Welcome back! A lot has been happening while you were up north (but not all of it smells bad).
We know it can be hard to keep up with the news from Florida while you're summering away, free from humidity, afternoon thunderstorms and the worry of an alphabetical list that can rip your roof off. So each November, we bottle up all the Longboat happenings you missed and bring them to you thusly. Enjoy!
Red tide killed fish and a big piece of the summer
No tropical storms or hurricanes came calling, which normally would be a central component of a happy summer, but something nearly as annoying and disruptive washed ashore in late July.
The toxic plume of micro-organisms drifted well off the Florida coast for most of 2018 and began killing sea life in the Fort Myers area just about the time you snowbirds headed north.
Ultimately, it found its way north, leading to fish kills, horrible odors and ruined cash register receipts for businesses up and down our coast.
In explaining red tide’s impact, merchants acknowledged late summer was a typically slower time of year anyway, so the economic damage could have been worse. Still, many of them reported business falling off by double-digit percentages year over year.
Longboat Key’s Public Works Department reported collecting 179,820 pounds of dead sea life and other materials from beaches and canals between Aug. 6 and Sept. 21. And while the waters nearby have periodically tested positive for the red tide algae, fish kills haven’t been a problem for weeks.
Our beaches keep washing away
Even as trucks trundled their way from a Polk County mine to the island’s north shore to deposit about 1,300 loads of sand washed away by wind and waves, the town was working on a more permanent fix.
The town has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build up to five sand-saving groins to slow beach erosion in that area. If approved, work could begin late in 2019 or early 2020. The cost is estimated at $12 million.
That September renourishment project at North Shore Road cost about $1.1 million and was spread over two football fields. The idea behind the groins is to stabilize the beach and end the need for periodic renourishment projects.
The plan is to build the groins about 350 feet apart on either side of two existing groins near North Shore Road.
On the other side of the island, the city of Sarasota is adding 185,000 cubic yards of sand to north Lido Key beaches in an emergency project. The plan is to dredge New Pass, which could lead to a deeper boating channel in the shoaled passage between the gulf and Sarasota Bay.
Colony buildings reduced to rubble
Like running into an old friend with a new hair color, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s changed over time. Maybe you’ve noticed something different about the 1600 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Let us help: the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort? Hmmm?
Still blanking? IT’S GONE! (Well, mostly)
Demolition on the once-iconic buildings began on July 26, following several unsuccessful legal appeals of the town’s emergency demolition orders.
Unicorp National Developments Inc., the developer of the proposed 166-room, 78-condo St. Regis Hotel and Residences, agreed to do the work for no cost to the town.
Groundbreaking, though, is in limbo. Individual unit owners, about 100 of them, retain their rights even though the buildings’ physical presence is no more. Unicorp must still come to an agreement to buy those rights, either through negotiation or via the courts, before building permits can be issued.
Not far away, you might also notice something else is missing: the former Pattigeorges building was demolished in late June in anticipation of a new restaurant -- The Buccanneer. It's planned to open sometime in 2019.
Coyotes move in. Wait, what? Coyotes?
Let’s be honest, coyotes and Longboat Key go together like Etruscan vases and an episode of “Hee Haw.”
But, since about mid-July when the first sightings were reported, coyotes have been on the minds of your friends and neighbors.
How they got here isn’t clear, though we did learn they are good swimmers, and there are those pesky bridges to the mainland.
And we learned coyotes aren’t particularly unusual almost anywhere in Florida – or the rest of the country, for that matter.
Most residents who expressed concern said they’re mostly worried about their pets. Experts said trapping or removing the coyotes isn’t practical. Town officials said they would keep looking at options and strategies.
Pickleball lovers balk at six-figure fundraising
Most agree the allure of pickleball is undeniable.
Harder to agree on: The plan to build more courts at the town’s Public Tennis Center.
Four courts are proposed in the 2020 fiscal year budget, at an estimated cost of $200,000 – half of which is financially accounted for.
The other $100,000 is up to private donors, who initially balked at the town’s ask for six figures.
Private donors helped propel improvements to the Tennis Center itself, and town officials said a lot has already been done to improve the conditions for pickleball players on the island.
Town sets up a new set of sign regulations
“Well, we did it.”
With Mayor George Spoll’s simple summary on July 9, Longboat Key enacted a new set of rules governing signs that set standards based on time, place and manner of use, not content.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled signs could not be regulated by what they said, triggering a long-running effort in the town to reset its rules.
