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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2010 7 years ago

MY VIEW: Panel trying to avoid blurred vision

by: Larry Grossman

I take issue with the Aug. 26 editorial, “Blurred Vision.”

As an attendee of the Vision Plan Subcommittee meetings, I believe Pat Zunz’s mission as chair of the subcommittee is to formulate a clear vision of where the town’s community would like to go to define its future.

A blurred vision is precisely what she is trying to avoid as a nonstarter. Today the town of Longboat Key has no vision other than what we are staring at the moment. Well, the moment changes, and so does the reality reminding us that we are not part of a still life painting. Beach today, gone tomorrow.

So the issue is how we as a community deal with change.

The comprehensive plan as written is a poor guide for dealing with change. Rather than being proactive, it is an overly generic, generalized (call it blurry) pablum of well-meaning intentions that overly relies on land development regulations, which reverses the proper role of a comp plan as the master of the zoning-regulation servant. Here the master is the zoning, and the comp plan is irrelevent.

Even the initial effort to devise a vision plan is stuck with a tautology of “Keep Longboat Longboat,” which sends us all in an endless circular path going nowhere and begging the question of who we are and where are we going.

When my wife and I first moved to Longboat Key in 2009, I saw the sorry state of the Whitney Plaza property (which was for sale) and asked the owner whether the town had a plan for the site — what were its aspirations, its vision. He said there was none. I went to the planning department and asked the same question and got the same answer. As a city planner, I found this astounding.

How could a buyer know what the town wanted in terms of the future possible redevelopment of this physically and functionally obsolescent property if the town itself didn’t know?

Good developers are attracted to communities that can articulate what it wants based on a realistic analysis of the market potentials, site suitability and community objectives. Attractive development results when it serves the financial needs of the investors and the community needs of the public.

Contrary to what The Longboat Observer editorial implies, it isn’t over-regulation that is the problem, it is under-imagination and the lack of land-use policies and clear objectives. Developers are risk adverse. They need to persuade a financial institution to give them money for development. If that institution sees that there isn’t a clear consensus on what the community wants for a site, then this creates risk.

This does not mean that the town needs to pre-design and engineer each potential redevelopment site. It does not mean that the town dictates that its our way or no way. It does mean that the town can explore what its objectives would be for potential re-use or redevelopment of this property or any other property that is deteriorated and in need of revitalization and lay out some options — if you will, a vision.

That vision should not be aimed at the stars but based on factual feasibility analysis coupled with community-based policy consensus.

My greatest concern with the vision plan is that it will not be bold and proactive enough to deal with the issues that this town needs to confront: a disappearing beach front, disappearing businesses and services and obsolete and deteriorated properties.

To continue to be an attractive place, Longboat Key doesn’t have to reinvent itself. It does have to reinvest in itself and establish a clear vision of how this can be done. Pat Zunz and George Szymanski and the rest of the members of the subcommittee know this and are working hard to recommend to the town how this could be brought about.

A note on South Beach: Please Google Barbara Capitman and her role in establishing a historic district on the National Register (1979), which was the spur to private investment with Federal Tax Credits for architectural preservation as the key to success of this world renown Art Deco district.

My wife’s firm, working with the architectural firm of Notter Feingold did the economic feasibility analysis for this effort. If left to the private market, South Beach may have been completely demolished, depriving everyone of the jewel that it is today.

Larry Grossman is a resident of Longboat Key and an urban planner who worked in the public sector in Alexandria, Va.

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