Subcommittee meeting sparks tourism debate

 

Subcommittee meeting sparks tourism debate

 

Date: August 4, 2010
by: Kurt Schultheis | City Editor

 
 

The topic of major debate at the Wednesday, July 28 Vision Plan Subcommittee was how important tourism is to Longboat Key and the Vision Plan message.

A statement that mentioned population growth led to a discussion about whether the island desires growth at all and how important tourism is to the Key’s future.

Country Club Shores resident and former Mayor Lee Rothenberg questioned what the statement implies and asked the subcommittee if the statement was meant to support population growth.

“It’s not that we want to grow leaps and bounds,” answered subcommittee Chairwoman Pat Zunz. “We want people who find it desirable here to buy here.”

Subcommittee member and Vice Mayor Jim Brown agreed.

“Because of worldwide population growth, there are more people who will come to help support Longboat Key in the future,” Brown said.

The discussion led public attendee and Country Club Shores resident Bob Gault to note that on Ranger Lane, five of the homes he drives by every day are unoccupied.

“The condition has been this way for three years now,” Gault said. “Whoever buys this property eventually will be people from the outside. That’s called growth. If you don’t see growth, property values will remain the same and properties will be unsold.”

The conversation led subcommittee member George Syamanski Jr. to suggest the language be changed to “supports economic recovery and renewed interest, which should ensure property values recover and remain high.”

The language was agreed upon, but subcommittee member and Commissioner David Brenner urged the group not to be afraid of visitors and/or growth.

“The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was once our Ellis Island, so to speak,” Brenner said. “The point is we historically had an influx of people that eventually became residents.”

Longboat Key Club and Resort General Manager and Bay Isles resident Michael Welly, who also attended the meeting, agreed.

“I would recommend you start sprinkling the word visitor into this Vision Plan and don’t be afraid to do so,” Welly said. “What the Colony and the Key Club have done is bring visitors to the community that brought homebuyers that increased property values,” Welly said.

Zunz called Welly’s point “a good one,” noting that more than half of the 14 people in the conference room raised their hands when she asked if they were first visitors to the island before they became residents.

“You get people who move here and eventually make this a full-time residence, and their place up North eventually becomes secondary,” Zunz said. “Right now, we are in a (property value) cycle that’s gone down and I would imagine in five to 10 years that cycle will go up again.”

LANDSCAPING ISSUES

The Vision Plan Subcommittee, as part of its Vision Plan review Wednesday, July 21, took the time to discuss what it perceives as insufficient and poorly planned landscaping along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Noting the lines of crowded palm trees that were recently placed on the north end of the Key under a canopy of Australian pines, subcommittee Chairwoman Pat Zunz called the trees “unnecessary.”

“I don’t understand why we have a line of palm trees at the entranceways under already nice foliage,” Zunz said.

The comment prompted subcommittee member and Vice Mayor Jim Brown to lament he wished the town never accepted the $500,000 federal stimulus grant that paid for the palms, landscaping along Gulf of Mexico Drive and new welcome signs.

“We never should have accepted that money,” Brown said. “The signs and the foliage did not turn out the way we wanted it, because we were forced to approve a plan that was put together too quickly.”

The discussion quickly turned into what’s perceived by commissioners and planning board members as a saturation of too many Florida Department of Transportation signs along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

“We have more signs out here than Cortez Road does in Bradenton,” Zunz said. “Why do we have this tremendous amount of sign pollution?”

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson told the subcommittee they would have the chance to make their argument about sign saturation in September, when FDOT officials attend the regular workshop to discuss the issue.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at kschultheis@yourobserver.com.

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