OUR VIEW: Next big debate — beach equity

 

OUR VIEW: Next big debate — beach equity

 

Date: July 21, 2010
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Several years ago, a proposed 19% increase in Longboat Key’s property-tax rate would have drawn howls of protest.

Times are different now.

We know the 1.9 millage-rate cap the Longboat Key Town Commission approved last week is just a safeguard for the time being. If the oil-spill situation continues to work in our favor, commissioners are likely to vote in September on a lower rate.

Indeed, to that end, there is still time for additional budget analysis before the final September vote, including scrutinizing another budget proposal from Town Manager Bruce St. Denis.

This, predictably, will turn out to be another exercise in “government-in-the-margins” — that is, a trim here, a snip there, little in the way of dramatic meaningful changes.

In the bigger picture, though, this next town budget is only going to be a calm before another storm. And that storm will be the next beach renourishment.

Recent discussions are estimating the next beachwide renourishment at between $45 million. That compares to a bond issue in 2004 for $15.65 million.

Back then, servicing that debt cost a beachside property owner in a home or condo valued at $1 million about $580 a year in beach taxes. A bayside owner in a $1 million home paid about $144. (As most residents know, beachside owners pay 80% of the renourishment cost; bayside owners pay 20%.)
With a $45 million bond issue, the beachside owners would be paying $2,000 a year in beach taxes; bayside owners would pay $500.

When you consider the total millage rate for beachside property owners is 16.2 mills in Sarasota County and almost 17 mills in Manatee County, don’t be surprised to hear serious discussions about making the beach burden more equitable. And you thought the Key Club fight was contentious.

+
Movies on the Key?
Longboat Key and Sarasota entrepreneur W. Howard Rooks has been the frustrated owner of the former Mattison’s Steakhouse at 525 Bay Isles Parkway for two years now.

After purchasing the 19,000-square-foot restaurant in 2004 for $1.4 million, Rooks has spent the past two years trying to find a new tenant. He pays about $14,575 a year in property taxes for his empty, non-income-producing building.

Asked recently if he ever considered converting the building to a boutique, upscale Thai-style movie theater/restaurant — where guests watch movies in leather recliners replete with sanitized blankets, wine and hors d’oeuvres — Rooks smiled.

“Longboat’s code doesn’t allow it,” he said. “You can serve wine and liquor and food and watch TV, but you can’t serve wine, liquor and food and watch a movie.”

He didn’t say it, but his facial expression did: It doesn’t make sense.

Read the box below. It spells out the allowable commercial uses on the Key. These uses were adopted in another era, when the tenor of Longboat Key was vigilantly opposed to giving any openings to tacky, unwanted types of businesses. Indeed, Katherine Songster, public relations director for the Longboat Key Club and Resort, reminded Longboat Key Kiwanis Club members last week in a speech that when the Town Commission debated whether to allow a Publix on Longboat, residents lobbied for a smaller-than-normal Publix because they feared the store would attract shoppers from off the Key. No way would they have allowed a full-scale movie theater.

Times change. Consumer demands change. Property uses change.

Indeed, all of Longboat Key has been immersed over the past two years debating how to change the Longboat Key Club and Resort for now and the future. And throughout that process, Town Attorney David Persson, among others, advocated that Longboat Key’s zoning codes need to be updated.

That process would be a daunting task. But the dilemma at Rooks’ building provides evidence that revising the codes should be added to the agenda of the Town Commission.

We’re not suggesting sitting commission members take on this massive job. But they could begin the discussion and perhaps create a framework and timeline for how it can be accomplished.

Surely everyone would agree the process endured in the Key Club’s expansion application was arduous, painful, frustrating and unnecessarily costly. Often, this was a result of the dictates of the town’s zoning codes.

There is a better way. It would serve the town well to craft that better way. We all know the Key Club is not going to be the one and only major redevelopment project the Key will face.

+ Another pig-pen amendment
In 1992, Florida voters amended the state’s constitution to ban certain net fishing. In 2002, voters approved another amendment, this time banning the confinement of pregnant pigs in cages or pens where they would be unable to turn around. Also in 2002, Florida voters amended the constitution to ban smoking in the workplace.

So why shouldn’t we have a constitutional amendment banning oil drilling in state waters?

This is classic Charlie Crist.

When Florida’s crime rate was out of control in the early 1990s, then-Florida Sen. Charlie Crist championed legislation creating chain gangs and a bill requiring prisoners to serve at least 85% of their prison sentences.

Florida voters loved it. It was a hot issue. The media dubbed Crist “Chain Gang Charlie.” He was tough on crime.

In the aftermath of the 2004 hurricanes, then-Attorney General Charlie Crist took on another timely, popular issue — “price gougers.”

And now, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, well, you know the story. Now-Gov. Crist is — surprise! — championing a ban on oil drilling in this week’s special legislative session.

Give him credit. He knows how to play the populist political game. But he is as translucent as day and as substantive as soap bubbles.

Florida law already prevents oil drilling in state waters. And no lawmaker in his right mind would even attempt to change that — not for a long time.

We need an oil-drilling ban in the state constitution as much as we needed a ban on pig pens.

What the Zoning Code Allows, Prohibits

Limited Commercial District
Commercial development within this district shall generally be restricted to any uses which are permitted in the office-institutional (OI) designated areas as well as the following uses:

• Neighborhood convenience stores;
• Small limited item shops and stores restricted to retail sales of convenience items and services, including barber, beauty care and other personal services;
• Small-scale drugstores, laundry and dry-cleaning pickup stations;
• Florist shops and other specialty shops;
• And small-scale tourist-oriented activities associated with safeguarding the stability and integrity of adjacent residential areas.

Areas designated for limited commercial development are not intended to accommodate large-scale retail sales, service and market. Such stores would usually differ from limited commercial shops since the former would usually require a large floor area, carry a relatively larger inventory and require a substantially greater parking area.

Uses which are not permitted within the limited commercial district include but are not limited to the following:

• Large-scale discount stores;
• Health spas;
• Supermarkets;
• Department stores;
• Wholesale and warehousing activities;
• General appliance shops;
• Printing shops;
• Sales, service or repair of motor vehicles;
• Machine equipment or accessory parts, including tire and battery shops, gas and automotive service centers;
• Commercial amusements;
• Lawn and garden centers and plant nurseries;
• Fast-food establishments primarily serving in disposable containers and/or providing drive-in facilities; and other similar services to be expressly defined in the zoning regulations of this chapter.

General Commercial District

Established for purposes of accommodating general retail sales and services, including lawn and garden centers.

These areas are located in highly accessible areas adjacent to major or minor arterials which possess necessary location and market requirements. Zoning policy shall stipulate provisions for distributing various levels of shopping facilities.

Uses which are not permitted within the general commercial district include but are not limited to the following:

• Heavy vehicular sales, services or maintenance activities;
• Wholesaling;
• Warehousing;
• Uses requiring extensive outside storage;
• Plant nurseries; or other activities or trades which may generate nuisance impacts, including glare, smoke or other air pollutants, noise vibration or major fire hazards.
 

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