After rebranding in 2016, LBK North pushes for major infrastructure improvements on the north end of the island.
About four years ago, Bob Appel was considering a bleak prospect as the Longbeach Association’s then-president: Whether to surrender a north Longboat Key condominium building to the sea.
Although Whitney Beach — south of Longbeach — wasn’t facing such a fate in 2013, Denton Crews, the association’s then-chairman of external affairs, brought a chilling message to his board: “That could be us.”
“When it’s just beach erosion, it’s one thing,” said former Town Commissioner Pat Zunz. “The fact that a whole building was being threatened and could be destroyed, brings the issue into a whole new light.”
The association did not end up losing the building because the town ultimately installed sand-saving structures called groins in front of the complex, in addition to new sand.
The need for beach renourishment and stabilization was one of the uniting issues that sewed together the North End Coalition of Property Owners, which Appel, Crews and Appel now oversee as LBK North. The state of the shoreline remains a primary concern of the group, made up of 14 associations of property owners and as many as 800 members, as it aims to create a broader coalition of north-end neighborhoods.
Following its primary goal of keeping all of those residents informed, LBK North plans a forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, at 6860 Longboat Drive S., piggybacking on a presentation on drainage Town Manager Dave Bullock had already planned. LBK North’s forum will include presentations from the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force on traffic and former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster Bob Bunting.
Following the name change last year, the group has outlined three major goals for 2017: promoting plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway, building support for a terminal groin on Beer Can Island and lobbying for solutions to traffic woes.
Round and round
A derelict gas station and an abandoned bank building don’t provide the most inviting gateway to Longboat Key’s north end.
“When you come over the bridge, what you see is important,” Zunz said. “And unfortunately, that’s what you see at the north end right now.”
Before voters struck down a request for more density to build a hotel near Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive, developer Floridays planned to provide right of way for a roundabout at the intersection.
While the future of those properties is now uncertain, LBK North hopes to persuade the town to undertake design and engineering for such a traffic feature — making it more likely to make its way into the Florida Department of Transportation’s budget. The town set aside $15,000 to study the feasibility of placing roundabouts at Gulf of Mexico Drive’s intersection with Broadway and Longboat Club Road in 2015, after which Town Commissioner Ed Zunz, Pat Zunz’s husband, pushed for both features to be installed at the same time.
The worry, Crews said, was that Ocean Properties, which owns the Resort at Longboat Key Club, had offered to assist in financing the south roundabout in April 2015.
“The south end has a prolific developer willing to help,” he said.
Pat Zunz said she could envision lighting and more inviting pedestrian crossings if such a traffic feature were installed at the north end, helping with pedestrian safety as a traffic-calming device and creating an inviting gateway to the island.
“A rotary I think is like a subway station: When you put it in, it generates all kinds of activity around it,” Crews said.
Groaning for a new groin
In 2014, as the town sought to place two adjustable groins on north end beaches and an impermeable groin on Beer Can Island, former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash fought the project in court, only to settle once Longboat officials agreed to hold off until 2019.
Now, LBK North is pushing for the town to start looking into how to move up that timeline.
“What a few years ago seemed like protecting a natural resource will shift to a question of what the town has to do save public and private property,” Crews said.
Beer Can serves as a natural groin protecting inland properties. But a catastrophic storm could breach and create a new inlet along those condominiums.
“The water could go right across the island,” Appel said.
Zunz hopes the town can meet with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine if the state can help.
“I think if we weren’t pushing it, 2019 would come and go and nothing would be done,” she said.
The trouble with traffic
Although traffic is an islandwide concern, LBK North hopes to unite voices in support of the Task Force’s short-term traffic solutions, which were laid out in a petition to be presented to the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization next week.
A proposal to manually control the light at 119th Street and Cortez Road — the corridor that leads to Longboat — is key.
“We will make calls to sign petitions, write letters and attend meetings, because being there and being vocal is very important,” Appel said. “It is true that the squeaky wheel gets a lot of attention.”
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