Vice Mayor talks Longboat future
Editor & Publisher
Vice Mayor Ed Zunz cemented his attraction for Longboat Key more than three decades ago when he and his wife, Patricia, and their children took a serendipitous trip across the island.
The family was en route from Orlando to Sanibel Island on a vacation when Zunz, who said he liked to take side trips to break up monotonous drives, suggested cutting across Longboat Key from north to south. At that time there was no interstate, and Zunz remarked that there was little more than palmetto trees and mangroves on the east side of Longboat Key, and he recalled visiting the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort. The family soon after bought a condominium at The Players Club just south of the Colony after Zunz said he and his wife remembered their visit to the island fondly.
Patricia is perhaps a more familiar face in Town Hall following years on the Code Enforcement and Planning and Zoning Board and three terms as a town commissioner. Ed Zunz joined the commission last March and a year later his fellow board members placed enough confidence in him to select him to be Vice Mayor.
Longboat Key News spent some time speaking with Zunz about some of the town projects and issues.
Zunz remarked that the town is in a situation of wait and see when it comes to its $50 million undergrounding project.
The dilemma is a bill that is traveling the Florida Legislature that allows telecommunication companies the unfettered right to place any and all manner of cellular antennas in communities and public right-of-ways without input or control from local governments.
The bill flies in the face of the town’s effort to beautify the key through burying all of its power lines and removing above ground utility poles.
Zunz explained that a large group of municipalities is trying to fight the legislation directly and have it defeated. He pointed out that the telecommunication industry has an extremely well-funded lobbying effort and that Longboat Key is taking its own approach.
“We are taking the approach that on Longboat Key we have a special situation. Even if the legislation passes, we think we should have an exception or exemption because we are installing fiber optic cable throughout the island that can accommodate the needs of the telecommunication industry. We are also putting up what are referred to as ‘smart’ lighting fixtures that will be able to accommodate the very antennas they say they may need.
One issue Zunz argued strenuously with fellow commissioners over was the funding method for the undergrounding.
“I think the undergrounding should have been done all at once with one funding method since after all, we are one town and we should have done this all together as a community. It turned out to be a punishing burden on some of the least expensive homes. The argument is those homes would have the most benefit, but to me it was an unconscionable burden. At the last minute, the majority on the commission started to feel a little different and lessen the burden by about $1,800 on those who pay the most,” said Zunz.
Ringling and the future Community and Arts Center
The Ringling School of Art and Design currently has under contract the site of its former Center for the Arts in the Village near where Zunz lives. Part of the future plan for Ringling as well as the town is for Ringling to manage and operate a new Community Arts Center on the property where Amore Restaurant is located next to Publix. The town in the past year acquired the Amore property from owner Howard Rooks as well as the adjacent parcel that is vacant behind SunTrust Bank. The town closed on the Amore Property on March 31, and is under an agreement with Ringling to allow the land to be used for the future Center.
Meanwhile, the Longboat Community Foundation has started a fundraising campaign to secure the estimated $12 million needed to build the Center. Zunz said the town buying Amore Restaurant was essential to create a suitably sized property that would have adequate parking and access to Bay Isles Road.
“The Community Arts Center will be a great thing for Longboaters who don’t want to run into Sarasota and it will allow plays, concerts, and ballet companies the opportunity to perform on the island,” said Zunz.
Zunz said that he hopes an ampitheatre and eventually some shops and a little pub would eventually evolve in and around the Town Center.
As for the property owned by Ringling that is under contract in the Village, Zunz said the 12 proposed houses will be compatible with the community as far as he can tell at this point.
The final topic Zunz spoke about is the need for a conversation that will occur in April about the rapid erosion on the north end beach, and he hopes to discuss the possibility of a terminal groin and the beach in general over the next two months. Zunz pointed out that there was originally supposed to be a terminal groin installed that would have helped anchor Beer Can Island but the town agreed to hold off on its construction to settle a lawsuit.
Zunz said about six months ago he was concerned that the commission due to term limits was rapidly losing some of the members with the most institutional knowledge. He now feels more confident.
“With George Spoll and Jim Brown coming on the commission, we are now loaded with experience,” said Zunz.