As some of you know, Emmy Lou and I are leaving Longboat Key to live in East County. Before we leave, I would like to thank the many people in town government, the Public Interest Committee (PIC), the Planning and Zoning Board and The Longboat Observer, with whom I have served and shared so many rewarding experiences. I would also like to relay some concerns about Longboat’s immediate future for your consideration:
Be more proactive on roundabouts
The verdict is officially in. FTE, the town’s consultant on the proposed bayfront roundabouts, reported that Sarasota’s supporting data and conclusions are incorrect.
Specifically, the city underestimated the number of future cars using the roundabouts by 15% by only projecting a 1.63% annual growth rate until 2011 instead of the prescribed period out to 2021. It understated the time gap between cars. What’s more, the geometry or size of the designated roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41 is not large enough to accommodate the proposed roundabout without accessing more space from some of the surrounding buildings. In short, all the talk about saving time, gas and improving pedestrian access is pure propaganda. It just isn’t true.
Despite these alarming revelations in the report, our Town Commission did not take a strong, proactive stance with the findings. It merely opted to “share” the data with the FDOT. With Sarasota aggressively lobbying the FDOT and the nearby community for its roundabout proposal over the past few years, Longboat Key needs to be much more proactive to defeat this ill-conceived traffic nightmare.
Longboat Key needs a delegation to deal directly with Ben Walker, the principal decision maker at the FDOT, in Bartow, to state the town’s concerns about the issues raised in the FTE report. To do less is gambling with Longboat’s future.
Don’t let evaluations fade away
You should be concerned that the Town Commission recently decided to pass on formal evaluations of the town manager. It’s no secret the commissioners never liked doing them because they are public and open to scrutiny and comment.
One commissioner tried to justify abandoning the practice by saying an evaluation is not mentioned in the charter and it is “only mentioned in the town manager’s contract without specifically saying we must do it.” Talk about playing with words.
The contract mentions the existence of an annual evaluation with the clear intent there should be one. Because the town manager reports to the commission, it is clear the intent is that an evaluation is the commission’s responsibility.
Why should you care? The town manager runs the town as its CEO. How he goes, so goes the town.
Taxpayers should know what’s happening and why. The town manager’s evaluation is an integral part of this process. We wouldn’t have been doing them for the past 15 years if they weren’t important. What’s more, evaluations are just part of good management. Let the commission know you want this process back out in the public eye as part of a truly open government.
A solution for the Key Club
After reading for months all the letters in the press for and against the Longboat Key Club proposal and following the testimony before the Planning and Zoning Board in recent weeks, it is clear that two things are true: 1) The town needs the proposal to move forward; and 2) It should be adjusted in some way to make it more aesthetically and functionally useful.
The town needs an upgraded, first-class Key Club for the sake of property values. The resort will bring in the kind of new, affluent prospective buyers that will help revitalize our real-estate market. An improved club facility will help keep its recreational activities centered here on the Key. This is an especially important consideration, given the questionable future of another prime resort, The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
Still, the Town Commission must find ways to adjust the plan so it remains economically and functionally viable for the Key Club but more aesthetically acceptable and user-friendly to the town and the other neighbors within the PUD.
A good starting point would be to work with the Key Club to rein in some of the departures, such as the height of the condos on the north side of Longboat Club Road. Or, some have suggested, why not move Longboat Club Road far enough north of its present location to include more of the development on the south side of the new road?
This would allow moving the tall towers back to the east and further away from the existing residents. Add a winding road to replace the present straight orientation for a more aesthetic, pastoral appearance with a branch off to the hotel, conference center and condos that will separate and quiet traffic. It will also allow the condos to be closer to the hotel, where they can more easily avail themselves of hotel amenities, and it would create more open space on the north side of the road that will be more attractive and could possibly even accommodate a small driving range that is currently missing from the plan.
This kind of adjustment would work functionally for the Key Club and should help mollify much of the existing criticism from neighbors.
Goodbye, and best wishes.
Prior to moving to East County this month, Sandy Gilbert was active in town politics and former chairman of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board.