The Urban Land Institute has studied cities as large as Moscow, Chicago and Hong Kong.
But what kind of impact will the upcoming ULI visit and subsequent study have on the future of a community like Longboat Key?
To assess the potential impact of the study, the Longboat Observer spoke with representatives of three communities — each of which has populations of 26,000 or less and has its own unique character. The three communities have undergone similar ULI studies, and officials from the communities discussed the impact the report had and how they’re implementing the panels’ recommendations.
ULI will conduct its $125,000 study on Longboat Key from Oct. 21 through Oct. 25.
Queen Creek, Ariz.
Date: June 2011
Sponsor: Town of Queen Creek
The town of Queen Creek, Ariz., hasn’t yet reached the quarter-century mark.
“We’re literally building a community from scratch in a lot of ways,” said John Kross, town manager of Queen Creek, which was founded in 1989 and has a population of 26,000.
Like many Arizona communities, the town was devastated by the housing crash, which abruptly ended nearly a decade’s worth of unprecedented growth.
The town brought in the ULI in June 2011, at a time when building permits had dropped by approximately 90% and general funds were down by nearly 50%. As a result, Queen Creek was resizing its government based on decreased revenues and was seeking a fresh perspective on how to position itself as it emerged from the Great Recession. Kross believes the panel made some valid recommendations, such as higher-density development at the community’s Town Center and various suggestions to ensure sustainability in the community’s employment lands — the land needed to sustain long-term employment growth.
But, although the $120,000 has resulted in minor tweaks to town policies, it wasn’t an impetus for major overhaul.
“Frankly, what the report did with a lot of its findings very much validated the existing direction. That brought a lot of criticism, quite frankly,” Kross said.
The town manager expressed disappointment with the recommendations of the financial adviser who was part of the panel.
The report included the comment that costs associated with the town’s administration were “disproportionally high for the size of the town.”
Kross said the costs associated with administration make up 80% of the town’s departments and doesn’t believe the panelist took time to understand the town’s budget process or listen to officials.
Kross said that the town should consider the report the ULI compiles as just one piece of information for the town to consider.
“It’s one perspective, and it’s one perspective only on the community,” he said. “There’s a lot of perspectives to take.”
Eagle Vail, Colo.
Date: May 2008
Sponsors: EagleVail Metropolitan District, Eagle County School District, EagleVail Property Owners Association
EagleVail Community Manager Jeff Layman still describes the ULI report as a “game changer” five years after the study of the unincorporated community in Eagle County, Colo.
“Our community used the ULI study almost exclusively for about two years as the planning document until we got our act together enough to do strategic planning,” Layman said. “Even now, people will refer to the ULI study and everyone knows what they’re talking about.”
EagleVail Metropolitan District, Eagle County School District and EagleVail Property Owners Association sponsored the study in 2008 to help the community plan for the future.
“The look of the community was kind of stale and a little old,” Layman said. “We were having some difficulty supporting some of the infrastructure we had, like the golf course, pool, playgrounds and parks.”
The panel recommended merging the community’s two governing boards, the EagleVail Metropolitan District and EagleVail Property Owners Association. That turned out to be legally impossible, so the boards formed a joint operating committee.
“That was a big one because it made each board way less parochial and more focused on what was best for the entire community,” Layman said.
The panel also recommended replacing the community pool, revamping the municipal golf course (which golfers often found difficult to play and navigate) and revamping the community’s entrances.
Voters approved a $7 million bond for these facility upgrades in 2009 — at the height of the great recession.
Based on ULI recommendations, the community has also increased code enforcement and worked to help a mile-long commercial strip that’s stagnant but located between two prime ski destinations.
Layman believes the study made some unrealistic assumptions about the community’s potential for real-estate development but points out that the ULI study took place in June 2008 — right before the real-estate market crashed.
Although some board members initially balked at the cost of the study, Layman believes the exercise was worthwhile.
“They’re looking at strategic kind of ideas — the big, big picture planning,” he said. “Boards tend to look at things in a much more narrow focus.”
Amelia Island Plantation
Study date: May 2011
Sponsor: Amelia Island Plantation Community Association
The Amelia Island Plantation (AIPCA) Community Association approached ULI at a turning point in the history of the resort community that’s located in the town of Fernandina Beach.
In November 2009, Amelia Island Co., which owned Amelia Island Plantation (AIP) since 1978, declared bankruptcy, leaving the future of the resort, company-owned club and community in flux.
Omni Hotels and Resorts purchased resort assets in 2010, while community members rallied to create the member-owned Amelia Island Equity Club to ensure continued access and maintenance to onsite club facilities.
Now, the Equity Club operates the facilities, which Omni technically owns until the completion of a 20-year lease/purchase agreement.
With a new resort owner and the transition from having a company-owned club to a community-owned club, the AIPCA decided it was time for a fresh look at the community, according to Kate Ligare, who was AIPCA president when ULI conducted its study in 2011.
“We had talked about getting one or two planners in to help us with that transition, but we decided that we liked the ULI approach better,” Ligare said. “We did not want to reach firm conclusions so much as to generate options as far as where we could go.”
Many of the recommendations were easily implemented, according to Ligare.
The panel recommended the AIPCA board hire a full-time executive director and increase its transfer fees — both of which the board did within six months.
The panel told the AIPCA that parts of the community weren’t aging well and said some of its amenities were out of date. The report stated that maintenance needs throughout the community were preventing AIP from meeting real-estate demands.
Ligare believes the study helped get the community talking about revitalization, along with the role of the community association.
Is it to keep flower beds pretty and roads clear? Or is it to have future vision for the community?
Today, more AIP residents attend Fernandina Beach Town Commission meetings as well as local chamber of commerce functions.
“I don’t think we’ve looked at ourselves the same ever since,” Ligare said.
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