The roof at the former post office building at Whitney Beach Plaza is caving in. Colored cellophane now covers the inside of several vacant storefronts, which has been placed there, some say, to prevent people from seeing mold on the walls and insulation falling from the ceilings.
Meanwhile, the vacant gas station on the north end of the Key is boarded up and is bordered by a fence that’s falling down.
The problem is the town of Longboat Key can’t do anything about those issues and that has the Longboat Key Town Commission considering beefing up its property-maintenance code.
Commissioners will discuss at their Nov. 15 regular workshop what to do, if anything, with a property-maintenance code that currently only instructs property owners to cut weeds and grass.
“We have to decide whether to raise the bar on the maintenance of properties town wide,” said Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer. “The dilemma is coming up with something that holds the town to a higher standard without creating too much conflict.”
Meyer called the issue with the caving roof at the post office building at Whitney Beach Plaza “a concern.”
“The ceiling is falling in and the roof is caving,” Meyer said. “If they don’t do something soon, we have an issue with unsafe structures, and as our code currently is written, things there would have to get worse before we can enforce them to make it better.”
The same goes for a fence falling down at the gas station site.
“If panels are lying down, we can make you pick them up, but I can’t make you fix the fence,” said Meyer.
A dilemma of strengthening the property-maintenance code would be that it would create more work for Meyer’s code-enforcement staff, which currently only has one code officer.
“It would create more work for my staff if we are going to start enforcing items such as peeling paint, missing roof shingles and ripped pool cages,” Meyer said.
Rich Juliani, principal of the Boston-based JKI Investment Capital LLC, which owns the plaza, disputes rumors that mold is growing inside the plaza.
Juliani said he’s closing on paperwork Oct. 31, for a $1 million renovation of the entire 35,000-square-foot plaza that could begin as early as November, pending permit approvals, and could be finished as early as May.
“We’re gutting the whole thing and renovating it,” Juliani said. “And we’re starting with the post-office building first because I’m sick of hearing about it.”
Juliani said the reason he never fixed the sinking hole in the post office building was because it didn’t make sense to do so and he was waiting for the talks of the overlay district for the area to subside.
“I would tell Longboaters I apologize for the plaza’s appearance, but I wasn’t going to drop any money into the plaza until discussions were over,” Juliani said. “Now that they are, I can say we are renovating the entire site, from roofs to sidewalks to pillars to landscaping.”
Juliani said he has interest for future tenants that include realty offices, coffee shops and restaurants. Juliani, who still owns the plaza’s liquor license, said the plaza would also include a liquor store.
“Commercial-real estate for a plaza of this size doesn’t happen overnight in this economy,” Juliani said. “But interest is rising, and residents will see improvements to this plaza soon.”