L’Ambiance held a candidates debate in conjunction with Grand Bay Thursday, March 4.
The following questions, which were both submitted and asked by residents of the two condominiums, were presented to at-large commission candidate Phillip Younger (incumbent at-large Commissioner Hal Lenobel has elected not to debate the issues in public forums); District 1 Mayor Lee Rothenberg and challenger Lynn Larson; and District 3 Commissioner Peter O’Connor and challenger David Brenner.
What role can the town realistically play to assist small businesses in dealing with seasonality and the economy? What tools are available?
Younger: We need to work more with the chambers of commerce and attempt to get family-oriented businesses here, which would be a great benefit.
Larson: In order to help businesses on the island, we need to revisit some of our codes, specifically the sign code. The signs are not uniform.
Brenner: If we don’t get more visitors here, it’s not going to work. I’m talking about getting back to where we were a decade ago. I don’t want Miami Beach like some people have accused me of.
Rothenberg: All of us are in favor of improving the health of local businesses. But the economic situation is causing most of these problems. I’m not convinced we can do that by getting more tourists here.
O’Connor: We have one of the lowest tax rates around. It’s a tremendous incentive for businesses to come here.
On Sunday, Feb. 28, traffic backed up from Sarasota to almost mid-Key with no special event on Lido Key or on this island. Are we at a capacity limit or are there creative solutions?
Larson: We need to work closer with the counties to solve the traffic problem. We need to get creative about managing traffic.
Brenner: Traffic issues are a regional one. The reality is what we have to the north is the world’s smallest traffic circle. And to the south, we have issues with traffic lights and St. Armands Circle.
Rothenberg: Gulf of Mexico Drive is a state highway and we have virtually no control over it. I have been working with the counties for years and I fight for our issues, but the fact is we are stuck between two communities who want to spend money on other things.
O’Connor: Regional approaches to traffic are on this Key and everywhere else. I learned years ago you design for peak situations. What we had the other day was a peak-peak situation. There is a finite capacity to highways, which is 1,200 cars per lane. As long as this is a two-lane highway, its capacity is fixed, and we have to accept some traffic.
Younger: Traffic is indeed cyclical. We see a higher number of traffic issues this time of year. We have unique problems.
The Planning and Zoning Board will soon be looking at draft language to change 14 zoning codes. Do you feel a broader look is needed or a town-wide referendum if this means higher density and building heights?
Rothenberg: I am a firm believer in Longboat’s codes. It’s not to say they can’t be changed and improved as needed. Some things would require a referendum. I have pushed to have the entire Comprehensive Plan reviewed from the start.
O’Connor: Obviously, the mandate of the commission is clearly not to look at just the 14 items addressed by the Key Club, but to look at the entire code. When you do that, a couple of things would push you to a charter vote, like an increase in density. We are headed in the right direction, but we are going to have to look a lot further.
Younger: This is a trick question. I have been sitting in these meetings and I got the feeling it’s more focused toward the 14 codes and six or so code issues raised by the club. As far as looking at other densities and heights, we should look at those. I don’t think anyone wants a return to massively high buildings.
Larson: It would be great if the code would be reviewed as a whole. So be it if it requires a referendum
Brenner: The issue in front of us here is about planning. The codes in this town should be reviewed on an ongoing basis. But everything can’t come to a screeching halt while that’s done.
As a commissioner, do you see a role for mediation or other structured way to resolve the issues for expansion at Islandside?
Younger: About a month ago, I was the only person who stood before the commission and presented a proposal that would harm none and benefit all. I believe in the arts of negotiation and compromise.
Larson: I’m a Supreme Court-certified mediator. I think mediation is a great process because you are in control of what you wish to do. It’s a matter of horse trading from both sides, and it’s what I had hoped for all along in this process.
Brenner: We have a commission that I think, in part, is charged with this difficult situation and mediation. What got in the way of their mediation role, though, is lawyers on both sides that took over the whole thing. I include the town’s lawyer in this as well. If you don’t like the commissioners as your mediators, get new ones.
Rothenberg: No comment.
O’Connor: The nature of mediation is give on both ends and we need to reach a solution. The problem with applying mediation to a project before a community is there might be some public ability to give on some of the laws. Just because two people decide to build the pig farm doesn’t mean they can build it. I’m very leery of mediation and don’t think it’s the role of responsible government.
Do you pledge to keep the building height code where it is today?
Brenner: I won’t answer that question because I can’t answer it.
Rothenberg: The last tall buildings built on the Key were Grand Bay. No. I don’t believe we should lower building heights higher than what they are now.
O’Connor: I would like to see the heights maintained.
Younger: I haven’t made a determination.
Larson: I don’t know the exact height limitations on all the buildings. I could not with great sincerity tell you what I would agree to because I don’t know the exact height requirements. I would look into it though.