Six candidates equal six answers to every question.
That added up to a Longbeach Village Association candidate forum that stretched more than two hours Wednesday, Feb. 6.
All six candidates attended the forum: Mayor Jim Brown and his challenger, Larry Grossman; Commissioner Terry Gans and his challenger, Irwin Pastor; and Commissioner Phill Younger and his challenger, Gene Jaleski.
Here are a few questions and answers, which have been condensed for length.
What happened to all the businesses that were here?
Jaleski: The day Publix decided it was going to build here, grocery store owners put the store up for sale. The island just doesn’t support business here year-round, but I wish it did. How do we bring it back? I don’t know, because it’s market-driven.
Pastor: We need to take a look at our codes and redo the Comprehensive Plan. To have good developers, you have to have a good plan — something that you can understand. We haven’t had that or codes that would bring in a national, reputable developer.
Gans: Your codes are not your direct problem for the retailers. (You lost) 140 units with the Holiday Inn that were probably with an 80 percent occupancy 40 weeks. Anyone who shops at Amazon is also part of the problem. It will be different kinds of retailers that will support year-round business.
Grossman: I’m asking for an economic study to determine realistic expectations for the balance of commercial, residential and tourism property.
Younger: We’ve lost a certain balance of tourism that we once had. One of the things this commission has done was to do the overlay and other things that would make (the north end) more attractive to a developer.
Brown: Normally you have to get an anchor tenant. (Whitney Beach Plaza owner) Rich Juliani couldn’t get a national chain, and I don’t think it has to be a national chain. It’s not an easy thing. You could drop a pin and draw a line to every single person who could shop there within a mile. The numbers aren’t there. It’s not my property, but we’re trying to make it flexible.
What’s your opinion about dogs on the beach?
Gans: In a wonderful dream world, dogs romping on the beach is nice, but it’s not something we need right now.
Pastor: We can’t depend on all of the people who go to the beach to pick up after their dogs. As much as I like dogs, I don’t think so.
Grossman: I’m against dogs on the beach. Only one in 2,500 sea-turtle hatchlings nesting on the beach will survive to maturity. It’s shorebird habitat, not dog habitat.
Jaleski: What about Bayfront Park for a dog park? Either you like turtles and birds on the beach, or dogs on the beach. I like turtles and birds. I also like open recreation space.
Brown: I don’t think there would be problems here with people picking up after their pets, but I’m not willing to divide the community over it.
Younger: There are pet-friendly beaches in Manatee County and Bird Key, nearby. This is a very divisive situation, and the overwhelming sentiment is to not have dogs on the beach. I respect that.
Where do you stand on a community center?
Younger: I would like to see it come before the voters. They voted it down before because the price wasn’t reasonable. I think it would add tremendous value, but we need a way to do it in an economically feasible manner.
Pastor: It sounds like a wonderful idea, but what we have to find out is, who is going to use it, and can we do something in terms of a public/private partnership … I would want something self-sustaining, like the Tennis Center.
Jaleski: The town found $64,000 that the Tennis Center has been accruing (for pensions and benefits) off-budget. It doesn’t pay for itself. For little money, the town could try out the Mattison’s Steakhouse at the Plaza meeting, and if it works, then build a community center.
Grossman: In the future, we’ll be tackling the issue of who will be the next generation of buyers and what will they find attractive. In visiting communities across the country, I’ve seen nothing like (the Bayfront Park property) for a community center. The town would be wasting an important asset to let it go to waste. I’m for a community center.
Gans: I think we do need public input. We also have to look forward to what the people on the island are expecting and what we need to offer. It’s like the childhood story “The Little Red Hen.” Everyone wants it, but paying for it is another problem.
Brown: There’s only one person who’s been a stronger advocate, and that’s (Village resident) Corinne Ragheb. I chaired a committee to find out if the community wanted a community center. We established that one person wants bocce ball and the other wants tennis, but most wanted a community center. Other places, like the Villages, that have a senior community, have a community center.