Ultimately, the biggest effect was real estate professionals, who had to adjust to the new rules.
In a nutshell: The new code allows for two temporary signs: One that is 1-square-foot at any time and another that is 3 square feet only when a property is under contract for sale, rent or lease. Because the town is barred from regulating content, the bigger sign doesn’t necessarily have to promote that sale or rental. A 1-square-foot additional sign (think: Pool Home, Canalfront, Sold) is allowed, too.
Unicorp National Development’s sign at the site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was allowed to remain as is.
Lido pavilion dispute
For a while, it seemed like a renovation of the pavilion at Lido Beach was a done deal. A lease was agreed to, concepts were firmed up and Sarasota city staff recommended approving the site plan and major conditional use application.
But after months of protest — and a marathon public meeting — opponents of plans to redevelop the Lido Beach pool and pavilion under a private operator scored a victory. That’s when the city’s Planning Board, after five-and-a-half hours of discussion, voted 4-1 Sept. 12 to recommend denial of the site plan for proposed pavilion project.
Representatives for Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners LLC submitted plans to the city earlier this year to modify the operations at the city-owned beachfront property. The plans include a 200-seat restaurant, a 33-seat Tiki bar, a splash pad, playgrounds, a new shade structure above the pavilion seating area and rental cabanas by the pool. The changes would not modify the footprint of the existing pavilion building.
But the plans have been a source of controversy among residents, particularly those living on Lido Key. An online petition has gathered more than 3,300 signatures opposing the planned redevelopment.
Sarasota's City Commission will soon vote on the project.
Town settles forfeiture pursuit in voyeurism case
That was the figure agreed to in June by the town and Wayne Natt, the man who pleaded no contest to 14 counts of video voyeurism and was sentenced to 364 days in jail.
You might recall from last fall, the town initiated a forfeiture proceeding against Natt’s Longboat Key condominium, claiming it was a material component of the offenses with which he was charged. Had the case continued to a successful conclusion for the town, it would have ended up owning 623 Cedars Court.
The $30,000 figure was reached after the town initially offered a settlement deal of a $100,000. Natt and his attorney countered with $5,000.
In the end, after spending $38,000 on legal fees, the town said the message it intended to send was delivered: “This isn’t acceptable on Longboat Key.’’
Town gets tough with short-term rental offenses
It's been a long-running complaint that runs in two different directions.
Neighbors of short-term landlords often grouse about the comings and goings of different people, families and visitors and the flouting of rules that generally bar leases of less than 30 days.
Owners often come back with some variation of "It's my property. I do what I want.''
So in June, the town decided some changes in how it enforces its short-term rental rules were in order. So, the town made it possible for Code Enforcement officers to cite owners and renters on the spot. Previously, two written warnings were required before someone was summoned to a Code Enforcement Board hearing, at which they could be fined.
The town has 46 grandfathered tourism properties, places that are allowed to have tenants for fewer than 30 days. These properties are “grandfathered” because they had tourism use before the town passed its prohibition. Most of those properties are on Gulf of Mexico Drive and include places such as Silver Sands, Sand Cay and Sea Gate.
Meet the new traffic, same as the old traffic
Traffic. (Heavy sigh)
Yeah, we know. It doesn't look like much has changed, right?
Look closer, though. At the eastern end of the Ringling Causeway, there's an extra lane to turn left to U.S. 41. Everyone loves it and hopes it's one of the answers to keep cars and trucks moving over the bridge and into town.
There are a lot more ideas kicking around too, generated through the Barrier Island Traffic Study that might help as well, if they'd only get implemented.
Maybe traffic circles on the north and south ends of Gulf of Mexico Boulevard.
Maybe pedestrian officers on St. Armands Circle to platoon groups of pedestrians to cross the street instead of allowing one-at-a-time crossing to continue stopping traffic.
Maybe some changes to pedestrian routes north of Longboat.
Over the summer, at a Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting, the topic rose to a new level.
Mayor George Spoll, talking about the roundabout on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, said: “That roundabout is an abomination in the eyes of the town of Longboat Key and cannot be allowed to exist. There has to be a solution, and we are looking for a cooperative attitude on the part of our neighbor because it is intolerable.”
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie recoiled: “We’re here to help and work together, but if you want to start out the conversation by just throwing down the gauntlet then so be it. It’s not going to get you very far, I can tell you that.” He also said: “We’re not going to be pushed around.”
The Barrier Island Traffic Study is supposed to generate a regional plan early next year with a list of projects to undertake, many of them reasonably small.