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Editorial Letters – Week ending March 29, 2019

Longboat Key News encourages Letters to the Editor on timely issues. Please email to: letters@lbknews.com or mail to PO Box 8001, Longboat Key, FL 34228. We also print letters sent to Town Hall that address Longboat Key issues. We reserve the right to edit.

Crosswalks still a danger

To: Town Commission

On January 20, 2017 my previous Letter to the Editor regarding pedestrian crosswalks on the Gulf of Mexico Drive (GMD) appeared in The Longboat Key News.  At that time, cars were regularly driving through the flashing yellow lights creating dangerous situations for unsuspecting pedestrians. Since then, some improvements have been made and more compliance has occurred. About a week ago, as I was walking on the sidewalk of the GMD, a young lady was wheeling a child in a stroller at the north end of the Longboat Key Club. She had properly pushed the button to start the yellow lights flashing, and waited until cars were stopping.  As she stepped on to the GMD, a large cream-colored SUV shot through the intersection. Fortunately nothing consequential happened. Obviously I can’t be sure if the driver was a resident or a visitor. Nevertheless, it points to a potentially dangerous situation that still exists in these areas especially with drivers unfamiliar with our rules. Driving on Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) in front of the Ritz Carlton and Weston Hotels, one cannot help but see a very acceptable crosswalk that every driver can easily visualize. Large Flashing Yellow Lights followed by Red Lights are impossible to miss. Perhaps, our LBK Commissioners would consider some variant of that crosswalk to ensure the safety of our residents and guests.  One possible solution would be to install a red light (after permission from the Florida Department of Transportation) that is activated by a pedestrian pushing the button that already exists. After a designated period of time, the Red Light transitions to a Flashing Red which signals the driver to proceed with caution if the pedestrian has cleared the crosswalk. Eventually, the Red Light turns off and traffic flows at the posted speed. Redesigning our crosswalks in such a manner will enhance the safety of our residents and visitors and ensure a more pleasant experience for those enjoying a walk on a beautiful day on Longboat Key.

Jerome H. Fleisch, Ph.D.

Longboat Key

 

Reaction to Village parking letters…

To: Editor

On March 22 you printed several lengthy letters concerning village restaurant parking, including (1) a letter from Mr. Jaleski to the P&Z Director charging that  “the entire town apparatus is greatly biased towards commercial interests” and has a deliberate “intent in intensifying traffic congestion”, (2) my letter protesting these unfounded personal attacks and reciting potential initiatives discussed by the Commission with many attending citizens at the March 19 workshop, and (3) Mr. Jaleski’s reply that has given short shrift to town initiatives, but has now selected me for special responsibility because parking issues evolved over 20 years, during much of which time he erroneously recalls that I was “either on the P&Z board or the commission.” I would now like to respond to these  latest fabrications.

I have never been a member of P&Z and have been on the commission for only the past three years.  Pat and I have lived in the village for more than 20 years.  Six years ago we helped build a home for our son and his family, including our seven-year-old granddaughter who likes to ride her bike and scooter. As Mr. Jaleski knows, their house is on Broadway, only half a block from Mar Vista. This alone renders as absurd even any suggestion that I would have an inclination to “intensify traffic congestion” in the area.  To the absolute contrary, for many years prior to becoming a commissioner I was very active in resisting over-expansion of Mar Vista.

Let us look at some of that history.  I was active in causing revocation of a Mar Vista expansion permit for which neighbors were not properly served with notification. The last time Mar Vista applied for more seating I did some research and concluded that Mar Vista previously had been granted extra seating pursuant to the more permissive standards of the LBK Commercial Revitalization Ordinance that I believed had no proper application to Mar Vista. I communicated my thoughts to the Building Department and no additional seating was awarded. In fact, Mar Vista has not been granted any additional seating for the past 15 years. Another time, based on a misunderstanding of the actual issues at hand, the Observer published an editorial critical of the village people for opposing an initiative of Mar Vista.  I persuaded the editor to print my letter correcting its misperception.  Years ago I obtained the exact width of every street in the village and presented the town with evidence that two side parking on the pavement of any street other than Broadway would prevent safe passage by a nine foot wide emergency vehicle.  How much more could a citizen do to prevent intensification of traffic congestion?

