What kind of advice can you buy for $133,816.35?
For the town of Longboat Key, the answer is: Build a community together and focus on “loving Longboat.”
Adapt to a changing market (which means redoing the Comprehensive Plan and codes) and focus on the future.
Relax rental restrictions, and implement early actions at opportunity sites.
Complete a Town Center around Publix and locate a community/cultural center there.
Improve mobility along Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Did Longboat Key get the bang for its bucks?
Those are the basic recommendations an eight-member Urban Land Institute panel presented to the town in October after a five-day, $125,000 study that cost an additional $8,816.35 in panelist trip expenses. The panel will present its final report to the town by the end of the year, but already residents and stakeholders have mixed opinions about whether the town got its money’s worth.
The Longboat Observer asked residents and business owners from across the Key a question:
Was the ULI study a good use of $125,000, plus additional expenses, in taxpayer funds?
Country Club Shores resident and former Planning and Zoning Board member Brad Saivetz thinks it was a waste of money.
“When you go to a surgeon’s office they are gong to cut something out of you,” he said. “But when commissioners go to town funds to confirm what they want to do, that’s not right. I like Longboat Key as it was, and I hope we try to attract the same people who came here and not the casual tourists. It was boilerplate stuff. The town gave ULI the answers they were already looking for.”
Alan Moore, co-owner of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant, agrees that the study wasn’t worth it, but for different reasons.
“It was the biggest waste of money the town has ever spent,” Moore said. “Look at the first two paragraphs of the study. They tell us to get rid of the Comp Plan and relax the rental restrictions. I could have given them that advice for five bucks.”
Ann Roth, who was co-president of the recently dissolved Public Interest Committee (PIC), disagrees.
“It energized the process,” Roth said. “We already knew some of this stuff from the Vision Plan process, and we went through a lot of it before. But nothing is easy. We needed the perspective and now we have work to do.”
Country Club Shores resident and former Commissioner Randall Clair thinks it’s a good idea to work on less controversial issues, such as sprucing up entryways and adding recreational amenities to Bayfront Park.
“In view of everything that has transpired before and all the negatives, having the ULI come in was the right thing to do — to have people disinterested in the process tell us what we should do,” he said.
But, for many stakeholders, the answer to the question of whether the study was worthwhile gets a definite “maybe.”
“It’s worth the money if they would listen and actually make some changes,” said Cannons Marina owner David Miller.
“It could have been gotten for a lot cheaper,” said Bay Isles resident David Novak. “But what price do you put on getting us out of gridlock? To me, the Town Commission for years has been driven by people coming to them and addressing their problems versus doing things for the betterment of the community. If they can use this as cover or impetus or a tool for these people to use, then it’s a worthwhile effort.”
Spanish Main Yacht Club resident Tom Freiwald, who served on the subcommittee that formed for the ULI visit, also thinks the study’s value has yet to be seen.
“If the town embraces this and does something with it and it brings together the community to move forward and do something, then it’s the best $125,000 we ever spent. But if the town kills all the good ideas and nitpicks it to death, then it’s the biggest waste of town money and energy, and we will have wasted the opportunity,” he said.
Bayou resident and District 3 Commission candidate Ray Rajewski takes a different perspective.
“There are two ways to answer that,” he said. “It was worth it, because we now understand we have almost a perfect island. The recommendations they came up with for the most part are so farfetched I don’t know how you implement anything. We already have a town center. It’s called St. Armands Circle. That’s where you go to walk around, see residents and get a cup of coffee. The other way to answer is, it’s a waste of money. If that’s all they can come up with, it tells me we have a pretty nice place with not a lot to improve upon.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com