Village peppers candidates with heated questions and reactions
Editor & Publisher
The Longboat Village hosted what looks to be the final public showdown between this year’s crop of commission candidates. The event was part of the Longbeach Village Association’s monthly meeting and allowed At-Large candidates Jim Brown and Gene Jaleski as well as District 4 candidates Jack Daly and Larry Grossman to first talk about themselves and then answer questions from the crowd.
Former Mayor Jim Brown opened the event with a short biographical statement in which he said he had been on Longboat Key for 18 years and has served 15 of those years on either the Planning and Zoning Board or the Town Commission.
Brown cautioned the Villagers that he could not talk about the Colony referendum vote because “The Town has been threatened with a lawsuit, so we have to take precautions.”
After growing tired of endless rounds of golf and tennis and fishing, Brown was encouraged he said to present a white paper on a piece of property before the town commission. He said he was soon asked to sit on a committee, then the Planning Board and then encouraged to run for commission and has put his career as an architect, primarily in hotel design, to use.
Next, Brown said that the Town of Longboat Key has a situation where 80 percent of the properties are non-conforming due to down-zoning. He said that he has been working along with the town to set up a way so all of these properties can become conforming.
He ended his introduction by saying, “I’m here because people have asked me to be, and I will serve and I hope people will vote for me.”
Village resident Gene Jaleski was introduced as a 30-year resident of the key, and a one-time commissioner. Jaleski spoke of various initiatives he has taken including a push he lead to keep residential building heights at 35 feet on the island. He then said he fought on another occasion a multi-million dollar water project and instead pushed for water conservation. Jaleski then spoke of the changes to the setbacks and the parking coverage allowances that were made by the town to allow the Hilton to double in size.
“You can thank the commission for that,” said Jaleski.
Sparks fly early
While Jaleski was giving his five-minute biographical intoduction, he said that he wanted to talk about the ordinances that his opponent and the town are considering for redevelopment.
“I’m not stupid, I have a high I.Q. The Planned Unit Development ordinance scares me, it gets rid of density and they want us to free the commission to grant waivers and variances and you want people to fight this ordinance if you do not want to have open season on density on Longboat Key,” said Jaleski.
Candidate Brown, who is currently Planning and Zoning Board Chair, said, “Most of what Gene just said was a lie.”
Jaleski responded, “The Longboat Observer spent a half a page backing a hotel on the north end and they are now backing my competitor. That’s a bed I don’t want to sleep in. I’m against everything going on right now: it’s time to represent the people.”
Commissioner Jack Daly, who currently sits in the District 4 seat, said he had moved up the executive rank and managed a lot of facilities and employees.
“I take pride in that I’ve been able to maintain a business approach,” said Daly.
Daly continued to say that he would like to think that he’s added value to the process of revamping zoning codes and land use regulations. He was also positive about the preconstruction agreement with Ringling College for a Community Arts Center.
“The only thing missing on Longboat Key is we do not have a common area where everybody can get together,” said Daly.
Daly has been the town’s representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and he said that he and the town have worked hard to get FDOT to fund a long-range traffic study, which is underway right now.
Finally, Daly spoke of another major construction project – the town undergrounding – where he said he believes the town will be able to lower the cost of assessments even further on the neighborhood project.
Larry Grossman says he has been on the key for eight years and said that living next to Harry’s Restaurant, he is sensitive to overflow parking and quality of life issues. Grossman worked as a planner in Alexandria, Virginia for 30 years and he learned that Longboat Key has no plan when it comes to planning.
“At the Key Club hearings, I realized Longboat Key does not only not have a plan, it doesn’t even have a planning process,” said Grossman.
Grossman said he has a problem with the way the town conducts referendums in that a majority of voters control things that they are not impacted by.
Grossman closed in saying, “You don’t do planning through zoning; you do planning through planning.”
Village resident Samir Ragheb asked the first question of Brown when he asked why the town in its notices and advertisements for ordinances and meetings uses legal-eze and he wondered if there could be a better, clearer process.
Brown responded that all of the information is on the town website and often an ordinance may be 12 pages long.
Jaleski responded that the town needs to be more inclusive and should include a small synopsis of what will be discussed or voted on and he wants a town website that is “more user-friendly.”
Another resident complained of overflow parking on Broadway, the town dock being overrun, people turning around in driveways and a general situation where emergency vehicles can “barely get down streets.”
Grossman said parking is not supposed to spill over and public right-of-ways should not be used for commercial purposes. He said code enforcement should be involved and residents “should not be putting up with this.”
Jaleski spoke even more strongly.
“The commission has been unresponsive and has turned a blind eye to the Village and has been extremely preferential toward two restaurants,” said Jaleski.
Jaleski then pointed out that the new Shore Restaurant that is being placed where Moore’s has closed, will have 1,600 square feet of retail clothing space.
“It’s a bad deal, I will keep fighting against this even if I’m not elected,” said Jaleski.
Daly responded that Mar Vista owner Ed Chiles had down-sized his construction proposal. Daly said there was no additional seating or parking at Moore’s and no expansion of the restaurant seating or parking.
“My experience on the commission is when complaints are made, a response is in order. I advise you, you will get a response and a reaction at a commission meeting,” said Daly.
“The Village is not ignored. You are listened to more than anyone, you get more attention on this island than any other neighborhood. I know those two restaurants should not be here, but they have been grandfathered. I don’t think the town has given either restaurant more than they had by right,” said Brown.
Villager Pete Rowan harkened back to the Mar Vista and said the entire community was to blame for dropping the ball, because Mar Vista went from 40 to 162 seats over the years.
Resident Corinne Ragheb asked the candidates why they would allow peacocks in the Village to be mutilated. She specifically asked why would the town pay someone $23,000 to remove peacocks.
Jaleski pointed out that Longboat Key Village is a dedicated bird sanctuary, but peacocks are not protected and that they can be a nuisance and do not live where Corinne lives in the Village.
Another resident asked about any potential cost savings on the neighborhood undergrounding project. Daly spoke of how the commission in a 4-3 vote had cut a major portion of that assessment. Daly then said that he believed the contingency amount in the budget is too high and that there may be significant savings and reductions in the near future.
Jaleski spoke of how voters on the south of the island overturned the Village and then he said, “The commission took our vote from us. If I’m elected commissioner I’ll hold a referendum to see if we should all pay equally.”
Grossman said the undergrounding projects should have been one referendum paid for fairly as an island-wide project.
Splattered in street
One woman said she was very concerned by construction vehicles and drivers speeding up to 50 m.p.h. on Broadway.
“When I called the police, four policemen stood in my driveway and laughed at me. But if my child chases a ball, my child will get splattered in the street,” said the woman.
Brown suggested speed bumps.
After the previous discussion about the speeding, Villager Michael Drake suggested and the Villagers agreed, to invite the Longboat Police Chief and Fire Chief to the next meeting to speak with them about their concerns.
The final topic was the desire of the town to construct an Arts and Cultural Center with the Ringling College at the town center next to Publix.
Jaleski said the town has spent $4 million and the costs are still going up. Brown said that the Community Foundation is raising funds to pay for the building.
Jaleski shot back, “The Ringling is being put in charge of our Art and Community Center? They failed in the Village; why are we having a loser organization involved?”
The discussion wound down as residents began to talk of toll booths for non-Longboaters and the final suggestion of charging non-residents for beach parking was briefly considered.