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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2009 8 years ago

Our View


From the time the discussions began many years ago about installing a sidewalk on the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive, the wisdom of such a measure, in our view, was suspect.

Now that the sidewalk is being built, all of the doubts are being confirmed.

The sidewalk outside the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort looks odd, awkward and out of place.

What’s worse, it’s a death strip.

This is what happens when renters (the state) control property. The care level is not nearly as high as when the ownership of property is in private hands.

Here’s the story:

When discussions began about installing sidewalks the length of the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive about five years ago, one of the issues that arose was landscaping. As we all know, much of the Key’s signature, lush landscaping along Gulf of Mexico Drive fronts many of the Key’s beachfront condominiums. But because the town and state extend the right of way far beyond the actual width of Gulf of Mexico Drive, much of that landscaping became susceptible to the whims and decisions of the Florida Department of Transportation, which controls Gulf of Mexico Drive.

In the town’s original plans to install a west-side sidewalk, it envisioned placing more of a meandering-like sidewalk close to the property lines. Town officials recognized this could result in the removal of some landscaping at locations such as the Colony, but we’re told town officials intended to be as judicious as they could to minimize the loss of our lush looks.

Knowing that property owners along the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive take great care and expense in their landscaping, town officials wanted to be careful how the sidewalk turned out. When the town put out a request for bids to build the sidewalks, back when the economy was strong in 2005, the town would have controlled and managed the sidewalk’s installation. But it received no bidders.

The project was put on hold until recently, when state put out bids again. This time the contractors were desperate for work. There were plenty of bids.

One of the stipulations of the state funding, however, is FDOT would manage and control the design and construction.

Before FDOT began, town officials requested the state and its contractors try to preserve as much landscaping as they could.

Well, give FDOT an “A” for preserving landscaping, but in the process, it appears to have erred too far the other way in a few spots — especially in front of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
Just north of the Colony entrance, you’ll see the sidewalk is about a foot away in from Gulf of Mexico Drive pavement. This creates three issues in particular:

• The first is safety. Anyone with common sense would avoid walking on any sidewalk that puts you that close to 45-mph traffic, especially if you’re pushing a baby stroller and walking with a toddler. This is a serious danger zone.

• Another is esthetic. With the sidewalk as close as it is to Gulf of Mexico Drive, parts of that stretch of dirt will be all but impossible to plant any kind of green buffer between the sidewalk and Gulf of Mexico Drive. Indeed, we can envision that skinny strip becoming a magnet for weeds. Who will tend it? The state?

• The third: We’re now stuck with an awkward stretch of sidewalk. No doubt, we’ll all grow accustomed to it.
But it will become a piece of Longboat lore and story-telling. Your tax dollars at work.

We knew from the outset that installing sidewalks on the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive really wasn’t needed. At the time, commissioners and others talked about the need to have the west-side sidewalk for mothers and their toddlers and strollers.

But this is emblematic of how we use government in this nation: Address an exception to the rule by spending a lot of money at the expense of the many for the sake of the few.

And what do you get? Things you wouldn’t do if it were your own money.

+ The budget game
No one likes to be told by two guys off the street that his work is wrong and that the two guys know how to do it better.

We hear that sort of thing all the time — readers who call to bemoan our stories or coverage and who tell us they know journalism because they wrote for their high-school newspapers. It just doesn’t sit well.

So we understand the reluctance of Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and Finance Director Tom Kelley to be less than enthusiastic when Longboat Key residents Lenny Landau and Phillip Younger say they found places to save $592,000 in the town’s annual expenses — without adversely affecting services.

Landau and Younger aren’t just two busy-body schmucks off the street. Successful executives for General Electric and Delta Airlines, respectively, they know finance, they know budgets and they know how to analyze data.

So when they come to Town Hall as Longboat Key taxpayers in the spirit of trying to help save taxpayers’ money — specifically $600,000 — you’d think the mayor and fellow commissioners would embrace these two tax-paying citizens. Or at least hear them out.

To Landau’s chagrin, Mayor Lee Rothenberg initially told Landau he would have only three minutes at the podium to explain how he and Younger analyzed the town’s $14 million budget and arrived at their conclusion. Talk about a slap in the face.

Thankfully, the commission majority recognized the faux pas and gave Landau and Younger their due.
St. Denis and Kelley aren’t wrong with their budget. The commission, however, should be open to meaningful input. It’s progress that they listened.



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