As to the Shore, I had no involvement in any of the things referenced and I don’t believe the Commission had a role in its approval. The previously allowed seating, which has remained the same for as long as I can remember, remains unchanged.  I am informed that without stacking or allowance for its dock slips or bike racks, the permitted on site parking will exceed code by about 20 percent.

Both restaurants are an integral part of our history. I have patronized both of them. They are the only commercially zoned sites in the village.  Can anyone remember when they were not here?  Back when Moore’s Stone Crab was at the height of its popularity as a family restaurant, Mar Vista was a local pub with less than 40 seats, all inside. As Moore’s popularity started to wane, and eventually close down, step by step Mar Vista’s character had started to change with the creation and expansion of outdoor seating.  Now, for the first time, we are about to have both restaurants operating at full strength with well over 150 seats each. The important parking issues are complex.  The final result may not be perfect.  Nevertheless, instead of angrily pointing fingers at innocent people, at this time the most reasonable course would seem to be for all to work together in good faith to restore a reasonable balance so that the restaurants and the residents can again coexist in harmony. Both restaurants have recently invested large sums of money in their restaurants.  The neighborhood is also thriving with 20 new million dollar houses now in various active stages of development.  Neither the restaurants, the residents, nor LBK itself can enhance themselves by a public spectacle. The town is in active good faith discussions with both restaurants and with concerned local residents with the intent of achieving the best possible resolution of the traffic and parking problems.

Ed Zunz

Vice Mayor, Longboat Key

 

Shore parking proposal robs Peter to Pay Paul

To: Commissioner Randy Clair

Commissioners, what is being proposed by the Shore simply robs Peter to pay Paul. Removing the barrier, which is mandated by code, simply decreases the buffer between an overly expanded restaurant and the surrounding neighborhood. The commission’s part in allowing the shore restaurant to become the behemoth that it is, needs to be addressed by this commission and for once the community-at-large needs to be held above the commercial interests of a restaurant. For the sake of the hundreds of people who live around the shore restaurant, please do not allow them to expand their presence further than commission has already allowed them to expand.

Gene Jaleski

Longboat Key

 

Shore parking

To: Town Commission

The purpose of this email is to provide legal advice relating to the recent email and invitation you received below from Mr. Leonard (owner of the Shore Restaurant). It is important that everyone appreciate that the process(es) Mr. Leonard is proposing for his restaurant involve revisions to his existing site plan and a potential right of way vacation.  Pursuant to Town Code, both of these proposals involve one or more quasi-judicial hearings before the Planning and Zoning Board and Town Commission on his requests.

Based upon the email below, Mr. Leonard clearly has a revised site plan submittal and/or right of way vacation request that will be considered by your respective Board in the near future. Accordingly, because his application submittal is imminent it is recommended that you refrain from substantive conversations outside the quasi-judicial process. However, if you do engage in substantive conversations (with Mr. Leonard or with others), please be prepared to disclose with whom the conversations occurred and the substance of that conversation.

As a reminder, during quasi-judicial public hearings, local government boards are tasked with determining whether an applicant’s request demonstrates through competent substantial evidence presented at the hearing, compliance with the applicable local government’s regulations. Consequently, quasi-judicial decision-making should be restricted to the record evidence presented at a publicly noticed hearing.  Any communications or evidence presented outside of the noticed quasi-judicial hearing is considered ex parte; and ex parte communications must be disclosed at the commencement of the proceeding. Ex parte communication includes lobbying that may occur for or against the particular application. For this reason, the best practice is to avoid such ex parte communications, thereby limiting your future disclosure obligations.

The above quasi-judicial recommendations are intended preserve due process for both the applicant and the interested members of the public.

Nevertheless, you still may receive unsolicited emails or letters regarding the applicant’s anticipated revised site plan application or right of way vacation application.  If this occurs, please forward them to the Town Clerk (TClerk@longboatkey.org) so that they can be included in the record.  Should you wish to respond to those emails,  I would suggest that you craft a standard responses along these lines:

“Thank you for your comments. They have been forwarded to the Clerk for inclusion in the record for the quasi-judicial hearing on this item. Please note that during the hearing the public will be provided with an opportunity to be heard.”

Once again, the above recommendations are being provided to you in an effort to address any questions you may have about the process before they become an issue.  Should any of you have any particular questions or concerns about the quasi-judicial process that you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to call me directly.

