Although the town never officially adopted the Vision Plan created in 2006, the plan could still affect Longboat’s future.
During a Vision Plan subcommittee meeting Wednesday, July 14, its members and the town attorney discussed how the Vision Plan has become the catalyst for a larger discussion: a broad review of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
When subcommittee Chairwoman Pat Zunz started a discussion about the island’s perceived saturation of commercially zoned land, town attorney David Persson said it’s part of an overall discussion that will lead to what he hopes is a revision of the Comprehensive Plan.
“The problem you have now is you have a significant portion of land zoned commercial that’s not being used,” Persson said. “That’s why when you do the Comprehensive Plan amendments, you create a more appropriate balance.”
Persson told those in attendance that the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which acts as a guide to what the town wants to be and look like, needs an overhaul.
“In 1997, the Comprehensive Plan was amended in such a way that we thought development was over on this island,” said Persson. “But what we have learned through the Key Club ($400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion project) is it’s not in our best interest to have that kind of plan any longer. It’s better to have a cookbook than mix a bunch of things together haphazardly and hope they cook well together.”
Although subcommittee member Commissioner David Brenner said the town had to decide whether to incorporate the Vision Plan into the future revised Comprehensive Plan, the group agreed the two documents should be separate.
“But, the Vision Plan is a huge catalyst to have a discussion about the Comprehensive Plan,” Persson said.
And Persson noted that if the Vision Plan led to some Comprehensive Plan amendments, that would be a positive step forward for the town.
“If it happens, an updated Comprehensive Plan is more clear than what was approved (for the Islandside project) and is more appropriate, that would be a good thing,” Persson said.
The subcommittee agreed that while it was working on the Vision Plan over the summer, it would review relevant portions of the Vision Plan and how they pertain to the Comprehensive Plan in an effort to offer future suggestions for the Town Commission’s review.
Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson told the subcommittee that a member of the Planning and Zoning Board has already expressed an interest in reviewing the Comprehensive Plan and she expects the board to discuss the possibility as early as September.
The subcommittee spent the morning discussing the future of the island and what kind of island the town wants to emulate.
“Years ago, the town was always compared to Naples and West Palm Beach,” Persson said. “I don’t hear that anymore.”
Subcommittee member Vice Mayor Jim Brown told Persson that everyone knows Longboat Key is “a first-class community.”
“But we don’t want to be Naples anymore,” Brown said. “Naples’ vision was to grow, and we don’t want their density.”
Persson said that he feels the Key is in a state of flux.
“We’re sort of adrift on how we treat our aesthetics,” said Persson, who referenced the island’s entrances. “What level are we trying to maintain? I don’t see a clear consensus as to what we should be doing.”
Persson asked the subcommittee if it sees the town as being one of the best, affluent residential communities in the state.
“Are we someone who is making due and getting by, or are we pitching our wagon and wanting to be a premier destination in the state of Florida?” Persson asked.
Although Brenner told Persson he didn’t think Longboat Key had to compete with any other area, others disagreed.
Brown told the group he thinks Longboat Key is competing with cities from Naples to Palmetto.
“And we want to be better than them,” Brown said. “The key to that is our density and having amenities on the island that make life easier for us.”
Zunz, who suggested the town should try and compare itself to Boca Grande on the east coast of Florida, told the group the economic climate makes it more difficult for the town to stay the way it was in the past.
That statement set off a conversation on dilapidated commercial and housing sectors.
“The reason many homes are empty in places like Country Club Shores is because investors bought in there,” Brown said. “Once the market comes back, those same investors will revitalize the community because they see great things for it.”
And Brown warned the subcommittee the island has to change more than aesthetics.
Brown said that as a commissioner and resident, he notices that people and other politicians give him “a certain look” when they find out he is a commissioner on Longboat Key.
Said Brown: “We developed an elitist status where people think we don’t want them on their beaches or out here at all. People look at Longboat Key differently, and that’s not always a good thing.”
The committee reached a consensus that Boca Grande would be a comparable community.
“I think this (Vision Plan) is the document that gets the discussion going and the board could consider telling the commission in a report we think this leads logically into performing a Comprehensive Plan review,” Persson said.
Persson also told the subcommittee a preamble could be added to a revised Comprehensive Plan that could be taken out of the Vision Plan.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].