Candidates grapple with Longboat’s tough issues
With the March 14 election right around the corner, Longboat Key News asked the candidates for the two contested seats questions relevant to the community and its residents.
One contested seat is District 4, which is currently held by Commissioner Jack Daly who is running against candidate Larry Grossman.
The other contested seat is At-Large, which has former Mayor Jim Brown running against former Commissioner Gene Jaleski.
The District 2 seat will be filled automatically by current Commissioner George Spoll who is running unopposed.
Below are the questions in bold with the answers by each of the candidates with the exception of former Mayor Jim Brown who did not respond to Longboat Key News’ questions.
What are the three biggest challenges facing the Town Commission and how would you address the issues?
Jack Daly: 1) Continuing to update the Town’s Land Development (Zoning) Code and Comprehensive Plan, which has been underway for almost two years. I was instrumental in initiating and effectuating joint Commission and Plannning and Zoning Board sessions which have greatly enhanced the updating process. Considerable progress has been made through continued Commission public considerations and specific requests by the Commission for issues to be evaluated by the P&Z. These include clarifications and specific refinements with respect to proposed Planned Use Development (PUD) procedures; involving mixed use (residential/commercial-tourist), and important building height issues currently being evaluated. We need to continue these efforts to keep on schedule to complete this process during 2017.
2) Continuing to focus on efforts to transform the Town Center Conceptual Plans to become a reality; beginning with the development of the cultural center being currently considered and planned with Ringling and the LBK Foundation; enhanced by the recent purchase of the adjacent Amore (Rooks property. We are now at the point to move beyond concepts towards creating the reality of a long-awaited Town Center for the Key.
3) Continuing oversight of the GMD and Neighborhood Utility and Fiber Optics Undergrounding Projects approved by the voters; to assure efficient, fair, cost-effective assessments. With respect to eh Neighborhood project, I was instrumental and part of the slim Commission majority that substantially reduced the proposed assessments for the existing above-ground utility neighborhoods, reflecting in some areas a 30-40 percent assessment reduction, as currently shown on the Town’s website. When the final cost numbers are determined based on engineering evaluations and ultimate contractors’ bids, I believe additional reductions can and will be realized.
4) Continuing to address traffic issues discussed below, as Longboat Key’s representative on the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Board.
Larry Grossman: Citizen engagement at public hearings and through task forces assigned to address issues. There is an unfortunate disconnect between the decision makers and the electorate/citizens of Long Boat Key. We need more Commission outreach off the dais. We also need far more transparency in decision-making.
Developing a Master Plan and Neighborhood Plans and Land Development Regulations that addresses the issues of an obsolete zoning code, non-conforming uses and future land use and growth. I have written the Commission on my plan for Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Amendments, which I am attaching as a separate email. The Town needs to develop a Town Center Plan that is comprehensive and not solely focused on the proposed Ringling Cultural Center. Also, we need to resolve issues of the disposition of the Ringling Art Center if and when this facility is to be closed and considered for reuse or redevelopment. Same with the Whitney Plaza and adjacent properties which need a redevelopment plan acceptable to Longbeach Village and adjacent neighborhoods. We need neighborhood based planning and zoning regulations.
Modernization of the Island including the implementation of the Gulf of Mexico and Neighborhood undergrounding and fiber optic projects and upgrading of the housing stock as needed and any other infrastructure improvements. Like to see effort to encourage installation of solar energy panels and the use of renewable energy resources, de-asphalting of the island surface parking areas with permeable surfaces and other measures to make LBK an eco-friendly community.
Gene Jaleski: 1. Being good stewards of our precious island community going forward, which means no increases in density in any form. Perhaps retracting the remaining 180+ available tourist units. It is clear that residents no longer want to see any increased density.
2. Somehow getting control of how we manage our shoreline. What the town is doing is not working at numerous places along our beaches, and it is too costly.
3. Creating a neighborhood oriented rebuild plan for the entire island. Currently the PZB and commission are ready to implement a one-size-fits-all plan with tall massive structures and no density limits. This needs to be prevented.
What kind of development do you think would best serve Longboat Key at the former Colony site?
Jack Daly: First, consistent with our Town Charter, we obviously must await and react to the upcoming Colony Referendum on March 14, 2017, requesting additional density of 180 residential units on the Colony site. Second, we must keep in mind, that if the referendum vote is positive, it would be in no way binding on the P&Z Board or Commission. It would simply be a gateway step to enable the evaluation of the applicant’s specific proposal, all as provided by the provisions of the applicable Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan. On the other hand, if the vote is negative, I assume a “Plan B” will be developed for the site, and vetted, consistent with said applicable Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code provisions. My guess is that such a Plan B may be somewhat down-sized in scope and height features, perhaps with fewer dwelling units than requested by the referendum. At this point, as a sitting Commissioner, I think it more appropriate to react to such proposals rather than initiate any specific proposals. My guiding principle has been, and will be, to do my best to assure the continuing character of our community, while keeping Longboat as Longboat.
Larry Grossman: I believe that redevelopment of the former Colony project be for tourist uses with supporting commercial retail, restaurant and recreational uses like a fitness center that would be available to the public. I would like the redeveloped property to offer tennis but have no delusions that the redevelopment would necessarily recreate the Colony’s focus as a tennis center or that it should do so. I do not favor adding up to 180 residential units to make this a mixed use project. Judging from the Willett Concept Plan I believe there is no compelling public interest to concentrate this much building mass on this site with uniform looking tall buildings. Longboat Key is not Downtown Sarasota. The Key enjoys a more relaxed, lower profile lifestyle and the Colony design epitomized this approach although I wouldn’t suggest trying to reproduce the Colony design which is obsolete and casually chaotic. I would require the developer to mitigate traffic through a Transportation Management Plan which could include jitneys and car sharing provisions.
