Six men face off in three races.
The Longboat Observer asked the candidates in contested races for Town Commission to answer questions about key topics. Here are their responses:
What would do you, if you were in charge, to mitigate seasonal traffic at each end of the island?
Ken Schneier: On LBK, roundabouts at LBK Club Road and Broadway Street are already planned and more turn lanes along GMD should be considered. As most traffic issues originate off-island, I would continue the commission's good work and that of the Barrier Island Traffic Study to encourage state and local authorities to fix the light at City Island, speed pedestrian traffic at St. Armands, solve the U.S. 41-Ringling backlog, limit density downtown, and regulate traffic at Cortez Bridge and signals east of Cortez.
John Weber: 1.: Stop the overdevelopment of our island; 2. Institute smart bridge openings. Bridge openings during season scheduled every two hours and left open twice as long. (Boaters adjust your schedules) No more on-demand openings/single vessel passages; 3. Work with FDOT to assess the feasibility of nonresident tolls to decrease "cut through" traffic on GMD and simultaneously generate revenue; 4. Work with the Police Departments of Sarasota and Bradenton Beach to monitor traffic levels and step in to manually (when needed) direct the smooth flow of traffic through their municipalities which contribute to backups leaving LBK.
Ed Zunz: North End: The problem at Cortez and 19th Street is now being remedied. The type of replacement bridge is not yet finalized, hopefully a fixed span four-lane bridge, but two lanes are more likely. The short length of the northbound right turn lane at the Cortez traffic light is a major problem. There is no way to extend it without knocking down buildings. Once four or five northbound cars stop, the right turn lane cannot be accessed and traffic backs up for miles. Minor relief might be achieved by tinkering with the timing of the traffic light or having a traffic cop take charge. South End: St. Armands Circle is an irritant. The major, major problem is at U.S. 41. The proposed complex two-lane traffic circle appears unsafe and inefficient. The best solution might be three left turn lanes extending all the way to Fruitville. Work on that will soon start for a trial period. Mainland parking lots and shuttles? Gondolas?
Randy Langley: I do not believe there is much we, Longboat Key, can do to alleviate traffic other than not add density that could slightly increase the traffic problem during season. My father and uncle owned on the island in the 1970s. My father sold his condo after experiencing the traffic during the first winter of ownership. My uncle chose to keep his home on the gulf and rent it during season. A few small solutions would be to add a center turn lane on the south end of the Island to allow left turns into the neighborhoods on the bayside without stopping southbound traffic. Another small fix would be to create areas for the bus and trolley to pull off GMD while loading and unloading. Limiting bridge openings on both ends could be helpful.
Irwin Pastor: Recognizing that FDOT traffic studies verify that most of LBK traffic issues originate off island necessitates a regional approach by all the stakeholders of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The LBK Commission is presently considering roundabouts at the LBK Club Road and Broadway along with more turn lanes to move traffic flow more evenly and alleviate backup. FDOT, Sarasota County, Manatee County and the municipalities are specifically looking at traffic lights, roundabouts, directional signs, lanes and bridges on the north barrier islands, various methods of mitigating traffic at St. Armand's Circle, and addressing U.S. 41-Tamiami Trail-Fruitville Road traffic congestion.
Jack Wilson: Strangulation at each end of our island can be eliminated by building a series of roads, tunnels, bridges and causeways from the foot of State Road 70 across Sarasota Bay to the Whitney Beach area. Current and planned mainland residential developments will be huge, and destroy the appeal of our lovely island community. We must look further ahead and not let this happen. Some people say please stop promoting the bridge idea. We can't afford the taxes! Well, my research says there will be over 26,000 residential units built north and south of LBK in the next several years. The result will be a huge decline in LBK property values when people realize our beautiful island is no longer appealing as a real estate investment.
What would you like to see the town do about beach nourishment and erosion management, specifically around Greer Island?
Schneier: Maintaining our beaches is a top priority. The current plan to add three more groins and fill south of Greer Island is a great next step. We should press Manatee County — Greer Island's owner — to pay its fair share. Longer term, we need to continue the search for high quality sand, including creative dredging opportunities close to home, as well as new engineering approaches.
Weber: The commission already approved permitting for five groins. Option 4 ("The Comprehensive Plan") which calls for a total of five rock groins and 45,000 cubic feet of sand appears to be the smartest plan for the future at the most effective cost. We also need to pursue a financial contribution from Manatee County, which owns the park on Greer Island, to offset LBK's expense in securing this area from further expected erosion. The solutions that we endeavor should be long term, not short term.
