The drives over the Longboat Pass and New Pass bridges onto Longboat Key — glittering with the blue-green waters where Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico merge — tell you immediately Longboat Key is a special place. Oh, what views.
But when you see this island from the air, the magic is breathtaking.
Welcome to paradise, members of the Urban Land Institute study panel. That’s the way Longboat Key residents feel about this 11-mile sliver of a barrier island — their paradise. Once you get here, it’s difficult to leave.
That, by the way, is one of the interesting characteristics you would find if you stayed long enough. The more Longboaters you meet, the more you find out their roots here go back generations. Today’s residents — many in their 80s — came here on vacation as children and teens with their parents. When they became adults, they kept the family tradition going, eventually keeping their parents’ place or buying condos, first as second-home getaways from their careers, and then as their full-time residences in the next phases of their acive lives. Key word: Active.
While so many of these generational Longboaters may not be island natives, Longboat Key runs deep in their bones and blood. Longboat Key is in their hearts. There’s a great love and appreciation for this beautful spit of sand.
‘There are no stupid people’
There is more you should know about Longboaters that the ULI Briefing Book doesn’t tell.
The people here are as special as the environment. Most of them are high achievers; many extraordinary achievers, virtually all living on self-made earnings — signs of their commitment to the good-ol’ work ethic and their smarts. There’s a saying from a now-deceased Longboat Key activist, Rainer Josenhanss: “There are no stupid people people on Longboat Key.”
Longboaters also are different from what you find in the wealthy enclaves of Palm Beach and South Florida. They’re not ostentatious; they stay below the radar, only willing to share their accomplishments once you get to know them. They’re friendly; they say “hello” to everyone. And for the most part, you’ll find humility here. Flashy, self-promoters don’t fit in.
And with that humility comes extraordinary generosity. It’s commonplace to find Longboaters among the leading donors to Greater Sarasota’s many not-for-profit charities and arts organizations. Not because they want the notoriety, but because they live the parable — “to whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”
Indeed, God and faith are big on Longboat Key. There are four churches and one temple, and those institutions do much to foster the sense of community.
So many came from so little
Residents will tell you the people make Longboat Key; they make it the great little American town that it is.
The best sense of that comes on the Fourth of July. Participants in the annual Freedom Fest like to say it’s the shortest, cutest patriotic parade in America.
Perhaps an appropriate characterization of Longboat Key is that its citizens and residents embody American values. While the physical surroundings might suggest a homogeneous community, the residents are more diverse than they appear — diverse in their heritage, level of wealth, political philosophies, interests and skills.
If there is homogeneity, a common characteristic is that so many of them came from so little, worked hard for what they earned and lived within their means.
Such backgrounds translate into a decidedly fiscal conservatism when it comes to town expenditures. In fact, when Longboat Key’s founders held a referendum to incorporate in 1955, one of the leaders of the movement vowed that if voters approved incorporation and his candidacy for office, he would oppose any additional taxes and deficit financing. Today’s commissioners may not be as strident, but Longboat voters don’t let them go far astray.
Suffice it to say, with the value of their property as valuable as it is, Longboat Key taxpayers pay close attention to how the Town Commission spends tax dollars. Longboaters value and pay for strong law enforcement and the best in fire-rescue services, but they are wary of such extravagances as $6 million community centers (which they rejected).
This fiscal pragmatism carries through in Longboaters’ view of the environment. They will pay for value. Since 1993, Longboaters have taxed themselves more than $50 million to keep the town’s beaches intact. If you asked Longboaters what they cherish most about their paradise, the beach, the sunsets over the Gulf and the general tropical vegetation would likely be at the top of their lists. Longboaters may not crowd the beach and seldom use it, but they know it’s a priceless jewel.
Longboaters are all environmentalists to a great extent. And they’re wary of anything that might tip the environmental balance in favor of too much commercialization and too many people. This is why voters adopted in 1984 a charter amendment that requires voter approval to increase the town’s density. This is why Longboat Key is notorious for having the most unfriendly and overregulated zoning and building ordinances in the region.
Residents’ opposition to tourism and business worked so well, in fact, the town in the past decade has lost a major Holiday Inn and smaller resorts to condominiums and seen the deterioration and near shutdown of Whitney Beach Plaza and the former Avenue of the Flowers retail centers (now the remodeled Publix).
The economic vitality had contracted so much that even those who opposed commercial activities on the Key reversed course and in recent years have become advocates for a better balance of residents, tourism and commercial activity.
They know: It must move forward
Longboaters recognize the town must revitalize, redevelop and move forward if it is to remain the paradise that it is. They recognize that many of the codes that helped shape the existing Key need modification. But they fear anything too radical. Longboaters are an obstinate bunch.
What they want is contained in a slogan that has been voiced many times over the past several years: “Keep Longboat, Longboat” — a slightly awkward way of saying they want Longboat Key in 2025 to be as appealing to future residents then as Longboat Key was to them in 1954, 1984 and 2014.
Welcome to paradise. You won’t want to leave.