From beaches to traffic tackled at Key meeting

Associate Publisher

Can the newly constructed north end groins hold back the beach? Will Longboat Key taxpayers have to reach deep into their pockets to pay for undergrounding utilities? These questions were addressed at a meeting this week between residents and town officials at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.

Last Wednesday evening the North End Property Owners Coalition, a group of 12 homeowner and condominium associations, held a meeting to address issues at the north end of Longboat Key. In attendance were Commissioner Pat Zunz, Town Manager Dave Bullock, Public Works Director Juan Florensa and Tom Friewald, a representative of the Revitalization Task Force. Topics on the agenda included the entrance to the north end of Longboat Key as a gateway, traffic congestion, beach renourishment, saving Greer Island and undergrounding utilities.

Town Manager Dave Bullock led the discussion by beginning with a presentation of possible entrance solutions to the north end intersection of Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive; such as a roundabout. The roundabout idea is a suggestion that is also being considered at the south end of Longboat Key, said Bullock, at the intersection of Key Club Road and Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The north end roundabout would include a central median with up-lighting onto landscaping or sculpture; Bullock said this could be decided at a later time. There will also be landscaping on the outer sides of the roundabout.

As for the functionality, Bullock said the goal would be to keep traffic flowing and keep the pedestrians away from the central portion of the roundabout and place the crosswalks toward the four edges of the roadways. Bullock also said the bike lanes will funnel into the crosswalks/sidewalk area, or if the bicyclists want to use the roadway in the roundabout where the auto traffic is, they have the option to do either.

The cost has yet to be determined for the roundabout, and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) owns Gulf of Mexico Drive so the plan will have to be approved by FDOT.

“It will be expensive and it will take a while, because FDOT owns it. But they are interested,” said Bullock. “It is by no means a certainty but it’s the beginning of an idea and something can be done to improve the intersection. It slows down traffic on Gulf of Mexico Drive and it does not stop the flow of traffic.”

Revitalization Task Force spokesperson Tom Friewald said that the they are looking into working with Moore’s Restaurant and Mar Vista Restaurant and trying to construct some type of nature trail between the two restaurants and Greer Island.

Bullock also added that the town cannot simply purchase the vacant gas station at the intersection of Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive since there currently is no funding for it and there would also have to be a compelling purpose such as a plan for a park.

“It’s not within our wherewithal right now,” said Bullock.

In terms of a long-term strategy for traffic control on and off the island, Bullock maintains that in order to resolve the issue, FDOT would have to begin to own the problem.

“Longboat Key is going to have minimal influence on its traffic. Florida Department of Transportation controls every single intersection on and off the key. Their solution to our seasonal traffic problem every time I’ve talked to them is ‘wait until season is over and it will go away.’ If we can get more than just us speaking up –other cities — we will have more chance for success. My objective is to shift ownership of the problem to those who have more capacity to affect a change,” said Bullock. “Without a shift into it being their problem; nothing will happen.”

Toward that end, Bullock said he is working with the current Longboat Key representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Commissioner Jack Daly, and they will be coordinating with other representatives in local municipalities to get the votes in the MPO needed for FDOT to notice and prioritize the problem of seasonal traffic in the area.

“Jack Daly and I will make a proposal to do a seasonal traffic congestion study. If the MPO approves it, FDOT will do the study.”


North end beach erosion

Beach erosion at the north end of Longboat Key has been addressed by the construction of two semi-permeable concrete groins. Public Works Director Juan Florensa said that the groin project is almost complete, and that the town is hauling in sand by truck to place extra sand on the beach in front of 360 North Condominiums and Longbeach Condominiums.

Florensa added that the town is currently awaiting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit approval for the dredging of Longboat Pass and New Pass. This dredging will be paid for by the Town of Longboat Key to place sand at the north end from 360 North Condominiums to Gulfside Road, and on the south end of Longboat Key at the Islandside condominiums, and an additional sand haul by truck to be placed on the mid-key beaches. The total cost for the dredging of the two passes and the sand haul by truck will be $20 million and the permit is expected to be granted this year or early 2016.


Saving Greer Island

One of the original plans for the construction of the groins at the north end was to include a third, terminal groin on Greer Island made of rock. The rock groin was not granted a permit however, when Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash and the Manatee Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Town of Longboat Key stating that the construction of the rock groin would adversely impact the wildlife. Greer Island is not owned by the town, but is owned by Manatee County. The town settled with McClash and the Sierra Club and dropped the terminal rock groin from the plan. According to Bullock, the town as part of the settlement agreement, cannot apply for a permit to build a groin on Greer Island for 5 years.

“The erosion on Greer Island will continue because there is no groin to protect it. I think the erosion at Greer Island will continue at a high rate. Our primary concern was to protect 360 North and Longbeach Condominiums,” said Bullock.


Undergrounding utilities

Bullock gave the Coalition a brief history of how undergrounding utilities came to be; with the explanation that originally Florida Power & Light (FPL) came to the town to inform them that they were going to replace all the existing poles with new hardened poles. The town and FPL began discussing that it might be good timing instead to underground the utility, as portions of the island already had underground electrical wires.

The cost and how it would be paid for by residents has been a point of concern, however, since some sections of Longboat Key are already undergrounded and those residents have already paid the cost, they may not want to share the cost for other residential areas to be undergrounded. Most commissioners agree that a referendum to pay for the undergrounding of Gulf of Mexico Drive would pass. Therefore, an option to have two separate referenda was proposed, one to underground only Gulf of Mexico Drive and one for the remaining portions of the island; but ultimately the idea was tabled until a June workshop when the commission will discuss specific costs and financing options.

Bullock presented four options for the undergrounding costs available to date. They are: Option 1- Undergrounding the entire town (Cost $42 million), paid for with ad valorem taxes and voted on with one referendum; Option 2- Undergrounding only Gulf of Mexico Drive, paid for with ad valorem taxes, and voted on with one referendum; Option 3- Gulf of Mexico Drive is paid for with ad valorem taxes and remaining island is paid for with non-ad valorem, with two referenda; Option 4- Underground the entire town with non-ad valorem, with one referendum.

The meeting adjourned with several agenda items unfinished, and the North End Property Owners Coalition decided to continue addressing all the above issues and becoming more involved in the discussions of items that affect the north end.


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