A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Contributing Writer

I am writing this opinion piece as a direct result of  town and commission actions that I believe threaten the desirable lifestyle of my neighborhood.

There are two distinct neighborhood models on Longboat Key. I am writing about what the town is doing to unincorporated neighborhoods such as Country Club Shores and north end areas of the island.

First, let’s talk about condominium and home owner associations, usually having bylaws that, to a great extent, govern what property owners may do with the externals of their homes. There are usually strict rules concerning “common property” within the confines of the association. So far, the condo and home owner associations have been a well performing neighborhood model, ensuring that both property and lifestyle values are maintained. The property owners pay more, for their protections and peace of mind, than residents in unincorporated neighborhoods, where the town controls the use of both private and public land. But people living in protected communities feel that the extra money is well spent.

It is the unincorporated neighborhoods that I feel are under siege from developers and commercial tourism interests. I feel that the town commission operates without regard to the wishes and best interests of the residents in these communities. Unlike the incorporated neighborhoods, property owners in unincorporated parts  of the island are at the mercy of, what many would agree, a town commission that is unresponsive to the wishes of the great majority of residents.

Country Club Shores residents are presently involved in a Too Tall House struggle with the town. It was the town that initiated changes to existing building height codes, allowing a thirty percent increase in building height to accommodate the desire of a few developers and private owners to increase allowable square footage, by erecting unsightly root decks and attendant stair and elevator shaft housings. Many CCS property owners saw the town commission’s actions as threatening both surrounding property values and the neighborhood ambiance.

My question is how did this happen? As far as I know, the commission made no attempt to reach out to CCS owners to ascertain what they envisioned for their community. Instead the commission adopted a somewhat contorted justification for allowing the 30% height increase, without any study of available alternatives, that would have maintained the existing building height envelope.

The Zota mega-dense hotel is another sad example of  a local legislative body acting in complete isolation from the local residents. Given the last four overwhelming defeats of density referendums, it is crystal clear that the Zota should never have been allowed to add unwanted tourism and traffic the the north end of the island. But then the commission never asked what the people wanted. Actually that is not accurate, there was a sizable outcry from the north end community that went unheeded by the town commission. In the case of the Zota, the town actually offered to give the developer more than he was requesting, while we now know that 80%+ of island residents do not want more tourism density.

Now I turn to the vulnerable north end. The town commission has adopted ordinances granting licenses to commercial tourism operators, to have access to town facilities such as the town dock and the boat launching ramp. I do not believe there are any provisions in the new ordinances limiting the number of issued licenses or how frequently a tourism operator can access town facilities. Certainly no one at town hall is asking the village residents how they feel about the introduction of licensed commercial tourism in their neighborhood. Do the commissioners not see what is happening to Anna Maria Island, with its tourism problems? Why does the commission force commercial tourism on village residents after the relatively large public outcry from north end residents about intensifying and expanding tourism in the two grandfathered non-conforming restaurants?

As far as I know, there are no superseding state or county laws affecting the control and use of town owned dry lands, outside the purview of any maritime agencies.

Why is the town allowing any commercial tourism exploitation of town/taxpayer/resident land and facilities? Why is the town altering the social fabric of unincorporated neighborhoods without extensive outreach to affected residents?

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