Maggie D. Mooney

Town Attorney, Longboat Key

 

Shore owner responds to parking isues

To: Town Commission

After reading several news articles about parking problems or lack of on Broadway Street we are proposing a solution at the new Shore Longboat restaurant and retail property located next to MarVista at 800 Broadway that could add as many as 10 plus net spaces. It’s a simple low impact solution, if we remove the sidewalk from our site plan we can shift the landscape buffer closer to the street and add parking on our property (See attached plan). If you remember Moore’s never had a sidewalk and used the easement to park cars between there property and the street for many years. If this new plan is approved we would relocate our sidewalk by building a new sidewalk for the neighbors across the street from us elevated above the existing sidewalk to alleviate flooding that many have complained about during heavy rains and high tides. To move forward on this plan the Building and zoning department have told us that this will require a new site plan and possibly a variance. That’s ok, but they’ve also said that we would not get our TCO until plan is approved. This could take months and we are trying to open for summer late May 2019! In our opinion this is a common sense issue that could keep a few more cars off the street and on our property by eliminating a sidewalk that dead ends at the end of our street. We look forward to meeting you on site to further walk the property and better explain our plan to gain your support.

Tom Leonard

Owner, Shore Restaurant

 

Street Light locations- GMD

To: Town Manager Tom Harmer

Thank you for follow-up Tom. Can you have the maps printed for me at high resolution. In the powerpoint they are fuzzy. Look forward to discussing in our Thursday meeting.

Mike Haycock

Commissioner, Longboat Key

 

Street lighting

To: Commissioner Mike Haycock

Commissioner Haycock, as a follow-up to your request for information regarding the proposed locations of street lights on Gulf of Mexico Drive, I attached the staff memorandum and PowerPoint from the November 13, 2018 Town Commission Undergrounding Project Update.

On page 2 of the memorandum, under the heading of Street Lighting (GMD), it references the FDOT required locations- the two signalized intersections and the 6 existing midblock crosswalks. In addition, based on previous Commission input 5 other areas have been added.

They include:

1. Zota and Windward Bay area (4700 to 4900 block)

2. Centre Shoppes area (5300 block)

3. Whitney Plaza Shopping Center to Broadway Intersection (around 6800 to 7000)

4. Churches, including Christ Church, Longboat Chapel, St. Mary Star of the Sea.

5. Extension of lighting around FDOT required intersections and areas to include public beach access points.

The attached PowerPoint that was part of that update and graphically shows the location of the existing street lights on GMD and the proposed locations.

Thomas A. Harmer

Town Manager, Town of Longboat Key

 

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2018

To: Town Commission

Commissioners, attached is an electronic version of the Town’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and the Auditor’s Discussion and Analysis Presentation of Financial and Compliance Audit Results. Hard copies have also be delivered to your mailboxes.

This report closes out Fiscal Year 2018 (October 2017 through September 2018). I am pleased to report that our external auditors have issued an unmodified opinion (highest level of assurance) and no pending management letter recommendations specific to their audit. They are issuing a general warning to all of their clients about preparedness to natural disasters due to the recent storms and issuing a cybersecurity warning mostly due to a large loss incurred by a municipality in Georgia.

I would like to recognize Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC for their review and especially recognize our Finance Director Sue Smith and the entire finance team for all of their tremendous effort not just for the annual audit but also for their work behind the scenes to manage and oversee the financial controls for the Town.

If you have any questions regarding the CAFR please feel free to contact Sue or I.

Thomas A. Harmer

Town Manager

Town of Longboat Key

 

City and County Officials speak out against proposed Fruitville roundabout

To: Longboat Key Town Commission

Below please find a letter we just sent to the Sarasota City Commission. It is a follow up to a letter sent recently. This contains the revelation that the City’s Police Chief objects to the proposed Fruitville Road Diet due to its impact on hurricane evacuation, as well as County emergency evacuation officials and County Commissioners.

There has been noise that City Staff are going to go to the MPO to seek a grant for this project. I urge you to do what you can to ensure that the MPO does not cooperate.

If you have any questions or comments about this, I would look forward to hearing them.

“To: Sarasota City Commission

We recently sent you a Los Angeles Times story detailing how Paradise, California installed a “road diet” over the objections of officials concerned with emergency evacuation. Thereafter, wildfires swept through the area in November, 2018, a massive traffic jam occurred, and many people were roasted alive in their cars.

