The 2014 Longboat Key Town Commission election races are the complete opposite of the commission races held a year ago.
In the 2013 edition, election races included three incumbents running against three challengers who, for the most part, had drastically different views of how the town should move forward. Those three races, which incumbents Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioners Terry Gans and Phill Younger won, were even dubbed the “we versus them” groups last year by Key resident Ann Roth.
The 2014 Longboat Key Town Commission election races, though, have been civil, with the majority of this year’s candidates agreeing on most of the Key’s pressing issues. This year’s races feature At-large candidates Armando Linde and Irwin Pastor, along with District 3 candidates Terry Gans and Ray Rajewski.
At a commission candidate debate sponsored by the Longboat Observer Monday night at Bayfront Park Recreation Center, candidates, for the most part, expressed a need for updated codes, a town center and a new Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
When asked what they would do with the property the town is purchasing from Joe Wolfer next to the Longboat Key Publix, each of the candidates expressed a vision.
“We need to find a community-minded developer willing to create a footprint on Longboat Key that can help us get a cultural center,” Pastor said.
Linde said he had doubts about financing a town center and thinks it should only be created with donations.
“We need an expert to work with the town to formulate it and put all the pieces together,” Linde said.
Gans said the town needs to continue to vet the process while considering what makes sense there.
“The town has no business being in the development industry, but without controlling the land, it was likely we couldn’t even be having these future discussions,” Gans said.
Rajewski, who has made it known he doesn’t think the town needs a town center, said a medical center could be a good addition for the Key in that location.
“I don’t know what you do at this point except sell it back to someone who would develop it,” Rajewski said.
Candidate answers varied when asked what they would do with the approximate $2.3 million the town will receive in a land acquisition fund once the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort receives a building permit for its renovation project.
Linde proposed the money should be used to enhance Bayfront Park, but Pastor noted that surtax funds and Sarasota County grant money are available solely for the park and a possible new rec center.
Rajewski suggested the town should use the money to buy the vacant gas station parcel at the north end of the Key.
Gans, meanwhile, suggested the town should pull back.
“I’m not in favor of buying the gas station and think that parcel should be looked at together with other parcels for future redevelopment,” Gans said.
Candidates also differed on whether the town should use federal money for future beach projects, which would limit its ability to control future projects.
“Our sand is very important to us, and I wouldn’t go this route,” Pastor said.
Linde suggested it might make more sense for the town to set aside money annually for future beach projects.
Gans, though, said the town should continue to investigate the issue.
Rajewski agreed with Gans, suggesting the town should investigate attaining future federal beach funds.
All of the candidates, though, believe the town needs to rewrite its codes. But Rajewski made it clear town codes should only be rewritten if there’s a need for such a change and voters approve such changes through referendums.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org