Zunz: A plan exists for one, two or three stone jetties north of the two existing permeable groins at the cost of $3 million, $6 million or $9 million, respectively. Most of that cost is to obtain, ship and place the sand. We are trying to get Manatee County to pay a fair share but they have always refused us in the past. (See item 6)
Langley: I understand the town has paid for more than one study. Solution could be to choose the most appropriate and execute that plan.
Pastor: To continue the policy of ensuring the long term Beach Financing and Planning through issuing bonds is essential in protecting and maintaining high property values associated with LBK properties. Specifically, I am supportive and open to all options which will protect the safety, health and welfare of the residents in the north end of the island by adding three or more grins and securing Greer Island.
Wilson: The town has done great work on beach nourishment & erosion management. The problem around Greer Island is that we need to get expert opinions on whether a series of well-placed groins would cure this problem.
If the development doesn’t start on the site of the former Colony before its nonconforming status is revoked, what will you do?
Schneier: As a member of the Planning and Zoning Board, I am restricted on my comments directly related to the Colony. Generally speaking: our Board and the Commission should exercise their authority under our Code, including the Commission's discretion to permit or withhold tourism pool units, in order to ensure that the "new Colony" is a proportionate and appropriate addition to our island. We should also finish the update to our zoning code, so that sure future redevelopers know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable on LBK.
Weber: I highly doubt that development will be significantly delayed because of the community's justified insistence that developers adhere to LBK's zoning laws. Unicorp is looking to break ground in late 2018. I am confident that is going to occur.
Zunz: A pending quasi-judicial proceeding should reach the Commission on March 5. We will then hear the applicant's full presentation, have recommendations of staff and P&Z, hear the public and, only then, be able to formulate our final thoughts.
Pastor: The hypothetical question of revoking the nonconforming status of the former Colony is pretty much mute since the last LBK Town Resolution 2016-18 granting extension to June 30, 2018 has subsequently been extended by Gubernatorial State Emergency Declarations and Operational Law [ Florida Statutes 252.363 through June 28, 2020. Since the Colony Development is a current and on going Quasi-Judical Issue it restricts me as a Commissioner from giving an opinion until the recommendations from the Planning and Zoning Board and the LBK Staff are completed. At the present time both the LBK Staff and the Planning and Zoning Board recognize the current zoning codes are counter intuitive and confusing and needs to be revised to address future nonconforming issues.
Wilson: I would not let that happen. My view is that we have a skilled organization which has been very cooperative in adjusting development plans to suit the residents of LBK. I would put together a small committee, lock them in a room with the developer and not let them out until they have achieved a compromise that will allow Mr. Whittall's five-star project to replace the rat-infested property that we have allowed to happen after more than a decade of wasted effort.
What’s your stance on whether Longboat taxpayers should contribute anything more to the development of the Arts, Cultural and Education Center than the land the residents already funded to purchase?
Schneier: I understand, and hope, that the Ringling Foundation will fund construction of the Town Center project. In any event, between undergrounding and the worthy firehouse projects, LBK taxpayers have a full plate. Should additional funds prove necessary, I would like to see the commitment of private resources to the project, both to share the burden and to inject business discipline into the undertaking. Having said that, we must do everything necessary to ensure the result is excellent.
Weber: This is a question best answered by the voters of LBK. We need to propose a referendum that allows the electorate to decide what levels (if any) the future funding will take.
Zunz: There is little likelihood of substantial additional cost to the town. Ringling should be putting in about $1 million and no construction work is planned until the LBK Foundation (my wife is an active board member) raises enough donation money to cover the construction costs.
Langley: It would be nice if residents who have an interest in the arts would contribute to the additional costs from this point after the initial taxpayer investment in purchasing the land.
Pastor: The land that was contributed to the Town Center Project was not paid for by taxpayer dollars but were allocated by and generated by developers impact fees that are restricted to allocation for land usages for parks, recreation and public accesses. The concept of developing an Art, Cultural and Educational Center as part of a Town Center has always been considered by the commission as a strategic partnership in which private enterprises and not-for-profit community funding through legal contractual agreements would be responsible for the funding.
Wilson: My understanding is that the Ringling College organization is developing the Arts, Cultural and Education Center on land LBK taxpayers have purchased. My view is that we should have negotiated a better cost-sharing deal on the land purchase, but that is done. Now the Center's revenue should be split 50/50 between Ringling and the town of Longboat Key.
