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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012 5 years ago

Don't give up; lessons learned


It’s probably human nature to engage in that old cliche, “Monday morning quarterbacking” — second-guessing how and why your team lost.

You can bet a lot of that occurred last week in the wake of the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling that affirmed a lower court’s quashing of the Longboat Key Town Commission’s approval of the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed $400 million expansion and redevelopment plan.

It does little good at this point to lay blame on anyone for this outcome. Obviously, the legal strategy the Key Club and its lawyers employed didn’t work. They believed — along with the town attorney — the Town Commission had the authority to modify town codes in a way that would clarify what everyone would say were vague and ambiguous codes; and modify them to achieve what the commissioners (and majority of Longboaters) wanted — to allow a property owner the right of use of his property, in this case a bigger, better Longboat Key Club and Resort.

The opposition believed otherwise. It opposed the size and scale of the Key Club’s plans, and the path to thwart it was to challenge the process.

The opposition will argue in perpetuity this was an issue about the rule of law — one party trying to change the rules at the expense of another. But when you really cut through all of the legal jungle, a small group of the Key Club’s neighbors simply did not want to see the Key Club build what it proposed.

In the end, you never know how a judge or jury will rule. The winners in this instance, the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, likely will say the law was clear from the start. But were that so, the two court decisions likely would not have taken as long as they did to render, and this entire process would not have required more than three years and the millions of dollars each side spent on legal fees and consultants.

Regardless, rather than the Key Club and town attorney engage in shouldas — should have done this, should have done that — or have the victors engage in we-told-you-so’s, it’s best to accept that the courts’ decisions are what they are. Move on; go forward.

Now the logical question is: Where do the losing sides go from here?

As of this writing, Key Club officials were still discussing options. For the sake of Longboat Key’s future, we hope the Key Club’s New York owners don’t give up. Longboat Key needs the Key Club to grow and improve its facilities. It’s an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind property and asset, and it should remain a showcase resort for this region — it’s the only one Greater Sarasota has!

It would be understandable if New York-based Loeb Partners, managing partner of the Key Club, gives up. You can imagine how deflated and frustrated its executives feel after spending more than three years and more than $2 million on architects, planners, consultants and lawyers. As we have often said, money flows where it is welcome. So you have to believe the Key Club’s owners may be discussing: What’s the point of continuing the fight? There are thousands of other investments that would welcome Loeb Partners’ capital more so than Longboat Key. Who wants to be neighbors with people who believe it’s OK for them to build and live in 12-story beachfront condominiums but not OK for you to do likewise?

Longboaters should hope they don’t rue this day as the turning point that placed the Key on a long, costly, downward spin. If town commissioners still want what most Longboaters want, it may be wise for them to be showing Loeb Partners (and its potential new partner, Ocean Properties) some love, support and encouragement.

Meanwhile, the courts’ rulings could and should prompt town officials to say that, while they go forward, they also should look back for lessons. What could have, should have been done differently to avoid the monumental confrontation that occurred? What needs to change?

Here’s a start: As we remember the history of the Key Club’s application process, the club’s lawyers and management encountered what every developer and contractor has confronted for the past 25 years on Longboat Key. The town staff lacked this one, essential approach: Let us help you figure out what it will take to get you where you want to go as long as it’s within the confines of the law.

The opening line should always be: “How can we help?” That would have saved so much of the past three years of grief and money for all sides.

+ Parking tickets galore
Mention the word “parking” to Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, and you’re likely to see flames and smoke spewing from her eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

Talk about a hot subject.

In recent months, ever since the geniuses at Sarasota City Hall pulled the parking meters from downtown Sarasota, St. Armands Circle has become parking hell. And Corrigan has felt much of hell’s heat.

Shoppers who have been ticketed have thrown parking tickets in her face. They have called her on the phone and called her and the city of Sarasota nasty, unprintable names in loud, rude tones. And they have sent her sizzling emails, railing against the city’s ridiculous parking policies.

Ever since the parking-meter fiasco, the Sarasota City Commission supported a get-tough policy on parking all over the city to make up for lost funds from the meters. On St. Armands Circle, this is how that policy has been translated:

If a portion of your car is parked outside of the rectangular parking boxes — say your front wheels are on the lines — bam! You get a parking ticket. If the rear fin of your car is hanging outside of the lines because you’re not the greatest parallel parker — bam! You get a ticket.

City cops have been writing tickets left and right for these minor, minor infractions.

The merchants are in an uproar.

So they asked Mayor Suzanne Atwell and the city’s parking director, Mark Lyons, to attend a Circle Association board meeting to hear first-hand how this policy is working. Talk about a successful “sales prevention program,” this one is working.

Atwell vowed to take action and to get the policy relaxed on St. Armands. She acknowledged: One size parking policy does not fit all.

That was a month ago.

And how has this issue been addressed? City staffers recently installed more (yes, more) signs on St. Armands Circle, instructing motorists to “park in designated parking spaces.”


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