Parked cars legally line both sides of Broadway in the Longbeach Village during season, and residents say that is a problem. They say that cars — usually belonging to diners at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub and Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant — sometimes block or are parked in their driveway. They worry emergency vehicles could have difficulty accessing the street.
Candidates for the Longboat Key Town Commission were sympathetic to residents’ concerns at a March 5 Longbeach Village Association debate, but they were not willing to say they would ban parking on both sides, or even one side, of Broadway when Association President Michael Drake asked how they would vote if the issue came before them.
“Michael, the easiest thing for me to do would be to pander,” said At-large Commissioner Terry Gans, who is running for the District 3 seat against Ray Rajewski, who was not present at the debate. “The police chief and fire chief have said that (emergency vehicle access) is not a problem.”
Gans said that people’s driveways shouldn’t be blocked and suggested calling police if that occurs but said, “You have to find a way to accommodate both residents and businesses. That might not be the answer people are looking for.”
Irwin Pastor, who is running for an at-large seat against Armando Linde, agreed with Gans. He described his experience as owner of a business in New Jersey that did approximately 70% of its business during Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“If you create economic harm, there’s a good chance you might not have business here. I think you’ve got to co-exist,” he said.
Linde concurred, saying “You’re talking about a matter of enforcement."
Earlier in the evening, Drake asked Gans why he voted in favor of Mar Vista’s expansion plan, citing existing parking issues.
Gans disagreed with the premise of the question, saying he never voted on the restaurant’s application, causing Village resident Samir Ragheb to argue that he was at the meeting in which Gans voted in favor of the application.
(Later that evening, in an email to the Longboat Observer, Gans wrote:
“For the record, Dr. Ragheb's recollection of my vote on Mar Vista is far more correct than mine. It was not my intent to mislead, but the result belies the intent. I have written a letter of apology to Dr. Ragheb, and I regret my error.”)
Linde and Pastor both stated that they would not vote for a similar application.
“I get the feeling that the community does not want that to happen, and I should vote against it,” Linde said.
“You’re sensitive,” someone joked.
“I’m a good listener. The answer is ‘no,’” Pastor said.
When asked about the possibility of a traffic circle on Broadway, as the Urban Land Institute (ULI) suggested in its recent report, Pastor said that it would be a “very, very dangerous thing” to cross and navigate. He said he would support a traffic signal similar to the one on the south end and would approach the Florida Department of Transportation (which controls Gulf of Mexico Drive) with residents’ concerns.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had a fatality here, but we shouldn’t have to wait for one,” Pastor said.
Linde agreed with Pastor and criticized a recent FDOT report recommending eight crosswalks.
“The Department of Transportation is doing a disservice to all of the island…suggesting we put eight crosswalks we don’t need. The town manager is working closely to put crosswalks where they belong.”
Gans would not rule out a traffic circle, saying he wants to first see what comes out of FDOT’s current study.
“I would rather keep an open mind about that, but that doesn’t obviate seeking a shorter term solution, like a traffic light,” he said.
One resident asked candidates what the town was doing to alleviate traffic, saying north end residents cannot get off the island after 2 p.m.
Pastor said that traffic studies show that 45% of Gulf of Mexico Drive is bypass traffic and suggested the town look at ways to divert it.
Gans and Linde didn’t offer any easy solutions.
“You’ve got a two-lane road that’s owned by the state,” he said. “Unless we barricade it…we’re stuck to some degree.”
“The fact is that we live in a narrow, two-lane island,” Linde said, describing it as “the price of living in paradise.”
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].