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Longboat Key Election 2018: Candidates talk development rights, pickleball, marijuana and more…

On March 20, 2018 Longboat Key voters must decide which commissioners to elect in three contested races. In the District 5 seat incumbent Vice Mayor Ed Zunz is facing challenger Randy Langley. In the At-Large District seat, incumbent Commissioner Irwin Pastor is facing Jack Wilson. Running for the District 3 seat is current Planning and Zoning Board Vice Chair Ken Schneier against John Weber.

Longboat Key News asked each of the four candidates in the contested elections questions regarding Key issues. Here is what they had to say:

 

What are the three biggest challenges facing the Town Commission and how would you address these issues?

Ed Zunz: Three major challenges: Timely and successful implementation of our vast undergrounding project.  Bringing together all of the necessary elements to create a thriving Town Center.  As the District 5 Commissioner, a third challenge relates to dealing with multiple, but related Manatee issues, such as street flooding, protecting Greer Island and the proposed Broadway/GMD roundabout.  Manatee County’s refusal to participate in the resolution of any of these Manatee issues also has a strong bearing on the “one county” issue.  For the first time in quite a while we have managed to schedule a joint commission meeting with Manatee County and these items will be on our agenda.

Randy Langley: 1. The continuing beach degradation and the constant cost of nourishment.  The town has hired experts over the past years.  We should choose the plan that best fits our needs and follow through with that particular plan.

2. The high percentage of the Island that is presently non-conforming.  If there is a study or hard facts available of each non-conforming property I am not aware.  The commission should address each of those properties and establish clear, concise and conforming zoning that matches the future land use.  Had this been accomplished years ago with the Colony Property the town would not be in the predicament they are today.

3. Street flooding and flooding in general on the island.  I understand the town is planning to test a new style end for the drain pipes.  Hopefully, the test is successful. If not, the town should continue until a solution is found.

Irwin Pastor: Number one in my mind is a similar answer to your fourth question. Yes, we have to revise our Land Usage and Land Codes to ensure that all non-conforming properties can accommodate a larger foot print which gives the flexibilities necessary to build a more marketable unit. The solution is ASAP [which is now!] the Staff and the Planning and Zoning Board must review, revise and recommend new possible Land Usage Categories and Land Codes to protect future property values for voluntary and non- voluntary re-development.

Second part of number one challenge is a way to say yes to the re-development of the abandoned Colony Property given the constraints of our current Land Usage and Land Codes and the overwhelming consensus by the residents to approve the project but adhere as close to all the existing codes as possible. Once again, we as a Commission are waiting for revisions and recommendations from Staff and the Planning and Zoning Board so we can make a final decision.

Second Challenge recognizing that FDOT Traffic Studies verify that most of LBK traffic issues originate off island necessitates a regional approach by the MPO. The LBK Commission is presently considering and studying roundabouts at the LBK CLUB Road and Broadway along with more turn lanes to move traffic flow more evenly and alleviate backup. FDOT, Sarasota County, Manatee County, and the Municipalities are specifically looking at traffic lights, roundabouts, directional signs, lanes and bridges on the North Barrier Islands, various methods of mitigating traffic at St. Armand’s Circle, and addressing Rte 41/ Ringling traffic congestions.

Third Challenge is to have the entire Island of Longboat Key under the jurisdiction of Sarasota County. It’s in the best interest for overall valuation of properties that LBK be entirely within Sarasota County beside the obvious tax savings of $2.6 million dollars for LBK Manatee Tax Payers.  Sarasota County because of geography and similarities in demography is in a better position to re-invest and supply incremental and higher levels of services for all LBK residents. Your Commission intents to have a Non-Binding Referendum for all LBK tax payers; but the ultimate decision for changing the County Lines rest in Tallahassee. Sarasota County and Manatee County will have to geographically and economically negotiate terms that are equally beneficial and in the best overall economic interest of the Greater Sarasota -Manatee Region.

Jack Wilson: I consider traffic strangulation at Coquina/Bradenton Beach and at St Armand’s/Sarasota Waterfront to be so serious

as to be a major threat to future property values on Longboat Key. It seems we are unaware of the volume of residential units planned for the mainland north and south of LBK.  My research suggests more than 26,000 new units are coming in the next several years!  And be aware there will be more than one person occupying each unit, and they will all want to ‘go to the beach’.

