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Longboat Key Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 1 month ago

Longboat citizen group raises beach concerns

New town-resident task force hopes for solutions to beach problems such as trash, parking, noise.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

A group of Longboat Key residents have formed a community task force to address complaints about parking and public beach access, hoping the attention they focus on the issues can bring about change..

Under the direction of the Longboat Key North community organization, a few members of the  Longboat Key Task Force plan to meet with Town Manager Tom Harmer and staff soon.

Whitney Beach III Board Vice President Pat Kaufman and Gulf of Mexico Drive homeowner Paul Hylbert co-chair the group.

Kaufman and Hylbert wrote a July 31 letter to Harmer to raise their concerns about overflowing garbage at public beach access areas; illegal parking, which includes parking at the Whitney Beach Retail Center and cutting through private property; watercraft that could pose a danger to beachgoers; water taxis dropping people off at beaches while public parking is closed and excessive noise.

“While these issues are not new, they have intensified lately,” their letter read. “It is like that pent up demand for the outdoors as well as more stringent parking enforcement and larger fines on Anna Maria Island have driven more people to LBK.”

While most of the issues focus on the concerns of north-island residents, so mid-key residents are represented on the task force as well. 

The Longboat Key Task Force would also like to see the town increase its $30 parking citation, which is significantly lower when to many of the nearby beaches.

During a meeting on Aug. 6 via Zoom, task force members said they fine isn't enough of a deterrent.

“I’ve heard that people are like, ‘Oh, $30 to park? No big deal,’” group member Cyndi Seamon said.

In June, Police Chief Pete Cumming conceded the fine is “way out of date,” acknowledging any change would have to be made by elected officials. He said $50-$75 would fit with other nearby towns. 

Police generally can’t issue parking tickets on private property either. Plus, the town typically does not tow illegally-parked cars.

Seamon also suggested the town should reassess the number of parking spaces available once the public beach parking reopens.

Harmer's Aug. 10 executive order keeps the town's public beach parking closed until at least Aug. 24.

“How long ago was that done as far as saying that there’s X amount of spots at different beach access points?” Seamon said. “If you go to General Harris [Street], it says I think 50 spots are possible. If you haven’t driven down General Harris that beach access point at 6400 [Gulf of Mexico Drive], I don’t know where you get 50 spots unless you’re parking at Christ Church.”

Seamon wanted to know how the number of spots was calculated, how long ago that process took and whether the current number of spaces is accurate.

For now, the group is forming a plan on what specifically to present to Harmer and his staff when they meet on Aug. 17. It’s still unknown whether they will meet in person using social distancing or over Zoom because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaufman and Hylbert wrote that they hope to present Harmer some ideas and remedies for possible consideration by the Longboat Key Town Commission.

The town commission is scheduled to reconvene after its summer recess on Sept. 14. The commission could have a packed agenda in its first regular meeting since June 30.

On Aug. 6, a few members of the Longboat Key Task Force acknowledged it might be best to publicly speak at the town commission meeting, but to get a proposal on the agenda at a later date.

“I think [the agenda] is going to be really packed, and that’s why I suggested to Paul [Hylbert] and Pat [Kaufman] that you’re probably not going to get on the agenda, but you can always go for public comment as long as your topic is not on the agenda,” Seamon said.

The commission could consider a resident-parking proposal for Longbeach Village in September. In June, commissioners asked the town Planning, Zoning and Building Department to draft an ordinance that will provide an RPP program in the Village. 

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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