Longboat Key commission candidates reveal differences on issues at forum

Associate Publisher

At a Longboat Key forum Thursday evening, commission candidates for the March 2018 election answered questions from The Observer’s Emily Walsh and residents in the audience. All the candidates running for the March 20, 2018 election were in attendance with the exception of At-Large Candidate Jack Wilson who is running against Commission Irwin Pastor. Residents vote for one candidate for each district open in the election, regardless of the district the resident lives in. The candidates who are running in opposed elections are: John Weber and Planning and Zoning Board member Ken Schneier for the District 3 seat, Randy Langley and Vice Mayor Ed Zunz for the District 5 seat and Jack Wilson and Commissioner Irwin Pastor for the At-Large seat. The following are the questions posed and the answers given by candidates at the forum; the content is edited for length.

What would you do to alleviate the traffic at each end of the island?

District 3 Candidate John Weber: I would stop overdevelopment of the island. If you stop the overdevelopment of the island, you will hopefully begin to put a dent in traffic. Also reduce the number of bridge openings. By having smart bridge openings, once every two hours, and no more on-demand openings, the traffic could continue to flow better. I would also work with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to have non-resident tolls on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Most of the traffic along Gulf of Mexico Drive are vendors and non-residents cutting through the island. We don’t need to have these people passing through.

District 3 Candidate Ken Schneier: I know the question of the toll road has been raised with the state and it’s not possible, it’s a state road. I think the Ken Thompson Parkway light being made a blinking light will help and St. Armands and the Ringling Bridge need a lot of work. I believe roundabouts will help as well.

At-Large Candidate Commissioner Irwin Pastor: We’re caught in a regional problem, we’re on a barrier island. We helped initiate a study where we’ve worked with the region and we’ve got short-term solutions in the works. But it’s going to take time. The circle and the parking garage are going to be helpful. But I think working together as a region is going to be the best solution.

District 5 Candidate Vice Mayor Ed Zunz: I think the roundabout at U.S. 41 will be helpful. The three left turn lanes heading northbound on U.S. 41, I think that might be a significant improvement. If we could have people direct pedestrian traffic on the circle that would help as well. On the north end of Longboat, I think the roundabout will help.

District 5 Candidate Randy Langley: I think most every solution has been mentioned here, and they all have problems. The bridge openings on the west coast of Florida are on demand because they have some of the most dangerous currents. FDOT will not allow the toll road. We have to have cooperation from our neighbors to the north and south of Longboat to help us in providing a solution to the traffic problem.


What will you do if the Colony’s non-conforming status is revoked and the 237 grandfathered units were lost?

Schneier: I thinkt he 237 units are off the table; the proposal went through the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process. I don’t think the grandfathered 237 units are really relevant anymore.

Pastor: I don’t think it’s applicable anymore. The Governor just made that not viable. The way you phrased that question, it doesn’t apply anymore.

Zunz: Nothing is going to be done to change anything anyway before that grandfathering deadline (June 2020).

Langley: I think if it expires; I hope by then we would have established zoning so that there are not issues like those we’ve had at the Colony now. We need to establish zoning so developers know what they’re dealing with.

Weber: Unicorp wants to break ground this winter and I think it’s going to occur. I think we need codes in place.


Should Longboat taxpayers be responsible to help fund the cultural center?

Pastor: The original money for the property came from impact fees from developers, specifically for our recreation needs. It has always been the intention that the cultural center itself would be privately funded.

Zunz: I agree; nothing is going to be done with construction until the money is raised, and my wife is on the board to help raise funding. I don’t anticipate any money coming from the town for the cultural center.

Langley: First let me say, I’m a lover of the arts. I will contribute privately to Ms. Zunz. It is, however, still the town’s money that the land was purchased with. I think all of the remaining money should come from private money.

Weber: I think this is a question for the town attorney. It should be put to a public vote to determine if they want a cultural center.

Schneier: I think it will be a heavy lift for the private fundraising group. I think no more town money should be used.


What do you think of Longboat joining Sarasota County exclusively?

Zunz: It is something that takes several years to approve and has to be doe in Tallahassee. I think it makes sense; we’ve gotten monetary contributions from Sarasota County and not from Manatee County.

Langley: I think it makes sense and I am in favor of it. The services the north end receives also go up if all of Longboat joins Sarasota County.

Weber: For Longboat Key it could be a revenue increase as well. But I don’t see anything happening overnight.

Schneier: There is a plan in place right now, and it requires working with Tallahassee. We need to talk with Manatee County to see if they want to step up and contribute to Longboat Key more.

Pastor: This goes back two years that the previous Town Manager Dave Bullock and myself were working on this. It came about that when you looked at it, we paid taxes to Manatee County and weren’t getting much services for the cost, and the taxes were higher. We’re getting charged for services they (Manatee County) can’t render.