Of course, Sarasota is not threatened with wildfire but we are threatened by hurricanes.

Indeed, evacuation/safety officials, as well as elected officials, from the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County have raised concerns about hurricanes and the proposed Fruitville Road Diet.

Below please find a memo from Sarasota City Police Chief DiPino to City Manager Tom Barwin, dated February 24, 2016.

DiPino’s evacuation/safety concerns are focused not only on the barrier islands but also downtown and north Sarasota. DiPino wrote:

‘The reduction of traffic lanes and creation of three roundabouts on Fruitville Road between U.S. 41 and Orange Avenue will create evacuation concerns for the City and potentially affect the safety of pedestrians and impact staffing levels of the Sarasota Police Department:

Evacuation route: While many focus on the evacuation route of the barrier islands, most of the City, West of Washington Boulevard and North of Fruitville Road, lie within evacuation zones which also utilize Fruitville Road. Many of the City’s Northern East/West roads are impacted by barriers such as Whitaker Bayou and railroad tracks which creates a limited number of crossing points. The main evacuation focus points for the North side of the City fall upon Fruitville Road and University Parkway. Reduction of traffic lanes and the creation of roundabouts requires additional manpower to safely and efficiently conduct an evacuation. Relying on manpower that we may have or may be able to request raises the level of risk. Other items to take into consideration during an evacuation include; the demographics of our population, the working population within the City, and the transient nature of our visitors.”

Pedestrian safety: Pedestrian safety will be an issue during special events; there will be no traffic light to provide them an opportunity to safely cross. Officers will not be able to turn the traffic light to flash yellow or red. As a result, pedestrians cannot be grouped at the intersection and will cross as they arrive at the intersection, or cross at other designated points along the street which will cause traffic to frequently stop resulting in a traffic backup. Officers will have to be posted at these intersections where pedestrians are expected to cross.

SPD staffing levels: Reduction of traffic lanes and the creation of roundabouts requires additional manpower to safely and efficiently conduct an evacuation or special event. Relying on manpower that we may have or may be able to request raises the level of risk. While prior planning can reduce the risk, we are still limited by the nature of the event and the amount of time and resources that are available. Currently, these intersections do not require staffing for special events or evacuations. The roundabout setup will require at least two Officers per intersection or numerous barricades. Barricades are problematic because they can be moved and often are. SPD staffing levels will be adversely affected by the addition of roundabouts due to special events or evacuations.

Bernadette DiPino

Chief of Police

City of Sarasota’

 

We sincerely hope that Chief DiPino’s concerns are not news to you. If it is news, we suggest that you ask City Manager Barwin why he has not chosen to share this.

Incredibly, in public discussions, we have heard from Assistant City Engineer Dan Ohrenstein that emergency evacuation is not a serious issue for the proposed Fruitville Road Diet. Ohrenstein stated that traffic counts taken during Hurricane Irma showed less traffic than normal at certain times he deemed pertinent. We believe this is faulty reasoning for at least two reasons. First, it is statistically faulty to make generalizations about future traffic from one hurricane event which did not even make a direct hit on the City. A better forecast of future traffic relies on multiple prior events. Second, having lived through Hurricane Irma, we can tell you it came with almost a week of warning, during which roads such as I-75 were clogged with evacuation traffic four or five days before the hurricane actually made landfall in Florida. Thus, the evacuation traffic was spread out over many days.

Sarasota County Commissioners and emergency/safety officials have also expressed alarm about the Fruitville Road Diet. Below please find a January 14, 2016 article from the Sarasota News Leader.

In the article, County Transportation Planning Manager Paula Wiggins noted “that County Emergency Services staff also had asked her about that proposal, with concern that Fruitville Road is a hurricane evacuation route.”

County Commissioners Mason, Robinson, and Chairman Maio expressed questions about the Fruitville Road Diet. Chairman Maio stated, “…People don’t really realize what that means to Fruitville Road.” After Commissioner Robinson asked for the Board to be kept informed on this project, Chairman Maio stated, “I think there’s complete board consensus on that.”

To sum, as in the Paradise case, emergency evacuation professionals, as well as elected officials, are expressing common-sense concerns about installing a road diet on a major evacuation route.’

Mike Lasché

Bicycle/Pedestrian Advocates

Sarasota

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