None of the planned minor roadway adjustments and the like will solve the problem. We need a roadway/bridge system from the foot of State Road 70 (53rd Street) across land and water to the Whitney Beach area. The bridge must be private for LBK residents, family members and workers.

I contend that we do not have a traffic problem on Longboat Key. It is the utter strangulation north and south that is making life on Longboat Key so desperate.

You have asked for the three biggest challenges facing the Town Commission. For 2nd and 3rd refer to #1 above.

John Weber: First and foremost, dealing with our massive, seasonal traffic problems. We as a community, need to stop talking about potential solutions and start acting on them. Here’s how we start:

1. Stop the over development of our island.

2. Institute smart bridge openings during season. Eliminate on demand/single vessel openings. Institute a firm schedule of bridge openings (i.e.: every two hours) Keep the bridge(s) open for as long as it takes to have all vessels pass through.

3. Work with FDOT to assess the feasibility of non-resident tolls entering the island. This will result in a decrease of “cut through” traffic AND serve to generate revenue. The revenue generated can be used to potentially offset the costs of the under grounding of utility wiring throughout the key as well as lessening the overall tax burden of our residents.

4.Team with the Police Departments of LBK, Sarasota and Bradenton Beach to monitor seasonal traffic levels and have them step in to manually direct the smooth flow of traffic through known choke points (Bridges, St. Armand’s, Ringling Bridge area/Route 41.)

Second, complete the redevelopment of the Colony property in order to conform with LBK’s current zoning regulations. We need to ensure that any new hotel/condo becomes as asset to the community and not a drain, nor merely a profit machine dumped on our island, while meanwhile our island suffers the negative effects. Developers need to be held accountable to our rules. We do not need nor want Commissioners or Planning and Zoning Board Members that look to circumvent our zoning regulations in order to cut breaks to developers.

Third. we need to continue to attack the problem of erosion management of our beaches. People live and visit LBK because of our gorgeous beaches. We want to keep it that way. Construction of additional groins in the northern portion of our island will go a long way towards preserving what we already have. The importing of sand to replace what has washed away needs to continue.

Ken Schneier: First, redevelopment:  Our land use code has served us well, but in 35 years it has become a confusing Christmas tree of amendments and insertions; it must be re-written.  Owners on LBK deserve certainty that their older properties are legal and can be updated or rebuilt in a logical manner.   Residents deserve reassurance that the character of the island will not be disturbed.  Second, traffic:  LBK has little influence over traffic generated off-key that impacts Gulf of Mexico Drive, a State road.  However, Commissioner Daly has done excellent work to get us in the conversation with the State, county, city and neighboring islands to improve conditions at Cortez, St. Armands, Ken Thompson Pkwy, and Tamiami Trail while fixing the Longboat Key Club Road and Broadway intersections and exploring and widening portions of GMD at the South end.  These efforts should be continued and additional creative solutions to our traffic problems should be considered.  Third, environment:  In this I include both beach erosion and tidal flooding.  We must continue our intensive efforts to stem beach erosion where possible and replace sand where necessary.  The three new groins in process for the north end are an excellent step and the search for quality sand and funding from all possible sources are essential.  Tidal flooding, even without rainfall, is a menace to the Village and is moving south on our island.  I would encourage Public Works to continue its plans to replace tidal valves, clear all stormwater facilities, investigate new technologies and budget for the reconstruction of exhausted infrastructure in all older neighborhoods.

 

Longboat Key’s New Town Manager, New Public Works Director, New Planning Zoning and Building Director, New Building Official as well as the previous Town Manager and the current Fire Chief have all been hired out of Sarasota County. Does this cause you any concern? Do you believe that the Town is making the widest and most thorough searches or did the best candidates for these positions all simply hail from Sarasota County?

Ed Zunz: It would be hard to argue that we utilized the most traditional search methodology, no less the “widest” one, in selecting these individuals.  All of these were highly “targeted” searches. Fortunately, we had Olympic quality marksmen at hand to hit all bulls’ eyes.

Randy Langley: All of the Positions mentioned seem to be filled by more than qualified individuals.  I believe there were many applications submitted and I am certain the best choices were made given the applicants made available. Not to mention, all of the mentioned positions were filled with extremely pleasant and qualified people.

