we do?

Phill Younger: If you have one unit now, any additional unit you build is going to add to traffic; you’re going to have a car there. As to whether or not the Key Club’s project is going to add traffic, sure they’re going to add to traffic. The good thing about this is, that you the voters are going to decide whether to convert the 300 residential units to tourism units. The small amount of commercial that we have on the island; we don’t have enough residents to support the amenities without tourism. We’re going to get a balance on this. As far as the traffic goes, there are some quick fixes, and they are minor and they depend on our neighbors. The MPO is comprised of numbers of Manatee, and we all have to work together to work on the road issues, including FDOT. And FDOT is an empire onto its own.


Gene Jaleski: We have two-lane roads to each end of us, we’re not going to build a bridge. The 300 rooms there, at The Colony, and we have two new condos going up that total 75 units. Key Club adds another 100. The worst part is that the town doesn’t do anything. The young people do not spend money on hotels, they figure they can jam more people into a unit. Tripling, quadrupling occupancy. I would tighten up the codes, to prevent this. If not, we’re going to get more traffic.


(to Jack Daly): It is quite a transition from being on the board of directors in business, to running the town; people say working on the commission is slow. What experience do you have from your career that would give you the ability to maintain aesthetics and land use policies that you would be a steward of?

Jack Daly: I’ve been a tax paying resident on Longboat Key for 20 years. We purchased our unit at Club Longboat 20 years ago, and it was built in the early seventies. Over the 20 years, half of that time I’ve been on the board and I was president of that board as well. We fashioned thorough community discussions, a series of reconstruction projects. For Club Longboat it was about $3 million. It was new clubhouse, new roofs, and it was done through special assessment and importantly, without any exaggeration here, 90 percent supported that. That kind of experience of taking public input and recognizing it and dealing with the fellow board members like I did at Club Longboat.


 (to Larry Grossman): What special role of leadership have you had, which would give people a comfort level, where you have made final decisions on a project? 

Larry Grossman: I worked in the commercial sector, I have many projects that I built. I became a commercial realtor and helped built 144 units. As working as a commercial realtor, I did leases for small businesses. There’s a lack of taking care of these small businesses on Longboat Key. I think the chamber is oriented toward larger businesses. I do have private sector experiences, leases and development. I’ve advised city councils and that’s why I want to be in that position.


(to Phill Younger): In your role as commissioner, if you could have a ‘do over’ on an action, or a vote on a position you took on the commission, what would you do differently?

Phill Younger: The obvious one is when I make a vote, I’m willing to stand by that decision. That being said, the Key Club has taken a toll, I don’t regret the way that I voted, but in retrospect, that is one that has affected the town.


(to Gene Jaleski): You were previously an elected commissioner and you chose to leave your position before your term was up, what could you tell the people voting to reassure them that this would not happen again if you are elected?

Gene Jaleski: I have been involved in the last 30 years on this island as any single human being. With regard to the Key Club decision, I was the sole vote against the Key Club, and I believe that if you put the two sides together they’ll find a common goal. It was a decision that was made; I thought I could do more good after leaving, and I have done that. I have a condo at the north end, when the town was asked to help against the sand erosion, we were told they could not help. I have done huge effective things on this island, this commission has done nothing. Hopefully, we learned a lesson and we’re not going to be the slaves of developers. The developer put a lot of effort into polarizing the community and they were effective. Formerly, it was a gentlemanly order on the island to be on the commission, and we don’t have a commission like that any more.


Phill Younger: The vote on the Key Club was 6-1, and my opponent was not on the commission so he was not the sole vote. We (commission) don’t always agree about topics but we work on things together and we hash them out.


(to Larry Grossman): You have said Longboat Key was exclusive, but you are inclusive. What did you mean?

Larry Grossman: It seems the residents are given short shrift in speaking their mind. I mean excluding the residents through the democratic process.


(to Phill Younger): You said there are quick traffic fixes, is that the case?

Phill Younger: I’m open to any fixes. There are some small fixes that could be made, the Town of Longboat Key worked with the City of Sarasota to try and get some changes to St. Armands. We went away, the merchants came back, and Sarasota changed their mind. There are some routings, all of the traffic does not have to flow in front of the Columbia Restaurant.


(to Jack Daly): With regard to a boat trailer ordinance, you mentioned you’re in favor of not too many regulations. What do you mean?

