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Longboat Key Friday, Apr. 23, 2021 4 months ago

Commissioners discuss Town Center site at retreat

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Longboat Key leaders discussed several projects, including the future of the Town Center site and Bayfront Park Recreational Center.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Longboat Key Town Commission held its in-person retreat Friday at the Sea Place clubhouse to discuss long-term planning.

While commissioners couldn’t make any official votes, they did discuss 2022 initiatives and how they might align with budget priorities.

Here's a sample of what they discussed:

Town Center site

Last week, the Southwest Florida Water Management District approved a Town Center permit for a stormwater system based on the added load of potentially two building footprints on the land.

“So they factored that in and so we don’t have to redo the stormwater area when we add buildings down the road,” Harmer said.

Harmer and Mayor Ken Schneier estimated the town could begin hosting outdoor events at the Town Center site in about six months as work progresses on adding walkways with lighting, shade trees, a canopy, a bridge to the Public Tennis Center and a set of bathrooms.

Schneier said he and former District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly met with Ringling College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson on Thursday to discuss the Town Center plans. 

The mayor said he wanted to see whether Thompson and Ringling would be interested in rekindling a possible partnership with the town.

“He didn’t say yes, but [said] ‘I’m not going to say no. Some people on my staff would think that I’m crazy to re-enlist,’” Schneier said.

Thompson told the Observer in February a future partnership between the two parties is “not probable” after an initial partnership for a Town Center site fell apart in April 2019.

 Gulf of Mexico Drive crosswalks

The town has invited officials with the Florida Department of Transportation to speak before the Town Commission about proposed improvements to crosswalks along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The town and state are working to finalize a date.

Longboat Key has has six yellow-light-equipped crosswalks along Gulf of Mexico Drive. Harmer said FDOT is proposing additional crosswalks, though several commissioners have said they’d like to see red-light-equipped crosswalks installed similar to the ones built along U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota. However, the state has said those signals are designed for higher-traffic zones.

“[FDOT] said ‘even if we could put red ones on, do you want 12 stoplights on the island that turn red at the push of a button?’ [FDOT] doesn’t think we should,” Harmer said. “[The state thinks] we wouldn’t want that even if they could do it for us with their comments this past week.”

There are also ongoing discussions between the town and FDOT about adding roundabouts to GMD at Broadway and near General Harris Street, though no dates or financing plans in place.

The town is planning on having a representative from the Florida Department of Transportation speak before the Town Commission in the coming weeks.

One-county

For years, Longboat Key leaders have discussed  moving from operating in both Manatee and Sarasota counties to Sarasota County exclusively.

The topic came up again during a discussion about the structure of the town’s government.

Harmer estimated Manatee County would lose between $13 million and $14 million annually in tax revenue if Longboat Key left.

“What the state legislators have told us and me is that, ‘Hey, I’d be happy to support a one-county initiative and going into Sarasota County as long as you get Manatee County to agree,” Harmer said.  “That’s the challenge.”

Harmer said the town contributes about $25 million each year to Sarasota County.

In 2020, figures provided by the town show the Sarasota County side of the island had a tax base of about $4.19 billion and the Manatee County side had about $1.92 billion.

“We’re significant contributors to the school board,” Harmer said. “Home on the island, we have 70 students, but we are significant.

“Typically, our residents have always strongly supported school board initiatives, but that’s the issue. I think it really comes down to money.”

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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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