Gene Jaleski: The town’s role should be limited to enforcing current codes and ordinances. The Key Club fiasco should have taught the commission to not take sides in private property disputes. No increase in density should be allowed, including the 180, no longer wanted by the community, tourist units. The Colony has broken so many deadlines that they no longer merit and special considerations. Who misses the Colony?
Do you prefer the outsourcing of Longboat Key’s 911 calls to the County, or would you prefer Longboat handle 911 dispatch in-house?
Jack Daly: With respect to the dispatching of the Key’s 911 calls, as reported at the recent February 6, 2017 Commission meeting, the conversion of the dispatching to Sarasota County has worked very well, efficiently handling a 11.5 percent increase in annual calls (Fire & EMS) in 2016 over 2015. Likewise, the Sarasota County dispatching efficiently handled some 5,672 emergency and non-emergency police calls in 2016.
Larry Grossman: Outsourcing of 9/11 calls – No. I made one non-emergency call to complain of a radio blaring from a house across the canal and was surprised how much time it took for the operator to identify the street and the house –and that was for a non-emergency situation.
Gene Jaleski: This is a mistake and a false economy. We are an affluent enough community to want optimal health safety, and outsourcing 911 has only degraded service. The town spends $4 million on land behind Publix and squeezes pennies out of vital safety services. Go figure. Fantastic health safety greatly enhances our quality of life and our property values.
What kind of art/cultural center with what kind of programming should the Town develop at the property it has purchased at the Town Center site?
Jack Daly: The recent purchase of the Amore property will greatly enhance the functionality of the Arts, Cultural and Education Center (ACE), providing improved access to the property purchased by the Town in 2014. The ACE Center will be a key stone for the community and Town Center area. The Town and Ringling are working together to explore the feasibility of the ACE; and to establish roles and responsibilities for its design and development; via a pre-construction agreement. As I stated above, this recent purchase will be a major step towards a Town Center reality, and renew the long standing Commission efforts and planning towards that goal. Personally, I intend to advocate for an integrated Tennis Center as part of the Town Center.
Larry Grossman: Art/Cultural Center – Wouldn’t it be nice if we had such a public discussion instead of this piecemeal approach to planning a Town Center. I would like to see the library functions incorporated into the center and call it an Information Resource Center and Reading Room. The existing library building could be demolished and the site used for a solar panel array or for open space or both. A learning Art Center and Educational Center would be part of the building functions with rooms flexibly designed for performances, musical events- same with outside grounds. With the pending acquisition of the Rooks/Amore Restaurant site there is now more flexibility in designing the Center with a mix of indoor and outdoor space. The Town should also work with Publix for shared parking arrangements to minimize the need for parking on the Cultural Center properties so that the building doesn’t get bulked up trying to accommodate structured parking.
Gene Jaleski: Are we sure that a majority of residents even want to spend $4 million plus on some sort of artsy community center, plus $300,000 yearly upkeep? Ringling is a private institution that failed to attract island residents to its programs. I have a problem using tax money to subsidized Ringling after it was unable to attract a sustainable membership from island residents, while the gas station blight, that affects the image of the entire island, goes unaddressed by the commission.
What can and should Longboat do to help address traffic?
Jack Daly: I endorse the short-term pilot traffic remedies, as recently proposed by the Revitalization Committee to the MPO Board and Sarasota and Manatee public officials; which I supported as an MPO Board Member, as well as similar short-term remedies proposed by the four barrier islands’ mayors, including Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans. These include traffic light enhancements on the intersections of US41 and Ringling and Fruitville intersections, and the Ken Thompson light; and lane adjustments on Cortez Avenue and 119th Street. We need to keep in mind that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) owns most all of the relevant regional ingress and egress roads to and from the Key, which are integral to our traffic issues; and accordingly, FDOT must take ownership of and support any short-term and long-term remediations. The approved FDOT/MPO Traffic Study, proposed by LBK to the MPO Board by our Town Manager and myself, with the primary objective of developing long-term solutions, appears to me to be the best opportunity for results. We need to garner political support to avoid the fates of past studies that for the most part were shelved. As I see it, the only way to actually implement traffic remediation projects for the long-term resulting from this study, will be through significant political organization and efforts. My recommendation is to establish them now in support of the short-term proposals in order to effectuate such projects. If re-elected, I suggest I am uniquely positioned and qualified to continue to do so on behalf of Longboat Key residents.
Larry Grossman: This is a regional issue since most of the traffic affecting LBK doesn’t originate or terminate on the Key. I would implement a Traffic Management Requirement for new development that obligates the owner/developer to mitigate traffic generated by the project. I initiated such a requirement in Alexandria Virginia which was adopted in 1987 and therefore has been in effect for 30 years. I have been preaching the importance of a Transportation Demand Management approach to Manatee County, Sarasota County and to the City of Sarasota. The reality is that we can’t build our way out of traffic congestion yet still allow more development. I made this pitch also to the MPO in my testimony in consideration of the Barrier Island Traffic Study and their staff agreed with me that transportation demand management approaches would be needed. Given my background and expertise on this matter I believe I can be very effective in addressing traffic issues affecting LBK.
Gene Jaleski: 1) stop adding tourist units – 3 referendum votes – 80 percent against more traffic, more tourism
2) remove parking from the inner ring of St. Armand’s Circle
3) install pedestrian crossing lights where needed at St. Armand’s Circle – optimize pedestrian traffic
4) install computerized, intelligent, coordinated traffic signals from 75th at Cortez, in Bradenton to Ringling at Hwy 41 in Sarasota to optimize area traffic flow.
5) start working on dealing with short term residential rentals via AirB&B and VRBO. This is already a significant component of our traffic problem.
All of these can be realistically implemented in a short period of time.