Making sense of Longboat’s convoluted election
Despite H.L. Mencken’s adage that choosing candidates is akin to deciding between heads of cabbage at a market, the fact remains not all heads of cabbage are equal. Some are more dense, larger and more colorful and have more snap. This holds true on Longboat Key.
Voters must decide in the coming two weeks between which two sets of cabbage they want leading our island — Jim Brown or Gene Jaleski in the At-Large seat, and Jack Daly or Larry Grossman in the District 4 seat.
And of course, for those who have recently arrived from a galaxy far far away, we will also vote on a Colony density referendum as well as another density referendum.
In many ways your vote depends on what types of solutions you want to see promulgated. In the simplest sense, each candidate applies their skill and bias and bent from their career into an approach to governance.
Brown architects overdevelopment
Jim Brown was and is an architect. His background has put him front and center in all manner of planning and zoning codes and building issues. Brown has a lot to say and a lot of opinions on building heights, setbacks, density, redevelopment rights and on and on.
Let me talk about a few of what I see as Brown’s negatives and try and put them in perspective.
Brown has led the desire to enhance redevelopment rights on Longboat that if implemented could encourage aging condos to redevelop.
The negative side is the rules he has championed are continuing to discourage the down zoning of properties to underlying densities and actually will encourage larger units elevated on more and more sites. He sees nonconformities on Longboat Key as a major problem that needs to be addressed. Others see it as what the island self-consciously voted to become — a low-density residential community.
As I have written in the past, I also object to Brown’s behind-the-scenes closeness to a want-to-be developer of the Colony and what I see as clear attempts to sabotage other development proposals through crafting Planned Unit Development rules that specifically would allow his friend’s plan, but not the very plan the Colony Association Board has embraced and unit owners are voting on.
I also object to the size and scale and twisting of the land use rules that allowed the Hilton to double in size and in density on an already cramped site. That was Brown again at work.
Finally, I fault Brown for not taking away a lesson from the Longboat Key Club lawsuits and the toll that took on our community.
I bring the above up because in my view a commissioner who is sensitive to Longboat Key and its low density and unique characteristics would by default have been opposed to the initial massive Key Club redevelopment plan.
The flip side is Brown is a very likeable candidate. Brown’s personality, his sense of humor, his commitment to the community and his experience on many issues are all assets.
Let me expand. Brown has brought a real sense of fairness and diplomacy to many many issues. He has also passionately supported the tennis center, Bayfront Park redevelopment and the undergrounding of the island.
But when it comes to his very specialty — architecture and development — that is where I worry about the less-than-restrictive initiatives from Brown.
Jaleski’s fatal flaw
Now his opponent, Gene Jaleski, is a mixed bag. To start, Gene is a fountain of ideas and ideation. On every topic, year after year, Gene researches and offers thoughts, ideas, solutions and invariably criticism.
Gene talked about undergrounding long before it became popular on Longboat. Gene has advocated for more innovative and alternate ways to nourish our beaches including inlet management. Gene is also highly protective of the low-density ambiance of the Key and rages against any expansion of commercialism or tourism. In fact, Gene has been unwavering in his opposition to over expansion of anything on Longboat Key.
I like these principles. I like that Jaleski has a firm core committed to the integrity of our island. But of course there is a fatal flaw.
That fatal flaw is Jaleski invariably is far more accomplished at playing the intellectual-critical role than the role of working with others in a group to get something accomplished. I say that because on countless occasions I have seen Jaleski bring forth ideas and simultaneously insult and alienate the very people he wants to see implement the ideas.
Jaleski is the guy who rants to the banker about the evils of capitalism and private property while simultaneously applying for a mortgage.
In other words he is s disrupter, a dissenter, an activist. But the Longboat Commission is not the Chicago 7, otherwise Jaleski would own the throne.
So there you have it. In Brown a seasoned member of the community who served on the Commission already three terms, took two years off on the Planning and Zoning Board and now is wanting back again on the Commission. He knows the job. In many ways Brown is very effective — if the effect you want is a commissioner leaning toward growth and development and increased development rights on Longboat Key.
With Jaleski, you have a maverick with faithful and consistent ideas that protect Longboat Key yet who verges on lacking the interpersonal skills to be a leader on the Commission.
I believe Brown will win and offer support insomuch that his diplomacy in issues other than development render him an effective leader. The caveat is he sometimes is leading to places we ought not go.
Daly vs. Grossman.
This is a case of Corporate Executive vs. Professional Planner.
What that means is Daly, with years in top executive positions in the gas and oil industries, and Grossman, with years as a City planner in Alexandria Virginia, bring very different styles of listening, speaking, analyzing and reacting to issues.
This decision is much easier then the above race and in this case I support Jack Daly.
To be fair to Grossman, he is truly inspiring in his attention to detail and his command of planner-ese.
Grossman has delved into issue after issue and goes to meeting after meeting offering insights, suggestions, criticism and disdain. His strength is his weakness.
In essence, Grossman always sees a lack of proper planning and direction and expresses his desire is to do things better. This applies to undergrounding utility lines, the Town Center, The Key Club, ordinances, etc. You name the issue and Grossman is seeing where the Town is veering off the proper planning path.
On the other end is Daly. Daly does not proffer to be an expert on much of anything other than listening, analyzing and making informed decisions. And that is the very essence of the job requirement.
And those qualities are refreshing on Longboat Key. He does not bring a priori agendas and biases to the job. He does not have a know-it-all attitude. He is not negative nor an optimist. He does not kill creativity nor inspire grand ideas.
What Daly does is listen to all of the facts. He then considers and then makes the best decision he can. I have watched him listen and change his mind.
Daly has worked to lower the cost of the undergrounding for the neighborhoods in an almost dogmatic way. He has been steady in pressuring the MPO and FDOT to help deal with traffic. He has shown fairness in dealing with land use rules.
In short, Daly has turned out to be a fair, smart and open-minded commissioner. He never acts nor speaks petty and brings professionalism to the post.
Grossman has many insights and has so much to offer specifically in planning, but Daly deserves our vote. He has done an admirable job and has done so by not being a loud showboater.
The Colony referendum
As I wrote two weeks ago, I believe voters will and should say “no” and that Unicorp should and will return with a Plan B, which will not require a public vote.
That Plan B should be to build 103 residential units, which is allowed by right. Then Unicorp should request some or all of the remaining 165 units from the Town Commission out of the existing Tourism Pool.
This option is allowed today. No rules have to be stretched, no special allowances made and without dividing and marketing to our community for or against the plan.
The result is a compromise that is legal, allowed and both punishes and rewards each party proportionally.
Is that not the essence of a fair deal?