Jack Daly: The Planning and Zoning Board voted against that, for three reasons. Most of the boat trailers are at the north end of the island and there was substantial community input here on that issue. At the Planning and Zoning Board, it was clear to me that where the preponderance of boat trailers were, they were saying they could self regulate that. I’m not pro-regulation at all in instances where the community can self-regulate and deal with the issues that they see as better than a one-size fits all.


(to Larry Grossman): Address the issue of regulation of boat trailers very quickly.

Larry Grossman: I live on the north end and there are boats and they aren’t a problem until they’re not a problem. This is something where it works, and then something changes, which becomes a problem to one person. I’m not in favor of one-size fits all regulations. We live in a place with a lot of water, and there’s going to be boats.


(to Gene Jaleski): With the problem of our beaches and the erosion that takes place, you’ve been opposed to some of the long-term solutions proposed by the town. The town has gone through all the permitting process with the state and county for the north end groins. You urged the court of engineers not to permit the process, and tried to file a lawsuit against the town regarding the north end groins. What do you see as the solution?

Gene Jaleski: I did not file a lawsuit. If you go to my website you’ll see a lot of research. Five dredging companies take $4.5 billion per year on placing sand on the beaches. The beaches are ravaged and it stays that way until the governments get a little more tax money. I have been advocating that on the east coast they are back-passing the sand. Deerfield Beach spends $1 billion per year on maintaining their beaches by mining their inlets. I’m not opposed to cutting a new inlet. Mining the sand and putting it back on the beach. There’s economics here.


Phill Younger: A correction, he filed as an action that cost $9.5 million; he attempted to be a part of it. I think the current nourishment program, half the beach is in good condition. The sands shift, we have hotspots, we have plans in place where they take care of hot spots. We have a beach nourishment group and beach engineers recommended as far as nourishment. This sand that goes into each one of these channels goes into our beaches. We also had the same thing up at Longboat Pass. We need that sand back on our beaches. We don’t have enough sand to put from an approved source and it’s a very expensive process. We may be forced into truck hauling, which will cost even more if we run into extensive delays.


Gene Jaleski: Going in every five or 10 years is not the way to go, the sand loss is on the ebb tide. Its jetted out and 90 percent is lost unless you do it frequently. The dredging lobby is large in Florida. This is serious big business and to say that the government here is not affected; I say hmm.


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 even if it means increasing lot overage, decreasing setbacks or allowing more height? 

Larry Grossman: This is a case where the town is putting the cart before the horse. I think we need to redo the codes correctly. I have been critical of the way the University of Florida is doing the writing of the codes with the town and its process. But the codes have to be rewritten properly first.


Jack Daly: There are a lot of issues there, and that’s part of the process, the present code permits an involuntary or voluntary construction keeping the same number of units. This in my mind clearly that’s not adequate to fit today’s needs. I would favor a process that’s starting a mechanism that would permit the voluntary or involuntary to replace the units meeting some updated current statement that meet current market place you can do that without major setbacks and the like. I think its important that we have a code that permits to upgrade facilities.


Gene Jaleski: If you can allow this to happen, this is the economics of it: first you have to get 80 percent of the people to agree. Taxes double, insurance triples, condo fees go up, we have FEMA setbacks and we have to get 80 percent. No one is going to invest that kind of money.


Phill Younger: No one is talking about condominiums. Do you need a reasonable setback on the height? Yes. Part of this is predicated on the idea that if you change the footprint it may go against the current zoning, but it may not. You have to recognize all of those, but the opportunity to rebuild it should be there, and it will stagnate and nobody will want to buy it.


Closing statement:

Jack Daly: Elections are simply choices, if you look at my corporate background and you look at the decisions I’ve made, they’re easily transferrable to the commission. So I ask for your vote, but I ask that you ask your friends to vote for me as well.


Larry Grossman: You have a major decision to make, and are you going to do business as usual, and you see what gets done; very little. You need some diversity and some professional on the commission who knows what they’re doing, and that’s what I have. To stop these projects from just languishing, the same old issues keep churning, churning, churning. Government is not slow when you know what you’re doing.


Phill Younger: This town is very fortunate to have seven people working very hard on the commission. It’s an honor to serve you. The shortest speech is the best, vote for me.


Gene Jaleski: If you want more tourism, don’t vote for me. The town bought commercial land for town center, but nothing gets done.


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