By now, just about everyone has heard the news that the Longboat Key Club plans to file another application for re-development. To me, this is great news! Why? Well, there are many reasons.
First and foremost, I’m glad because I think it reaffirms what many of us know to be true — that Longboat Key remains a prestigious, desirable place to both live and visit. As the recent expansion of the Publix and Bay Isles Shopping Center indicates, Longboat Key is a sound business investment, given our affluent demographic, desirable location and enviable quality of life.
Many of you have time and again called upon us to protect our “premiere” community. But changes are needed to maintain that perfect balance between quality of life and convenience of services and amenities that make it possible. And I remain committed to ensuring that we foster — and encourage — the right environment to make that happen.
The recent news indicates that we are moving in the right direction. Many of our residents believe that Longboat Key is the perfect place to live in its current condition and are cautious about any change. But, I believe that to preserve our present quality of life, we must look to our future, not our past.
There is no argument that Longboat is a great place to live, and, for this, we must give credit to the good decisions made in the past. Looking back 25 or 30 years ago, Longboat Key was developing on raw land. Just take a look at some of the aerial photos from the ’70s and ’80s: The Key is almost unrecognizable compared to today. Most of our comprehensive plan, town charter, building and zoning codes, etc. were developed looking at how to regulate and control new development.
Today things are different. Longboat Key has been effectively built out for several years. There is little undeveloped land remaining. So, although decisions made 25 years ago have served us well, we must continue to evolve to ensure that we protect what we have for the future.
Today we are entering a period where much of Longboat will be re-developing —critical to maintain the safety and aesthetic of our structures and to continue to attract and maintain the amenities that our high quality of residents and visitors have come to expect.
Think about these facts: Approximately 80% of our condominiums, homes and businesses where built before the down zoning of the mid 1980s. Most, if not all, of these buildings have non-conforming zoning status. More importantly, because of this non-conforming status and our current town zoning codes, it will be difficult to redevelop the properties if, and when, they try to do so. These same properties were also built before the current standard of state building codes were put into place and as a consequence are not built to a very high standard. I would go so far as to say that many of these buildings were built to sell and not to last forever. Remember that this was before Hurricane Andrew, after which the state’s hurricane building codes were developed.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Longboat Key has always prided itself as being a vibrant and thriving retirement community, which attracts affluent visitors and residents who expect a certain quality of life. I am concerned that if we do not meet the current challenge and make certain changes, we are going into a period where potential new residents or visitors will pass us by for communities with more updated amenities and better-quality offerings. Don’t get me wrong. The sheer beauty of our Key will continue to attract buyers and even older buildings will sell — but will we be still be able to compete for the high-end, more affluent and highly-selective resident? Will we be able to maintain our current property values? Or amenities? The convenience of having an attractive mix of retail and restaurants available without having to cross a bridge? I think not. And it concerns me.
A successful and prosperous future for our Key is something we should all support. And I am proud to serve on a Town Commission that is willing and able to meet this challenge and ensure our future is as successful as our past.
This is why are we concerned about the Colony and Whitney Beach. Because we are concerned about the future of Longboat Key.
This is why we engaged a land-use consultant to advise us. Because we are concerned about the future of Longboat Key.
And that is why we are trying to find a solution for telecommunications, trying to enhance and improve our community center, etc. We are concerned about the future of Longboat Key.
The world is evolving and so must we, if only to maintain our current quality of life and protect the things that brought us to Longboat Key in the first place. No doubt future homeowners of Longboat Key will be different from the buyers of the past. They expect different amenities and have higher expectations. Let’s rise to the challenge and meet those expectations.
So, will I be happy if the Key Club seeks to redevelop? You bet I will be. I’m happy because they recognize that to be competitive in today’s market they have to update and improve upon what they have today. I think all Longboat Key citizens should be excited — and proud — that they are going to the trouble and considerable expense to make the Key Club the kind of place that will continue to draw the right kind of people to the Key.
This is why I’m glad that the Key Club is moving forward. And you should be, too.
Jim Brown is mayor of Longboat Key.