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Ballot boxes bursting as Key Club decision looms

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

A new record has been set after more than 50% of Longboat Key voters have cast ballots in the Longboat Key Club referendum question.

The entire vote has been conducted by mail ballot and is the first time in Longboat Key as well as in Sarasota and Manatee County that an election has been conducted in this manner.

The reason for the large turnout according to residents is twofold: the interest and concern over redevelopment at the Key Club’s Islandside Resort as well as the ease in which residents can simply mark a ballot and drop it in the mailbox as opposed to showing up at a voting booth.

The ballot question asks voters if the town should allow up to 300 new tourism units along with accessory uses on the Islandside property. The Longboat Key Club has gone to great lengths to explain that it already has the right to build residential units, but wants to trade up to 300 of those already allowed units for tourism units to build a new hotel, conference center, spa, restaurants and other related amenities.

Residents have mailed back completed ballots at a rapid pace with 52.5 percent of the 6,370 ballots returned by end of day Friday, May 8. All ballots must arrive in the Supervisor of Elections Office by end of day May 12 to be counted. Town Clerk Trish Granger expects the outcome to be reported by 7:30 p.m. on that date.

For the Longboat Key Club to be successful and for the referendum to pass, a simple majority of 50 percent plus one of the returned ballots must support the referendum.

As of May 8, Sarasota County, where the Longboat Key Club is located, has returned 56.6 percent of its mailed ballots, whereas the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key has returned 43.8 percent.

According to Town Clerk Trish Granger, the largest voter turnout for a commission election or referendum was in 2010 with a 42 percent turnout. Granger says that she is happy with the outcome and when asked if it would make sense to hold commission elections by mail ballot, she said that Florida State Statute does not allow candidate elections by mail, only referendum questions.

In 1998, voters in Oregon passed an initiative requiring all elections be conducted by mail. Oregon has since reduced the cost of elections and the time available to tally votes has increased. In 2011, Washington State passed a law requiring all counties to conduct vote by mail elections. In 2013, Colorado began holding all elections by mail.

In the November 2014 General Election, Colorado had more than 53 percent voter participation and Oregon 51 percent. Florida had one of the lower voter turnout rates in the nation at 42.7 percent.

Vice Mayor Terry Gans said even though by state law candidate elections cannot be held by mail, it might make a worthy discussion to see if or how that could be changed.

“You can look down the road and see a point where elections will be all digital,” said Gans.

Town Manager Dave Bullock said one of the reasons the town wanted to try the method is to see how well it would work. Based on the returns, he said it’s something for the town to consider for future elections.

The reason Ocean Properties, owner of the Longboat Key Club, is seeking approval to build tourism units is it forms the basis for a redevelopment of the Islandside Resort that the company intends to use to attract the next generation of corporate and upscale clients.

Ocean Properties is one of the largest privately held hotel owners and operators in the nation, and its Vice President, Mark Walsh, has negotiated with neighbors to come up with a redevelopment design that would not be challenged or opposed. After two years, he reached a negotiated agreement with the Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC) and made several concessions that limit the size of the redevelopment as well as the amount of future development on the property.

Walsh explains that the resort has experienced years of deferred maintenance in its facilities and restaurant and that a complete overhaul and the addition of a large meeting space in the new hotel will attract corporate clients that currently the resort cannot accommodate.

In Ocean Properties’ redevelopment proposal, all construction will occur south of Key Club Road, which will be moved slightly northward along a small section. The overall proposal is to build seven villas that will be 1.5 stories each, a 250-unit hotel, a 48-unit condominium at the site of the current Charthouse Restaurant and a 45-unit condominium on the west side of the development site near the existing but now closed tennis courts.

 

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