Irwin Pastor: History has shown that the Town of Longboat Key has had enormous success in recent years by hiring from Sarasota County David Bullock as Town Manager and the hiring of Paul Dezzi as current Fire Chief. If the talent is there then inherently you have the extra benefits of a certain degree of continuity with existing strategic partner. We have a process in place where the current Town Manager in conjunction with Human Resources writes and advertises the job description and the minimum qualifications for all applicants. After the posted deadline for applicant is completed it is the job of the Town Manager to present the candidate or candidates to the Board of Commissioners for the official approval.

Jack Wilson: Without some evidence that The Commission has been remiss in their search for best candidates, I would not wish to cast aspersions on their performance in this matter.

John Weber: No. It causes me no concern. The town has done an excellent job in bringing in individuals that are extremely qualified. Where these individuals originate from is not relevant. What is relevant is their job performance and thus far, their performances in their respective positions has been excellent.

Ken Schneier: I was not privy to all discussions and steps that led to the hiring of our new department heads, and I do believe a comprehensive search is appropriate for key managers.  However, I have met with Tom Harmer and his predecessor Dave Bullock.  I have met a number of times with Planning Director Alan Parsons (staff head for the department that supports the Planning and Zoning Board of which I am Vice Chair) and with Public Works Director Isaac Brownman and Fire Chief Dezzi.  I am impressed with the qualifications of all these men, with their dedicated public service, with their grasp of the issues facing LBK and with their attitudes towards our citizens.  I have not met new Building Official Stan Dimwitty but know that he is highly qualified and recommended by our new managers.  It is unfortunate we have had to fill so many key positions in a short time while facing so many challenges, but I believe we have been lucky to attract a team that is not only qualified, but familiar with each other and with our locale.

 

Pickleball has become extremely popular across the Nation and on Longboat Key. The Commission recently allowed the re-striping of a tennis court at Bayfront Park Recreation Center to help accommodate the demand. Many residents have said they would like to see up to 6 additional courts for Pickleball built by the Town at the Public Tennis Center. This would come as a capital Improvement cost. If there is land available at the current Center, would you be in favor of such an expenditure to expand the public tennis center to include Pickleball courts to enhance its operation? Why or why not?

Ed Zunz: One place where LBK did miss the mark was in underestimating the pickleball explosion.  When I became aware that only one court was in the plan for Bayfront Park it was too late to make a change.  About six weeks ago I walked the park with our outgoing and our new Director of Public Works. I urged the conversion of part of the outsized basketball court to create two more pickleball courts alongside the existing one. The area east of the new playground also would be ideal for several courts but later investigation disclosed that only “passive recreation” is permitted in that area.  For a quick fix a pair of pickleball court lines will be painted on one of the two tennis courts, converting it to mixed use.  It is evident that pickleball will become more and more important to our LBK community.  The planned Town Center will consume all the land in that area.  Therefore, if new pickleball courts cannot be accommodated in Bayfront Park they will have to go elsewhere. Is there a place and a  “Friends of Pickleball” group to assist LBK as did  “Friends of Tennis” in creating the Tennis Center?

Randy Langley: Restriping of the two hard courts for pickleball is okay for a temporary fix.  As a tennis player I believe the lines are a distraction and can be a little confusing when in the middle of a point.  With that said, I would be in favor of constructing pickleball courts.

Irwin Pastor: As a Commissioner I’m pleased we had identified in advance that Pickelball was becoming popular sport across the Nation and that the demography of Longboat Key will be served well. I believe the immediate action by the Commission and LBK Staff to improve the advance scheduling of dates and times along with re-striping the existing courts at Bayfront Recreation center was an appropriate action. It’s to early to hypothetically make decisions on how many incremental courts are needed and where they could be located. Once the excitement settle down the Town and Commissioners will be able to objectively study the future needs and figure out the finances associated with any Capital Improvement Cost.

Jack Wilson: Pickleball has become popular rather quickly. However I would question whether it may be a fad that will fade as quickly as it has emerged. I would support actions such as the re-striping, but to ‘rush’ into the building of 6 additional courts at substantial cost would not seem to be advisable.

John Weber: This is a question that should be given to the tax payers of LBK via a referendum. If the tax payers demand it, who are we to say no? Lets bring this question to the voters. At the end of the day, the voters are the ones who are ultimately paying for this and their voices need to be heard and adhered to.

