There was some nervous laughter at the start of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force public forum Thursday, Jan. 24.
Tom Aposporos, a Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force member and former president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, showed a fake classified ad to the crowd of about 135 people, at the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort. The ad seemed to hit home for some.
The classified ad outlined what some Realtors perceive as potential hindrances when selling Key property, including the age of property and high maintenance fees: “Cozy condo on Longboat Key! 2/2 1,200 sq ft with screened lanai. The complex is only 50 years old. Maintenance fees, insurance taxes & beach renourishment fees average ~ $3,300 monthly. Price — Make an offer!”
Longboat Key real-estate agent Cathy Meldahl, one of six panelist speakers invited to speak at the forum, said she has a property that’s been on the market for two years because of similar problems listed in the fake classified ad.
“There are owners on the Key where this has become their personal horror already,” said Meldahl, who reported she has a two-year-old listing for a condo that’s more than 60 years old. The condo, Meldahl said, is on the market for $200,000 and has a $1,100 maintenance fee that must be factored in before a mortgage payment is calculated.
The condo listing, coupled with real-estate data showing Longboat Key properties are selling roughly for the same amount as property on Anna Maria Island right now, surprised many in attendance at the forum. The forum was co-sponsored by the task force and the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee.
“I’m absolutely stunned,” said Key resident and PIC board member Dick Pelton. “My concern is where we go from here. We accept we need revitalization, but how do we get there?”
The answers varied, but all of them eventually circled back to the town and Mayor Jim Brown.
Brown said the town is in the process of selecting a consultant to help guide the town in changing its codes and Comprehensive Plan. Doing so, Brown said, will make it easier for applicants to renovate their aging properties.
But, when Brown said it will take at least a year or longer to complete the code-change process once a consultant is selected, some people groaned.
“I realize there are a lot of arrows coming my way tonight,” Brown said. “Government is set up to be slow that way, and it’s frustrating for us who are involved. But we are responding the best way we can.”
Of the Key’s 6,235 condominium units, 3,616, or 58%, were built in 1979 or earlier, according to data compiled by task force member Lenny Landau.
The age of the Key’s current structures, which drives up maintenance and insurance costs, is, in part, an unintended consequence of the town’s 1984 Comprehensive Plan. The Comp Plan prohibited an increase in allowable density on the island without voter approval.
Most existing structures on the Key were grandfathered but became nonconforming overnight. As a result, condominiums with grandfathered status could be limited to six-units-per-acre if owners opted to rebuild.
Brown said the main reason revitalization is needed is simple.
“If you do nothing, people will continue to come to Longboat Key,” Brown said. “But whether you can sell your $500,000 house for the same price you paid or higher is the question.”
Jim Cameron, president of Spanish Main Yacht Club Association, urged condo associations to form their own condo-rejuvenation plans and collect reserves to make it happen.
“That’s our function; we can’t rely on the town to make it happen for us,” Cameron said.
Newly appointed Longboat Key Club and Resort General Manager Jeff Mayers said the Key’s priority must be to maintain the businesses the Key has year-round.
“Maintaining balance is a priority,” Mayers said. “We lose convenience by not having the consistency of tourism in our area.”
Everyone agreed the loss of tourism units on the Key since 2000 has been a detriment.
“The loss of the Holiday Inn and other tourism units was a devastating blow to this island,” said Longbeach Village Association President Michael Drake.
Mayers explained that the way to get both visitors and tourism units back is to effectively market the Key to the younger generation, dubbed the “millenials.”
“Millenials want to be active,” Mayers said. “We have great beaches, fishing, swimming and the things they want to do. We just need to drive that segment here.”
A vibrant community center was also discussed as a way to attract both visitors and future residents to the island.
“Most of us came here as a tourist and have no desire to live anywhere else,” Meldahl said. “Tourism got a bad name here, and we have to think outside the box to get it back. It’s outsiders who will be buying your homes, not your neighbors.”
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