What steps, if any, should the town take to protect the north end from tidal flooding?
Schneier: In my last meeting with Dave Bullock before his retirement, I asked him what Longboat Key issue keeps him up at night. He said, "Rising sea levels, especially at the north end." Even now, streets there flood at high tide without rain. Existing pumps and valves designed to solve this problem have not been effective, and the value of new and replacements pumps (being tested on Anna Maria Island) remains to be seen. This problem is not going away and will likely migrate down the island; like preserving our beaches, solving it must be an urgent priority.
Weber: The Public Works Department is in the process of assessing where to place a new and improved device called a Wastop InLine Check valve that has been proven effective on Anna Maria Island and in other communities with similar flooding problems. These valves are the latest and hopefully, the greatest, in flood control technology. We need to install the valves and then assess their performance. I have a great deal of confidence that these valves will work well.
Zunz: I am in regular contact with Mr. Brownman about proceeding with necessary repairs to the piping system and installing a new type of valve that has been effective on Anna Maria and elsewhere. The valves are costly but can be installed by our public works people. They will not eliminate flooding problems, but should make them less severe and quicker to abate.
Langley: I am interested to see if the new valves are going to be effective against the rising tides. Understanding the island is extremely close to sea level, not much we can do but deal with it. Keeping the drains and gutters clean is and should remain priority for the town staff.
Pastor: As the LBK representative for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Project, whose primary mission is the water management of Sarasota Bay, there is an on going focus and concerns regarding present tidal flooding and future rising sea level for Sarasota Bay. As a commission, there is consensus to protect the north end of the LBK island. Current tidal flooding has compromised our existing pumps and valves and the town is researching new technology to replace the current pumps and valves. Building a series of perhaps three groins to mitigate beach erosion and securing Greer Island from a natural disaster such as a hurricane is essential. We as a commission are requesting funding participation from Manatee County.
Wilson: That issue should be coupled with solutions recommended under Question 2.
What is your position on moving the county boundary so Longboat Key is situated entirely in either Sarasota County or Manatee County?
Schneier: Consolidating our community into Sarasota County will have enormous benefits beyond tax savings for current Manatee residents. However, to be successful, the process must be handled in a smart and deliberate manner and must include the cultivation of key relationships in the state Legislature and persistence from Longboat Key staff and voters.
Weber: For LBK residents currently residing in Manatee County, this is potentially good news. They would receive a tax reduction and not be paying taxes to Manatee County while not receiving any additional services for their tax dollar. For LBK in general, it represents an influx of additional tax revenue. Keep in mind that in order to make this a reality, the state Legislature would have to approve a bill on the change, which is not a guarantee.
Zunz: There are strong reasons to be solely in Sarasota County. Exploration is already taking place, but no final result is likely in the next few years, largely for political reasons. LBK properties in Manatee County would derive real property tax relief and administrative efficiencies would be achievable. Sarasota County has been easier to work with and willing to give back to LBK, in appreciation for the benefits they receive from us. For the past few years we have been unable to schedule joint commission meetings with Manatee County, such as we have annually with Sarasota County. (A joint meeting was scheduled for Feb. 27 with Manatee County.)
Langley: I am in favor of the change as long as Manatee County school system gets the offset in the tax revenue. In an article by David Bullock, property taxes go down for properties now in Manatee and services are increased. Additionally, it has been said that the island could possibly get an Urgent Care Center from Sarasota Memorial Hospital in exchange for the additional $1.6 million the hospital would be receiving. An Urgent Care Center located mid island with an emergency helicopter pad would be great for the island residents.
Pastor: It's in the best interest for overall valuation of property that LBK be entirely within Sarasota County beside the obvious tax savings of $2.6 million for LBK Manatee taxpayers. Sarasota County because of geography and similarities in demography is in a better position to reinvest and supply higher levels of services for all LBK residents. Your commission intends to have a nonbinding referendum for all LBK taxpayers on this issue, but the ultimate decision for changing the county lines rest in Tallahassee. Sarasota County and Manatee County will have to geographically and economically negotiate terms that are equally beneficial and in the best overall economic interest of the Sarasota-Manatee region.
Wilson: My understanding is that our town does not have authority to make this happen. However, I see it as a no brainer. LBK should and must be entirely located in Sarasota County.