What improvements would you want to see to Gulf of Mexico Drive during undergrounding?

Langley: The lighting along Gulf of Mexico Drive seems to be the only concern.

Weber: The third turn lane I would improve, roundabouts and the lights. The reality is the traffic backs up because of off-island activity.

Schneier: I would like to see the trees not have geometric shapes cut out of them. A third turn lane would be beneficial. Our issue is not overdeveloping, it’s redeveloping the island.

Pastor: I’m concerned about the safety issues. The island itself is not going to get any more dense, it’s redeveloping.

Zunz: I would like to see dedicated turning lanes at the Country Club Shores area where they’re needed. I’d like to see a roundabout at the Broadway intersectio. If the roundabout were in place, it would allow for people to walk across better to get to the beach.


What would you do to maintain the beach around Greer Island?

Weber: I think the town has already gotten permits for groins; so we need to do that. Plus, we also need to look at getting high quality sand which is what everyone comes to Longboat Key; for the beaches.

Schneier: I think the rejuvenated relationship with Manatee County will help to do this cooperatively, we have to focus on government sources for funds to maintain the beaches.

Pastor: One of my biggest concerns is Greer Island itself. It actually protects the people that live in the Village. If there were a storm, Greer Island would be one of the main things that protects the Village properties. So it is not just an aesthetic issue.

Zunz: Three stone jetties north of the permeable groins that are there now have been approved; it will cost $9 million for all three. There are no commitments yet, just an authorization to obtain the permitting for the project.

Langley: I recall in the 70’s  there were rock groins there, then there was a removal of them. My first thought was that’s a lot of money ($9 million) for groins but if you compare that to the cost of renourishment, I’d rather pay up front than several million per year.


Do you think talk of moving to Sarasota County will help motivate Manatee County to pay for Greer Island construction of the groins?

Schneier: Ideally we’d get them to pay for Greer Island, then move to Sarasota County.

Pastor: It started off at the Manatee County joint Commission meeting this week that they did talk about the funding. Usually they don’t blink, but they blinked a lot. They’re really looking at ways to support Longboat Key. I think it’s doable in a couple of years.

Zunz: In the Manatee County joint meeting they certainly started talking fairly hostile to us, then they started to come around. They are afraid, but probably want some assurance that we aren’t leaving.

Langley: I agree, Manatee County probably wants to make sure we aren’t leaving and taking our tax dollars with us.

Weber: It may be time to take it before the judge.


Audience member question: Can you tell us what is a non-conforming property?

Pastor: There are many things that make up a non-conforming property, including density, ingress and egress. Right now, we have a lot of properties that you couldn’t build because of FEMA.

Zunz: In 1985 the town re-wrote some of the codes and made them stricter, so now buildings that were built before the 1985 code changes are now not up to code. It’s a complex situation that needs to be dealt with.


Audience member question: Do you believe that putting in more groins will help retain the sand on the beach?

Langley: I would say ‘Yes’ based on the opinions of the experts. I’m not a beach engineer, so I would rely on what they say. I would also say that I would prefer to pay the price for the groins up front rather than paying several million per year for renourishments.

Zunz: The original plan was for three groins, one just north of the two existing permeable groins, but because of a lawsuit we had to eliminate that third groin for a five-year period which is up in one year.


Audience member question: Should property owners pay for re-zoning or should the town do it?

Langley: I think the town should pay and work with the property owners to avoid the type of mess we have with the Colony.

Schneier: I don’t think the town should be paying; but I think the town should be providing the framework for property owners.


Audience member question: Any thoughts on a third bridge to Longboat Key?

Weber: In reality; it’s an environmental nightmare.

Langley: I think it’s out of the question. I think it would cost $3 billion or more. This is a beautiful road and most people are passing through. I would not want the traffic to actually increase from more cars on the new bridge which is what would happen.


Audience member question: Why do we keep doing traffic studies?

Zunz: The idea of some gondolas coming over from the mainland to St. Armands has been proposed, and the views would be wonderful. They have done that in some of the ski resort towns to get people back and forth and it works. That might be one of the most creative and best solutions.

Pastor: It’s a highway, State Road 789. There’s no way around it. We can’t make it larger. This is a regional problem and we need to work on all the bridges, not build another one.

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1 Response for “Longboat Key commission candidates reveal differences on issues at forum”

  1. BJ Bishop says:

    I hope people understand the cost of rezoning in every jurisdiction is Bourne by the developer because they receive the benefit. Randy Langley says the taxpayers should pay for rezoning. I hope we are not saddled with that bill. Tallahassee has dumped enough developer bills in our laps! When a developer runs for office, of course they want us to pay the tab. Bad idea!

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