The Urban Land Institute Implementation Advisory Committee wants Key residents to think outside the box — or at least outside the boundaries of existing roads.
At its Dec. 17 meeting, the committee agreed to support a town center concept near the Longboat Key Publix that would include a community center, but it didn’t want its vision limited by the current configuarion of Bay Isles Road and Bay Isles Parkway.
During the discussion, the committee reviewed recent renderings of a town center that were drawn up by Sarasota architect Gary Hoyt. The renderings, which were created at the request of Town Manager Dave Bullock, depict a town center both with the current office buildings in place and a town center without some buildings.
While the committee called the renderings a good start, it will recommend to commissioners that the roads as they currently sit should not prohibit that town center concept.
“We don’t want to limit the way of thinking from the boundaries of the roads,” said committee member Tom Freiwald.
W. Howard Rooks, owner of the restaurant building that sits behind the Longboat Key Publix also spoke up during the discussion. Rooks received a special exception at the Dec. 17 Planning and Zoning Board meeting for 50 outdoor dining seats and intends to open up the former Mattison’s Steakhouse at the plaza this spring with a partner.
“If the restaurant building had to be removed, are you of a good mind to take a look at such a town center concept?” asked committee member Walter Hackett.
Rooks said he supports the town center concept and would be open to the possibility of his restaurant being eliminated.
“I learned a long time ago not to fall in love with real estate,” Rooks said. “I’m very open to the possibility and I’m very excited about the possibility of a town center here. I think it’s the right place for it.”
Interim Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray told the committee that town staff is meeting with Publix officials this week to review town center concepts.
Hoyt is sketching an overlay district for a town center concept to see how it could be accommodated through the town codes and Comprehensive Plan.
At the meeting, Ray also gave an update about town staff’s work on the ULI recommendations.
Town staff has met with Florida Department of Transportation officials, who have identified five locations on Gulf of Mexico Drive for crosswalks and will design crosswalks for the town’s future review. In addition, FDOT will present the town with low-level lighting options for the bike path and pedestrian sidewalk.
FDOT will also measure the road and determine whether roundabouts would fit and are feasible for the Key.
Town staff has met with Sarasota County officials at Bayfront Park to review the site and will compile a report next year about the amenities the park needs.
“Sarasota County and the University of Florida (UF) will look at studies from other communities to see what’s working and what isn’t,” Ray said. “We need to identify recreational trends for the baby boom generation.”
The university was hired by the town earlier this year through an interlocal agreement to help the planning staff. It has also been tasked with preparing a report detailing the Key’s telecommunications issues.
If the commission approves a work assignment that’s been drawn up for UF, the university’s wireless lab will design a network for the Key that identifies the town’s telecommunications needs.
‘We’ve told them we want a network that includes no cell towers, a public Wi-Fi system and a backbone system that carriers could lease to improve service that could be placed on buildings or telephone poles in areas with weaker reception,” Ray said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]