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Tragic car accident, clear-cutting and a new beach bring light and dark to our holidays in Sarasota and Longboat Key

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

I wish I could avoid my tendency to marry praise and criticism, light and dark.

I wish I could sing about Christmas and holler happy Hanukah or at least offer a tradition-neutered Happy Holidays and then turn silent. But I am not the Hallmark Channel.

I do want to wish all our readers the best Christmas and Hanukah ever and urge each of you to feel the blessings of family, the beauty of each other’s company and the gift that we all get to live and enjoy Longboat Key and Sarasota. We are the fortunate ones.

That being said, like a Star Wars movie, here comes the dark side of the universe.

 

Our hearts go out to the Baranciks…

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Chuck and Margery Barancik.

These two individuals had hearts and love that extended much farther than the 10-mile strip of Longboat Key where they lived. They were successful and fortunate and passed their blessings along in such a way and at such a level that it touched countless individuals and organizations in the area.

It is hard to reconcile what happened.

A Longboat police officer was heading south on Gulf of Mexico Drive last week in an SUV responding to a call. At the same time, the Baranciks exited their en Provence home for the last time. They were heading to a holiday party. They were doing what they had done for decades  — an evening out in each other’s company  — to be spent with friends in their home community.

The two worlds collided — the police call responding to a call and the couple heading out for a night together. Sadly, tragically, Chuck Barancik died at the scene. Margery passed in the hospital. The police officer was injured and is at home recovering, hearing the sad news of that horrible evening.

Although I did not know the Baranciks, I could hear in the voice of every individual I spoke with who knew the couple a sound of pain and sadness and a of loss. Each also spoke in awe and admiration of the couple’s generosity and kindness.

We are so lucky to have had the Barncik’s presence and their lives in our community.

To their friends, and especially their family, know that our world and commitment to each other is stronger and richer because of the lives of Chuck and Margery Barancik. They were a gift to all of us.  We all can say, “Thank you Chuck and Margery. Thank you for your example, your commitment and your loving hearts.”

 

Tom Barwin and the art of deforestization

Trees before the cutting.

On another note of dark and a bit of light is the clear-cutting of all of the Australian pine trees between Sarasota and St. Armands Circle over the past month.

It looks like an environmental apocalypse — like a news clip of the Brazilian rainforest cleared to make way for cattle ranches.

All of the highest priced real estate along the bay off St. Armands Circle has lost its privacy. The towering trees that were planted and planned by John Ringling and created a secluded and exclusive ambiance are gone. My gut sinks when I drive by.

But the good news is that  — at least according to The City of Sarasota and Tom Barwin — it will all be for the better.

The trees were cut to allow an acronym — a MURT — to be built. According to the City Engineer, the old Australian Pines’ roots would not allow the construction of a Multi Use Recreational Trail (MURT).

The MURT is an obese sidewalk (meaning a 10-feet wide ribbon of concrete) that will link the Ringling Bridge and St. Armands Circle and allow biking, strolling and recreating unfettered from Downtown to the Circle and beyond.

The other reason for the tree removal is that Australian Pines are a “non-native” species and are known to be shallow-rooted and invasive. Those qualities mean they can topple easily in a storm and impede evacuations or reentry on islands.

I find the above reasons reasonable, but something in my gut still does not like the outcome.

The view today.

The city could have built a MURT and kept the pine trees as well.

Yes, the 233 trees removed will be replaced with 240 “medium sized” trees that will “eventually” grow into shade trees says the engineer. But in a world of global warming, rampant deforestization, overdevelopment and a general lack of privacy — not to mention homes too large for their lots — we will forever miss the towering and splendid Australian Pines.

Another exclusive Florida community, Gulfstream, fought the FDOT and won in court the right to preserve thousands of Australian Pines that create a canopy on its ocean-side main thoroughfare  — A1A. The community wanted the towering canopy and won the right to keep the ambiance intact. The Gulfstream pines have remained through numerous storms and offer shade and a magnificence to the roadway, as ours once offered.

I admire the attitude and outcome at Delray Beach and Gulfstream.  We should always fight any plan by government that removes beauty and exclusivity and trades it for the ordinary. We do not want to become Clearwater Beach or Orlando or Lakewood Ranch. We must keep our legacy, our beauty and protect it from, sad to say, our City government and FDOT.

 

Removing the Bar from Barwin on Lido

What went right in 2019? So many things in our community.

 

Prevailing at the Lido Pavilion

First, we should all be thankful, clap our hands and cheer the thousands of residents who fought to preserve the Lido Beach Pavilion.

Instead of turning it into a waterfront bar and restaurant, the community urged the Sarasota City Commission to rethink and revisit the plan.

The City listened — at least the Commission listened. City Manager Tom Barwin fought the residents and used staff like cheap lobbyists for the Bar and Restaurant plan, but the Commission listened.

Now, the Pavilion is reroofed and is in the process of being renovated. A concessionaire is in place and the improvements are in the final phases. Yeah!

 

Beethoven would have agreed…

Another positive is Payne Park is off the table as a site to be used for the redevelopment of the Sarasota Orchestra.

The Orchestra is one of our most precious assets and needs help in its quest for a new home. But, that being said, it cannot and should not be at the expense of a public park.

The community is growing too rapidly to pave over any Downtown parkland. It was City staff, again Mr. Barwin, that pitted the Orchestra against the park in this battle. Thank God, again, that the City Commission, with the exception of Liz Alpert — who is on the wrong side of most every issue — saw wisdom in preserving the park.

The City got it right — staff needs to find reasonable and sustainable solutions — not lazy hand-offs of public assets.

 

Burying the ugliness on Longboat Key

Another great event is happening on Longboat Key.

Longboat Key is in the process of undergrounding each and every utility line and Comcast cable and above ground infrastructure. The residents billed themselves $50 million to accomplish this and while the cost is high, the value will come back in property appreciation and an aesthetic boost.

Watch in the years to come as Longboat Key transforms itself and its public roadways with new streetlights, smart poles with wifi capability and with the ability to define its roadside landscaping without the intrusion of the power lines.

 

The best gift of all — a beach on the horizon

The final plus is the battle by Siesta Key to not allow the dredging of Big Pass to renourish Lido Key appears over. The sand will come. The sadly eroded Lido Key shoreline will get the relief it needs and it will happen soon.

Siesta Key is blessed with one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It is understandable residents fought and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and stop what they fear.

But in this case, the battle was overly insular and selfish. Lido Key would suffer real property and infrastructure damage without the sand. Big Pass is full of sand that accreted from previous Lido and Longboat Key renourishments. Remember, sand travels north to south on the West Coast of Florida.

The plan is what is fair and makes environmental and pubic policy sense. Leave it to attorneys to fuel the battle and tell each side their arguments are right and have merit. That is exactly what happened.

Now, after perhaps a half a million in legal fees and resident and business money later, the project is moving forward.

In this instance, we have to praise Tom Barwin and Lido Key residents and the City residents for tenacity and perseverance.

Barwin would do well in baseball — hitting the ball successfully one out of three times ain’t all bad!

Happy Hanukah and a very merry Christmas!

— Steve Reid

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