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Longboat Key Monday, Sep. 13, 2021 1 month ago

Buttonwood residents express concerns about drainage issues, possible developments

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Drainage problems in Buttonwood Harbour prompt residents to ask for action, but new development nearby brings new concerns.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Buttonwood Harbour resident Tom Tucker says drainage and flooding worries in his mid-island neighborhood are bad and getting worse. 

Then, he explained the problem by describing a common kitchen mishap, pointing to land-clearing work underway nearby as a potential trouble spot ahead. Nearby, an area between Buttonwood Drive and Triton Bend is instrumental in absorbing rainwater in a storm, residents say. 

“This is what happened in (Hurricane) Eta, picture yourself with a full glass of water over your full kitchen sink, and then go to try to put more water in it, right? It’s going to overflow,” Tucker said, adding that debris often clogs drain structures, and water levels in nearby Sarasota Bay can sometimes prevent a smooth flow without special valves designed to keep that from taking place.

Since early 2020, the town has paid more than $12,000 for three rounds of ditch maintenance in Buttonwood Harbour, aimed at keeping the water moving in the proper direction. Further assessments are planned in the 2022 town budget, which is nearing approval this month for a fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. 

“Shortly after Oct. 1, we do want to engage with our engineer to get that going,” Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said. “And the goal would be to move it along as quickly as possible.”

The assessments will help the town identify possible engineering options to address flooding and drainage issues in both the Buttonwood Harbour neighborhood and Sleepy Lagoon. Town Manager Tom Harmer said it is a similar process that town staff went through to determine the best approach to the Lyon’s Lane flooding issues, which is now moving into the construction phase.

In addition to Lyon’s Lane, town staff has worked on other flood-prone areas on the island over the past several years. That has included some drainage work and installation of WaStop valves in the Longbeach Village neighborhood, as well as the installation of new valves in the Sleepy Lagoon area.

Brownman said the town heard some of the loudest complaints in early July when particularly heavy summer storms struck.

“(It) was a highly unusual rain event,” Brownman said. “No storm systems are designed to (withstand) a 3- to 4-inch rain shower in two hours. That’s a lot of rain in a very short period of time.”

Buttonwood Harbour residents agree, saying garden-variety downpours can often wreak havoc. Concerns rise with the water over their ability to leave if needed or experience property damage.

Click or tap on the slider tool on the far right side of the above picture to compare and contrast what Buttonwood Drive looked like with flooding on July 29, 2021 and with clear conditions on Sept. 9, 2021.

“When you don’t even need a named storm like Eta to have problems, that keeps people in the neighborhood, that could flood homes, it just seems like something needs to be fixed,” Winslow Place resident Jason Wilson said.

Brownman said the town is in phase two of a four-phase sea level rise study to examine which neighborhoods face flooding issues or others that could in the near future. Later phases of the plan would identify solutions and implement them.

The Buttonwood Harbour neighborhood was developed in the 1960s. Projects have been undertaken in other neighborhoods in recent years, such as Longbeach Village and Lyons Lane to help mitigate not only stormwater runoff, but also so-called blue sky flooding from saltwater sources on higher-than-normal tidal swings.

Many of the older streets in the Longbeach Village and throughout the north end, including General Harris Street, where the Public Works building is located, were built barely above sea level, which means they’re more exposed to flooding. The town has been installing special backflow valves in some areas that keep rising tides from reversing the flow into streets and bubbling up out of drains.

There is also a concern among Buttonwood Harbour residents that proposed developments along Gulf of Mexico Drive and Buttonwood Drive could compound existing drainage issues.

Brista Homes has hired Payne’s Environmental Services for tree removal along Gulf of Mexico Drive and the 597 Buttonwood Drive. The contractor has worked on clearing invasive trees in the last week.

Brista Homes founder and President Mark Ursini said he’s hired Tampa-based Payne’s Environmental Services to perform tree removal along Gulf of Mexico Drive and the 597 Buttonwood Drive tract. However, the removal process is limited to only invasive tree species, which include Brazilian pepper trees and Australian pine trees. Neighborhood residents say the density of growth, invasive or not, on that land holds back runoff and allows it to more easily absorb into the soil. 

Ursini said he knows about the water problems and wants to make improvements as part of his development plan. 

“We’re also going to be talking with Public Works about the drainage situation there at Winslow (Place) and Buttonwood (Drive),” Ursini said. “We are well aware that’s critical to the neighborhood, and what we build we want to make sure we help the situation.”

Ursini plans to meet with the town for site plan approval, and a permit to remove the rest of the trees. He said his preliminary design calls for a 16,000-square-foot commercial plaza along GMD.

At 597 Buttonwood Drive, Ursini said he plans to put in two residential homes if the Nov. 2 referendum is approved by the town’s voters to allow residential density. If the referendum fails, Ursini said he plans to put in another commercial building. He prefers to build two residential homes.

“To me, it makes no sense to have a commercial building on that residential street, and the way that two homes would impact density is much less than an office building that has multiple businesses inside and continued traffic flow,” Ursini said.

Even if the referendum passes, the proposal to build two homes on Buttonwood Drive is subject to further town approval.

Tucker said he plans to vote against the referendum, and he would encourage other voters to do the same.

“(It’s) not because we’re against development or we’re opposed to having nice residential homes in our neighborhood, we’re concerned about the stormwater situation,” Tucker said.

Ursini insists he wants to be part of the solution.

“I’ve been upfront and working with the Buttonwood Harbour Association since the beginning,” Ursini said. “Obviously, I’d like their support toward the referendum, but also I’d like to improve the neighborhood drainage situation.”

In addition to hiring a civil engineer to work with the town, Ursini said he has formed a PAC called Better for Buttonwood, Best for Longboat Key. Ursini said the political action committee create postcards, mailings, a website and a social media campaign to advocate on behalf of the referendum.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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