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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2010 7 years ago

Our View: Blame game


It’s Tuesday, June 15, one day after the Longboat Key Town Commission likely killed the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s renovation and expansion plan, and it’s a good bet many Longboaters are still in a swoon, swirling, dazed and … well, P-Oed.

The commissioners, as they often do, lost sight of what they were to be doing — all, except Vice Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioner Hal Lenobel — and they voted on the details.

We had a retired lawyer, accountants, mediator, and engineer all trying to design and redesign on the final deadline a $400 million project on which some of the best architects and engineers in the hospitality- and luxury-development industries worked for more than two years. And our guys and gal thought they could make it better.

As Commissioner Siekmann put it Monday: He said he has always had a problem with residential units being proposed on the north side of Longboat Club Road. That was a detail that appeared to be his break point.

Let’s stop on that point for an aside. Monday afternoon, while still trying to absorb this bad dream, Key Club General Manager Michael Welly said: “I’ve been pitching this to the town for three years, and this is the first time we heard — today — from the town they didn’t want residential on the north parcel.”

Now back to the details, that is, losing sight of the big picture and focusing too much on the details: After Siekmann’s hangup with the condominiums proposed on the north parcel of Longboat Club Road, one of the Town Commission heroes in this process, Commissioner Jim Brown countered: “I thought this was always supposed to be a residential community, and we’re talking about eliminating residential. What are we doing?”

Brown, throughout the final steps of this process, always remained (with Lenobel) focused on the bigger picture. It was not the commission’s job to design and evaluate the design, Brown reminded his colleagues repeatedly. The commission’s job was to measure whether the project passed the test that we referred to last week — Goal 1 in the land-use section of the Longboat Key Comprehensive Plan:

“To preserve and enhance the character of the town of Longboat Key by the following: 1) ensuring that the location, density, intensity and character of land uses are responsive to the social and economic needs of the community and are consistent with the support capabilities of the natural and manmade systems; and, 2) maintaining an environment that is conducive to the health, safety, welfare, and property values of the community.”

Over and out.

Alas, they niggled. And worse. It was quite the scene when Mayor Spoll took his turn to comment. Turns out, like Siekmann, one thing has irked him throughout this process as well, and it was time to bring it up.
Spoll believes Longboat Key taxpayers would be giving the Key Club a gift because the Key Club would not have to finance the purchase of the land for their project — unlike many developers.

“The price of the land is zero,” Spoll said. “And there should be a clear understanding of the value of this gift.”

Spoll went on to say he wanted an appraisal conducted on the land to put a value on “the gift.”

And then he said: “If we were to restore the condos on the golf course (in other words, let the Key Club build condos on the north parcel) and further invade the open space (that’s right, he said invade), it would seem consistent with me to further raise the fee.”

The fee to which he was referring, was a $4 million fee the town proposed to extract from the Key Club for approval to build.

Never mind that the town’s attorney agreed with the Key Club’s attorney that the Key Club, because of a prior agreement between the Arivda Corp. and the town, is not obligated to pay the town’s open-space fee.
Spoll believes the town is entitled, and the Key Club should not benefit because it owns its land.

So there it is. That saying is right! The devil certainly is in the details.

Spoll thinks the Key Club owes the town because it owns its land free and clear. Never mind all the taxes the Key Club and its owners have paid over the past 30 years to the town. Unless we missed it, not once did we hear a town commissioner thank the Key Club for being this town’s best corporate citizen.

At this point, no one knows what the end of this story is. Key Club officials are consulting with their owners in New York and London. Michael Welly has warned repeatedly their appetite for continuing this agony is diminishing, if not diminished altogether. We’ll soon find out.

Commissioner Lynn Larson, unclear over what she was voting on and feeling as though this outcome is on her hands, is rationalizing that even if she had voted to defeat Spoll’s proposed ordinance, her fellow commissioners would have killed the Key Club’s project anyway.

We’ll probably never know.

This we will know: This was a historic vote, likely to become a watershed moment in the town’s life. It will send a message far and wide — that if you’re a developer, take your money elsewhere; it’s not welcome here.

We know this, too: It will be difficult for the team that operates the Key Club and Resort to feel warm, fuzzy and as generous to the town as it has been.

If this marks the death of the Key Club project, no one is better off — not even the “againners” behind the gates. We all lose.

+ Defining test for Gov. Crist
Increasing stories of bureaucratic bungling — should we be surprised? — are spreading like tar balls in the Deepwater Horizon oil spoil.

Preventing this in Florida will become the defining legacy in Gov. Charlie Crist’s term.

If Crist is truly the people’s governor, he will live up to his words: “I am focused on doing everything humanly possible to prepare and protect our state from the potentially devastating affects (sic) of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

To that end, Crist has been active. Among other things, he has declared a state of emergency in all of the coastal counties along the coast, allowing all state, county and local government agencies the authority to waive or deviate from statutes, rules, ordinances or orders as needed to deal with the emergency. He activated the state’s emergency operations center. And he formed a Gulf Oil Spill Reconomic Recovery Task Force, 15 government and business representatives charged with, among other things, coordinating government efforts to help businesses, monitoring BP’s efforts in providing financial relief and creating a marketing plan to help Florida tourism businesses.

All well and good. But here’s what Floridians want, or what they don’t want: They don’t want what they’re seeing in the Panhandle — oil coming ashore.

For once, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was right: Florida must prepare now and mobilize an overwhelming force to keep the oil from closing in any farther on its shores. As part of that, Crist should be communicating daily with the media the steps he is taking. He needs to show tangible evidence and assure Floridians that he can do what others so far have not: Prove that government leaders can do what they always profess: lead effectively.



As of June 14, here are some facts of the oil spill and its effects on Florida from the Florida command center:

• There is no planned use of dispersants in Florida waters.

 • A large plume of weathered oil has been detected nine miles south of Pensacola Pass. The plume is two miles wide and goes south for 40 miles.

• An additional plume of non-weathered oil is three miles south of Pensacola Pass.

• On June 12, dime-size to 5-inch  tar balls and tar patties were found in areas from the Alabama/Florida state line east to Walton County. Cleanup teams continue to be on scene.

• 375 vessels are registered in Florida for the Vessels of Opportunity program.

• 341 Qualified Community Responders are actively working cleanup efforts in the Panhandle.  
• According to NOAA, the oil plume remains 258 miles from St. Petersburg.

• To volunteer for cleanup efforts, go to and click “Register to Help.”

• BP has issued a $75 million to Florida for booming, a national tourism advertising campaign and the state’s preparedness and response efforts.   

• BP claims in Florida total 12,269 with about $8,366,436.33 paid.

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