It has been 80 days since my appointment as Longboat Key town manager. In that time, I have met with and listened to scores of individual citizens and have met in large and small groups that have included several hundred people.
Residents have told me over and over they can live anywhere in the country, but they choose to live on Longboat Key. I have tried to ask the same question of everyone: “What are the two best things about living on Longboat Key?” The responses to that question reveal several themes.
Residents love living on the Key. They have a deep appreciation for the natural beauty, the beaches, the bay, the wildlife and all things water-related. They love their neighborhoods. From the condo residents to the Longbeach Village residents, they like where they live.
Over and over, I heard there is a special feeling when you cross one of the bridges coming onto the Key. Residents told me they feel safe here and have a sense of security that adds to their sense of well-being.
Residents also appreciate living close to the amenities that Sarasota offers: theaters, galleries, museums, restaurants, etc. They also like the fact that all those things are across the bay and not here. Many people expressed an appreciation for the community intellect that exists among the residents of Longboat Key.
The population is generally highly educated, with many opinions and a willingness to express those opinions.
It has been a great experience to meet with so many interested and caring individuals. I will continue to make myself available to anyone wishing to meet to discuss ways to improve the quality of life on the Key.
Turning now to the coming year, there are several issues that will be getting the attention of the Town Commission and staff:
• Publix: The Town Commission has conducted the first of two public hearings on Publix’s plan to redevelop its site. The plan calls for all buildings to be demolished and rebuilt. The first hearing included much discussion about landscaping and traffic circulation around the new buildings.
• Beach renourishment: The plan is for the town to nourish three eroded spots along the beach in 2012, although permits, bids and other planning issues may slow this down. There will also be discussion about ways to stabilize the north end.
Currently groins are being examined to help slow the rate of erosion of the beach on the north end. Expect the town to work with Manatee County pursuing permits to dredge Longboat Pass and place the sand on the north end and on Anna Maria Island. The actual dredging will not occur this year, but the permitting and planning work will be under way for most of the year.
• Colony: The town does not control this private dispute between property owners, but it will monitor the situation and act when public health and safety requires action. The Town Commission may be in the position to decide whether the land-use approvals granted in the 1970s will remain with the property.
The town’s zoning code regarding abandonment of a use or structure applies to the Colony. If development proposals come forward to the town, the town will review them quickly and completely based on our existing codes.
• Bayfront Park/Community Center: There will be much discussion about the park and a possible community center this year. Plans will be developed as a result of two meetings with citizens. The first of those meetings began with the input already received from previous meetings. Expect to hear continued discussion about the need and location for a community center.
• Telecommunications: The town has hired a technology consultant to evaluate telecommunications coverage, analyze options for improvements and make recommendations. That report is expected to be completed by the end of April. To date, no tower application has come before the Town Commission and no approvals have been made.
• Dogs on the beach: A group of citizens asked the Town Commission last year if the town would consider amending regulations to allow dogs on Longboat Key beaches. The commission asked a group of citizens to conduct research, obtain input from all groups and make recommendations for their consideration. The citizens group is expected to report back in 2012.
• Land-use planning: Each year the Town Commission conducts extensive land-use discussions. These occur either in response to a developer’s plans (Key Club, Publix, for example) or as part of ongoing review of the town’s comprehensive plan. One of the objectives of these reviews is to improve the quality of life for town residents. The town has made a variety of tools available to developers with the goal of maintaining a balance between residential, commercial and tourist land uses. That balance helps maintain the economic vibrancy of the town.
• Vision Plan: Over the past several years, a group of citizens (including several commissioners) created a vision plan for the town. In 2012, town staff will create implementation plans for that strategic plan. Look for discussions at the Town Commission meetings as the year progresses.
• Property maintenance codes: There will be discussion this year about the town code as it relates to governing property standards. Expect the commission to discuss current codes regarding landscape maintenance, boat parking, outdoor storage, building maintenance, etc.
• Pensions: This year, the commission will take action to address the town’s pension-funding issues. The first fund to be addressed will be the firefighters’ pension because the town is currently in collective bargaining with that union.
• Budget: Property values are likely to go down again this year, which will result in lower revenue and put additional pressure on the town budget. There will be much discussion about the budget and service levels in the coming months.
• Key Club: A judge’s recent ruling remanded the club’s approval back to the Town Commission. At this time, there isn’t enough information to know what that will mean, but I suspect much attention will be given to this issue in 2012. At a minimum, the commission has expressed a desire to conduct a thorough review of the town’s zoning codes and comprehensive plan.
Altogether, the 2012 town agenda will present many opportunities to improve the community. Based on my short time here, it is evident there will be much public comment on each topic and ample opportunity for any interested party to have input. The items listed here are just a few of the topics that will come before the town this year.
The town of Longboat Key exists to serve the community; I look forward to finding better ways to do that in 2012.
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