Ken Schneier: Health is the dominant concern of many of our residents.  Any initiative that promotes health and fitness should be carefully considered.  The public tennis courts have been a tremendous success and, I believe, are cost effective if not totally self-supporting.  We know the one pickleball court at Bayfront Park has been oversubscribed and the town has been extremely responsive in restriping the Bayfront tennis court to provide two additional courts.  The Longboat key Club has done the same with its tennis courts adjacent to the Portofino Restaurant and other tennis facilities may follow suit. Without knowing how these additional courts will affect demand, the cost of adding courts at Town Center or how it would affect the possible expansion of the tennis complex, I would recommend exploring the construction of two or three pickleball courts at the Center at this time

 

Most of the multi-family and tourism properties on the Key are non conforming in density. In other words there are often more units built than the underlying density allows. The Commission and the town residents previously voted to allow property owners to rebuild the current number of units they have but they must not expand the footprint of the current structure. What has been discussed over the past few years is whether the town should expand on those rights and allow property owners to build larger more “marketable” units and allow and more “flexibility” in design. Right now, they can only build the square footage that they have. Do you favor changing the rules and expanding property rights to allow owners to build larger units than are currently allowed, or, do you want to hold owners to allow them to only rebuild what they have or less on the site?

Ed Zunz: This is a very complex subject.  A cardinal rule is that nonconformities should not be expanded. On the other hand, if older structures are to be updated they must be marketable and meet current demands such as ceiling heights, building heights, room sizes, closets, bath and laundry facilities, etc.  Therefore larger buildings and somewhat greater density may be required to make a rebuild economically feasible. There are all types of nonconforming structures; can they all be accommodated by the same standard?  Should a voluntary rebuild be treated the same as an involuntary rebuild?  Then there are potential Bert Harris issues.  Yes, “changing the rules and expanding property rights” is likely to be necessary. However, how to balance out all these complex factors will take further professional input and deliberate consideration by the entire Commission.

Randy Langley: I believe the issue of non-conformity is of utmost importance to address now in order to avoid future problems like we are experiencing at the Colony.  I am in favor of allowing each of them to rebuild the same number of units that presently exist.  New units will need to be constructed up to current code and if they increase the square footage and ceiling heights and conform to current codes, then I am in favor of allowing those improvements and expansion of property rights.

Irwin Pastor: At the present time the Commission should not address the density issue concerning non-conforming properties until the Staff and Planning and Zoning Board reviews, revises and recommends new Land Usages and Land Codes. The present Land Usages and Land Codes cannot accommodate a larger foot print therefore a property owner does not have the flexibility to build a marketable property. It should be also be noticed that staff in the past has called the present Land Usages and Land Codes dealing specifically with tourism counterintuitive and in need of change.

Jack Wilson: On the one hand we are saying there are “often more units built than the underlying density allows”, and on the other hand we are asking whether owners should be allowed to build larger units than are currently allowed. This seems to be confused thinking. I would favor an assessment by the experts of most if not all multi-family projects with the emphasis being on what is best for Longboat Key

John Weber: I do not favor allowing any change of the rules to allow owners to build larger units than are currently allowed. The Commissioners and the voters have already addressed this question and their answers were clear.

Ken Schneier: I have been actively involved in the 3-year project to revise our zoning code to address non-conforming uses and redevelopment on Longboat Key.  It is critical to understand that none of these efforts look to increase density (units per acre) on LBK in the absence of a town-wide referendum.  Two key issues are involved:  1.  To create a path for currently existing non-conforming uses to easily establish that they are legal under town law to enable them to do renovations and obtain financing without stigma.  2.  To provide a mechanism for older, outdated properties to rebuild, voluntarily or after a storm, with some margin of flexibility as to ceiling heights, kitchen and laundry space and other amenities, so that owners will be willing and able to undertake these projects.  Any projects of this nature would still be subject to strict conditions and approval by the P & Z Board and the Town Commission.  I strongly recommend these initiatives.

 

Medical marijuana has been indicated for numerous late-life conditions including cancer as well as various chronic pain issues. Should it be made available for sale anywhere on Longboat Key in the future? Why or why not?

Ed Zunz: At a recent town meeting I pushed for the sale of medical marijuana to be permitted in any LBK pharmacy on the same basis as any prescription medication.  Our attorney advised that Florida state law does not permit this separation of activities, from the growth, through the processing and the retail sale of this product.

Randy Langley: Yes,  with the aging population on the island, I cannot imagine there are not a handful or more residents and guest that would utilize those services if provided without the need to drive off the island.  My father passed away in August 2017 due to brain cancer.  He fought the fight.  It was an option for him to alleviate some of the pain and suffering.  He had lived a life of no alcohol or tobacco and chose to not to use medical marijuana.

