The Longboat Observer reviews the top stories of 2013.
Throw away the town of Longboat Key’s codes and Comprehensive Plan and start from scratch.
Relax the 30-day rental restriction mandate — during offseason only — to bring more people to the Key and help businesses survive the summer months.
Make Bayfront Park a future recreational hub of outdoor activities, but don’t build a new community center on the site.
Create a new, walkable Main Street town center concept in the Bay Isles Road area near Publix with 30,000 square feet of new commercial space, a park and a community/cultural center.
Build a roundabout on Gulf of Mexico Drive near Broadway on the north end of the Key.
Those are just some of the recommendations an Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel provided to the Longboat Key Town Commission and more than 60 people in attendance Oct. 25, at Town Hall.
ULI spent all last week on the Key, interviewing residents and business owners, touring the island and drafting recommendations that they’ll officially submit to the town in a 40-page document in the next 60-to-90 days. That report will include an implementation strategy to accomplish the suggested goals and create a roadmap for the future.
ULI panelists made it clear that none of the recommendations can be implemented until the town and its residents agree to work together.
“It’s clear to the panel that the residents and business owners all love Longboat Key,” said ULI panel Chairman Kamuron Gurol. “But divisions and disputes have increased and prevented community adhesion. The Key will be stronger if everyone can work together to face challenges ahead, regardless of which area on the Key you live.”
Once the wounds of past divisiveness, stemming from events like the failed Islandside renovation-and-expansion application, heal, the community can get to work on a wide range of issues that the panel believes starts with outdated codes and a confusing Comprehensive Plan, Gurol said.
“The existing legacy plans and codes are out of date and perpetuate a pattern of negativity,” Gurol said. “Our recommendation is to replace those with new plans tailored to meet the needs of the future. We can’t overemphasize that point enough.”
Relaxing rental restrictions that prohibit property owners from renting homes or condos more than once every 30 days, ULI panelists believe, should also be reconsidered, even if it’s on a trial basis.
“More year-round visitors are needed, and the rental restrictions may do more harm than good,” Gurol said. Panelists noted that they found more than 500 Key properties listed on websites already as rentals that don’t adhere to the town’s rental restrictions.
While commissioners were receptive to the idea, they made it clear they won’t relax restrictions like in the municipalities on Anna Maria Island, where residents are complaining of overpopulation.
“We don’t want to disturb the residential feel of the community like Anna Maria is experiencing,” said Commissioner Pat Zunz.
The panel also encouraged the town to abandon the concept of a community center at Bayfront Park and focus on a future community/cultural center somewhere along Bay Isles Road near Publix.
“Focus new investments in the Town Center area where people already congregate,” Gurol said.
Panelists showed two plans for a town center and walkable Main Street, complete with shops and a park.
“We’re not talking about creating a St. Armands Circle on the Key,” said panelist member Donna Lewis. “Just commercial that would attract residents to the town center.”
The panelists believe the town should make Bayfront Park landscaping and park improvements, taking advantage of the Sarasota Bayfront to encourage kayak rentals and create a recreation mecca.
ULI panelists also urged the town to engage with the owners of commercial and tourism property owners.
“Implement early action plans for places like the Colony and Whitney Beach Plaza,” said Gurol, whose panel calls for mixed-use development at the Whitney Beach site to spur occupancy and improvements on the north end. The panel also suggested a better relationship with Ringling College of Art & Design, which the nearby Longboat Key Center for the Arts became part of in 2007, could create occupancy opportunities for Whitney Beach Plaza.
The panel noted that improving mobility on a Key that can’t fix traffic congestion points at St. Armands Circle and in Bradenton Beach would be difficult, but suggested a water taxi service that connected to Key destination points would enhance connectivity issues during Season.
A roundabout at Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive on the north end, the panel believes, would reduce crashes and congestion while being pedestrian-friendly. Pedestrian crossings and islands along busy areas of Gulf of Mexico Drive would also slow motorists and give pedestrians a safe place to wait for cars to pass. Widening the Gulf of Mexico Drive sidewalk and bicycle lanes were also listed as safety suggestions.
While steering clear of the controversial telecommunications issue that ultimately leads to a discussion of a cellular tower, ULI panelists made this recommendation: “The town needs to continue its technological improvements because buyers today expect to continue the mobile lifestyle they are accustomed to,” Gurol said. “We can’t advise town on the cell tower issue. But we recommend the town take advantage of all advancements in mobile technology so there’s consistent and reliable communication. Longboat Key needs to embrace change because this market is in transition, with half of the housing stock changing hands in the last 13 years.”
Lewis told the commission she realizes the recommendations “may seem impossible.”
“But break them down and see where you can find opportunities to make something happen,” Lewis said. “Don’t wait for the final report. Start talking today because things worth doing are rarely easy.”
Commissioners were pleased overall with the recommendations.
“You put plenty of things on our plate to look at,” Vice Mayor David Brenner said.
Mayor Jim Brown said he “could see the wheels turning in people’s heads” as the recommendations were made.
“Many people will hate everything you said and others will love what you said,” Brown said. “We have an opportunity to benefit from your report.”
The commission agreed to start the process right away and Town Manager Dave Bullock scheduled the first meeting to discuss the ULI recommendations 1:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4.
Bullock will be the facilitator for future ULI meetings. Last week he gave the community a glimpse of how his meetings will be run.
“Our No. 1 task is learning how to work together better,” Bullock said. “There is so much in common among the people that live here and visit here that your differences are petty. You all love it here, want to keep it the same, but want to position the Key and keep it attractive for your property values and keep it competitive against other high end communities. The common objective is working together to develop a better future and I think we can accomplish that.”
The following strategies and recommendations were presented to the town Oct. 25, at Town Hall:
• Build the community together
• Adapt to a changing market
• Focus on the future
• Relax rental restrictions
• Implement early actions
• Complete the town center
• Locate the community/cultural center at the town center
• Improve mobility
Click here to see additional costs to taxpayers for the ULI visit.
Update: The new Urban Land Institute Implementation Advisory Committee has identified concepts for a town center at Bay Isles and Bayfront Park as its top priorities.