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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jun. 8, 2021 1 year ago

Longboat Key to take additional month to consider proposed sea turtle protections

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If passed, the proposed changes wouldn't take effect until 2022.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key’s Planning, Zoning and Building staff will continue revising proposed changes in the town's rules for sea turtle protection, aiming for a final vote on July 2, the Town Commission's last planned meeting before the summer break. 

Cyndi Seamon made a turtle nest in summer 2020. Photo Credit: Nat Kaemmerer

Commissioners talked about the rules for about 90 minutes on Monday before putting off the ordinance's final vote.  If passed, the changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2022 turtle season, which runs each year from May 1-Oct. 31.

Specifically, commissioners wanted the ordinance to clarify what specifically a “turtle-friendly light bulb” means. The proposed ordinance says they are bulbs that are certified by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or a bulb that produces only long-wavelength light, which is 560 nanometers or longer.

“I called Home Depot and Lowe’s to ask about turtle-friendly bulbs and got, ‘we have no idea what that is,’ ” At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop said. “Certainly, none of the local stores seem to know anything about turtle-friendly bulbs.”

Commissioners acknowledged further education is needed to make sure beachfront properties comply with the proposed changes.

Commissioners also wanted to clarify how the new rules would apply to new construction or a substantial redevelopment of a property. 

The town’s proposals include requiring exterior sources of artificial light visible from the beach to be turtle-friendly bulbs, prohibiting beach furniture to be within 5 feet of marked marine turtle nests, adding language to explain the permitting review process, adding a lighting inspection process for new developments, allowing the use of permitted motorized vehicles to retrieve beach furniture on the beach, prohibiting temporary lights such as lanterns or tiki torches and nightly storage of portable recreational equipment.

In May, several people who operate Gulf-front resorts expressed their concerns about the costs of the proposed turtle-rule changes.

Town staff initially considered window tinting as a potential resolution to fix beachfront-lighting issues. However, it cost too much to switch from 45% of light transition to 15%.

The town is proposing to change its marine life protections because of its high number of turtle disorientations compared to nearby areas, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data.

Referendums

The Town Commission decided to move forward with a density-change referendum for 597 Buttonwood Drive. The proposal seeks to convert an office-institutional property to residential use for two homes that would face Buttonwood Drive.

The Longboat Key Town Commission voted 4-3 against a request for referendum for the vacant bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Before the measure can appear before voters in November, commissioners are set to have a second reading on the proposal on July 2.

If voters were to approve the Buttonwood proposal in November, the developers would still be subject to several approvals before the Town Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board before any kind of construction could start.

The commission voted 4-3 against a request for a referendum for the vacant bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The proposal submitted by Joel Freedman called for the redevelopment of the building into a two-story residential condo with up to four units.

Commissioners Penny Gold, Debra Williams, BJ Bishop and Sherry Dominick voted against it. Mayor Ken Schneier, Vice Mayor Mike Haycock and District 5 Commissioner Maureen Merrigan voted for it.

Freedman submitted the request on behalf of Anthony and Roxanne Marterie.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said Freedman won’t have enough time to collect 10% of Longboat Key voters’ signatures to override the commission and appear on the November 2021 ballot.

“Even if you get the signatures, the commission would still have to approve the language for the Supervisor of Elections, and there won’t be enough time to get it to them in time for November,” Harmer said.

Harmer said Freeman could look to collect the signatures for the proposal to appear on the ballot in an subsequent election after November 2021.

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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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