Irwin Pastor: At the present time the Florida State Law is most ambiguous and does not clarify restrictions on the number of locations nor approving the sales for a retail dispensary also permits the growing of marijuana on LBK. As a results we as a Commission will wait for more clarity before considering having a dispensary on LBK. Residents living on LBK in need of late -life conditions including cancer will soon have access to a Medical Marijuana Treatment Dispensary in Sarasota. To have a MMT Prescription filled a local certified doctor or Florida Physicians Clinic is required.

Jack Wilson: Distribution of medical marijuana must be very carefully managed. To make it available “anywhere on LBK would be hugely irresponsible!  Marijuana is an entry drug.

John Weber: Yes, it should be allowed. Medical Marijuana in Florida is the law of the land. Its time to discard the antiquated preconceived ideas of the past and understand that Cannabis does help individuals suffering from multiple afflictions. The State has indicated that over 50,000 residents of our state now qualify for Medical Cannabis. Many are elderly and/or disabled or have limited means to travel to either Northport or Bradenton to get their medication. If a medical marijuana dispensary looked to open on LBK, I would not be opposed.

Ken Schneier: I would not recommend approving a medical marijuana dispensary on Longboat Key.  I do believe we should continue improving health care services available to our residents to avoid unnecessary travel downtown, but I would let others test the new marijuana rules before we do.

 

What would you personally like to see at the site of the closed gas station on the north end of the Key that has been empty for almost a decade?

Ed Zunz: I drew a site plan for the Whitney cottage at the prior Art Center to be moved to the gas station site and converted to a revived Historic Society headquarters.  The Commission authorized required appraisals of the property, a legal preliminary to any town purchase of property.  This led to the surprising discovery that the property was finally under contract for sale.  Latest word is that a contract is still in effect to build a new gas station/convenience store at the site.

Randy Langley: The subject parcel is extremely small.  When I operated the real estate office across Broadway I looked into converting it into a real estate office.  I was unable to make it work with the setback and parking requirements.  Eventually that property may need to be combined with the neighboring property to the south.  I have no personal preference for the site.

Irwin Pastor: I would be open to any project and would be willing to facilitate any land use code changes necessary to accomplish the re-development of the closed gas station if the project had consensus by the North End of the Key.

Jack Wilson: I foresee the closed gas station property to be critical to our needs when the bridge system I propose is built. In the meantime I would like to see the existing property made more attractive and useful as a welcoming site at the north end of our precious island. Let us negotiate a best price and then purchase the property.

John Weber: I would like to see something there that would benefit the community as a whole.

Medical/Dental Offices would fit in there nicely. So would a walk in Emergency Medical Clinic so residents aren’t forced to travel to Sarasota or Bradenton to get treatment for minor health issues.

Ken Schneier: A really good, small Chinese restaurant!

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2 Responses for “Longboat Key Election 2018: Candidates talk development rights, pickleball, marijuana and more…”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    I am not a proxy for Spoll/Brown, Both have” I don’t remember what was said or “I don’t recall” the conversations in their replies. As far as Mr. Langly goes, what I have read was that he was 23 when convicted of a Felony, not a kid. Yes, he has had his Civil rights restored, but he still is branded by his past.

  2. David Siegal says:

    The posting by Susan Gravy, who may or may not be a proxy for Sproll/Brown, leads me to bear three things in mind. First, there has been no denial of the facts set forth in Mr. Langley’s affidavit. Instead distractions are offered. Second, the immediate resort to mud slinging and attempts at character assassination instead of responding on the issues and the facts, tells me what Mr. Langley says is true and that this faction of the commission is desperate not to have the curtain lifted to show what is going on.Third, a conviction 30 years ago (nonviolent and as a kid) is entirely irrelevant. It would be inadmissable in a court of law to impeach veracity or on the issue of character. Note – he has nothing in over 30 years – I don’t even think a traffic ticket.
    I have known Randy Langley well for ten years. I have spent hundreds of hours with him in a variety of settings, some stressful. He is an honest man. He is an ethical man. I was appointed by the New York appellate court to serve on the Committee on Character and Fitness, which I did for 17 years, performing ethics interviews and screening applicants for admission to the NY bar. With his civil rights having been restored by the Governor, if Mr. Langley were an applicant I would without hesitation pass him, as he is one of the most ethical persons I have met.

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