What’s one thing the commission does now that you think could be done better or differently?
Schneier: I think the commission does a great job. For each hour in public view, commissioners spend many hours preparing and learning all that's needed to run our town. Sometimes I may wish they could move a bit more quickly, but then I'm only 65.
Weber: The commission tends to overanalyze (I have seen it often in Town Commission meetings.) More free thinking outside of the confines of "this is how we always did it" mind sets will bring more innovation. More innovation will lead to improvements in the methods in which we provide services to residents, while simultaneously keeping our tax rates steady or even dropping them.
Zunz: It would be more efficient to convert commissioner terms from three, two-year terms to two, three-year terms. Unless a candidate has long been attending commission meetings on a regular basis, it takes significant time to get up to speed for the job. By then re-election may be shortly ahead. No one would have to run for re-election more than once. Public input would be welcome because term change remains under consideration by the commission.
Langley: The current commission could be more open, transparent and disseminate details of proposed and pending issues to the voting public.
Pastor: I believe and know from my experience of serving twice as a town of Longboat Key commissioner that the present LBK election ordinances for town commissioners would be better served if elected commissioners terms of services was extended to a three year term. Like any freshman, year one is becoming familiar with the job and the many nuances associated with governing. Year two, the electors will reap the contributions of benefits from a more seasoned and productive public servant. Therefore, an elected commissioner will serve the LBK community better if in the second term the concentration is solely governance versus campaigning, and the commission would benefit by sustainable continuity in present and future policy decisions.
Wilson: The commission moans about the traffic chaos north and south of our Island. We need an inspired team to negotiate a deal with federal, state, county and town authorities to make a roadway and bridge system as outlined in question 1 a superb reality.
How would you grade the way the town administration and Town Commission have managed the town’s budget — A to F — and why?
Schneier: I have not done a comprehensive budget study, but for my nine years here, I would give an A. Why? Because my taxes have gone down while services have improved; and we have undertaken projects to further improve our island. We have a great town and seem to live within our means. But this is a case where vigilance is the price of success.
Weber: I would grade them both an A. Our level of services remains preserved. Our operating budgets have remained flat. There has been no increase in millage and our fund balance remains adequate. All solid news.
Zunz: We have had a very competent town manager and staff doing awesome work in compiling tentative budgets and having interim and final meetings with the Commission in order to receive direction, final changes and adoption. This is a complex and painstaking process. I would give an A rating to the quality of the final product during my two years on the Commission.
Langley: At this point, I do not have enough information to formulate an opinion.
Pastor: As the Chair for the LBK Finance and Investment Committee, I would give the Finance Department an A+ on the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for its transparency, details. and accuracy. Both the Town Administration and the Commission for execution also should receive an A+ for achieving all of the following goals: No increase of Millage Rates, Operating Budget Flat, Maintaining and Supporting a 5 Year Capital Plan, and Maintaining a minimum 90 Days of Fund Balance for Emergency Needs.
Wilson: The budget management grade I would bestow on the town is A. I believe they have been extremely aware of their responsibility, albeit they have got mired in the weeds from time to time.
What’s your vision for Longboat Key? If you were king and money wasn’t an object, what would you change on the island?
Schneier: Longboat Key is a special place, perhaps a perfect place. Except for improving traffic flow, I would not change it. But time brings changes to which we must adapt and for which we should prepare.
Weber: I would put a moratorium on all further commercial development on this island. If we continue to allow development tha,t in turn, brings more cars and trucks on to the island, we are guaranteed to effectively "kill the goose that laid the golden egg." LBK has a bad reputation when it comes to seasonal traffic. Why would we want to make a bad situation even worse? My candidacy remains all about smart growth, innovative ideas and respecting the will of the electorate.
Zunz: Rising sea levels will eventually have a catastrophic impact on our beloved, low elevation, barrier island. Many of us may not be here to see its full effects but we owe a duty to our successors to launch a serious study of how we can begin now to implement measures to preserve Longboat Key. It will not be cheap, it will not be easy, but it is time to get started.
Langley: Other than the traffic and the extremely low elevations that cause flooding, I love the island just the way it is.
Pastor: My vision for Longboat Key and for the greater good and future of the Sarasota-Manatee region would be to successfully complete my initiative of the town of Longboat Key being served entirely by Sarasota County.
Wilson: My change for LBK as king would be a beautiful private road and bridge system from the foot of State Road 70 to the Whitney Beach area.
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