Skip to main content
Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010 7 years ago

OUR VIEW: Blurred vision


Resist. Resist. Resist.

Resist the devilish temptation to do what Longboat Key has always done — overwrite and over-legislate, pick at every detail to the detriment of individual freedom and market forces.

This is what members of the Longboat Key Vision Plan Subcommittee are doing, with all good intentions.

Read the box below. It contains the comments of Patricia Zunz, subcommittee chairman, at a recent Vision Plan Subcommittee meeting. Her vision for the Avenue of the Flowers, public tennis center and the undeveloped property in between are intriguing. But this envisions the use of taxpayer money to acquire the undeveloped property for more park land.

More park land? Why? Whatever happened to the vision of the park behind the former Lynches Landing site at mid-Key — land that Sarasota County purchased for $7 million? Shuffleboard? We have shuffleboard courts at Bayfront Park; mind you, they’re tucked behind the hard-court tennis courts where no one will ever use them (that’s another story).

Zunz suggests the town “work closely” with Publix Super Markets, owner of the front portion of Avenue of the Flowers, “to change the essential character” of the center to a “town center.”

This all sounds good. But you get the impression Zunz wants these details codified in or made part of a vision plan.

Or consider the comments of subcommittee member George Symanski, who like Zunz is also a member of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board. And like Zunz, Symanski is looking out for Longboat Key only with the best intentions.

Symanski suggested at that same meeting the town’s comprehensive plan should address specific properties as:

• “Whitney Beach Plaza area commercial properties for alternative uses should a consolidation of properties be achieved in an application with a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal approach. Just as an example, would some combination of tourism and commercial be appealing to the community?

• “Is there any place for some aging-in-place housing, which would provide residents with ready access to the commercial? This was raised some years ago as missing on the Key.”

• “Protect Mar Vista and consider language which could encourage Moore’s to stay, reconvert, etc.”
These, too, are all good ideas.

But for as long as we can remember, whenever local governments have attempted to direct market forces, the results rarely meet the grand vision. Two big failures come to mind: downtown St. Petersburg and South Beach.

If you go back in the history books to the 1980s, the St. Petersburg City Council and Miami Beach City Commission each created massive, detailed master plans to redevelop their decaying cores. They made the fatal mistake of trying to control the outcome by looking for single developers to comply with their committee- and consultant-created master plans.

Both plans died a long, slow, multimillion-dollar death. Not until real estate prices in both places dropped so low did private money and many investors move in. Voila! Market forces took over. And the results were remarkable: South Beach is world-renowned again, and downtown St. Petersburg stands as one of Florida’s best downtown revival success stories.

The moral of these two examples is they occurred not because of a government committee-created vision plan; they occurred because of letting the genius of market forces work.

From the day the Longboat Key Town Commission embraced the exercise of creating a vision plan — all the rage across Florida in the early 2000s — the outcome was predictable. Hundreds of hours of Longboat citizens, town staff and consultants and thousands of taxpayer dollars were invested over more than a year creating a vision plan that — surprise — ended up on a shelf. That was five years ago. The Town Commission “accepted” the plan but didn’t codify it.

The best things to come out of the vision plan were the two charter amendments in 2008, allowing for the re-introduction of 250 more hotel units and the reconstruction of storm-destroyed properties to their pre-storm densities. Except for those two items, there are still 77 more goals and strategies, each listed with actions steps, that have been sitting five years on the vision-plan shelf. Talk about getting lost in the minutiae weeds.

Even though the Vision Plan Subcommittee is in its early stages, it appears clear its chairman and members are in agreement this vision-plan updating process should stay focused on specifics and details.
We wish they would reconsider and think about this: In a corporation, it makes sense for its leaders and employees to articulate a vision statement, mission statement and core values. When an employee signs on to that company, in effect, he says he is buying in to those three ideals. Everyone in a company is expected to move in the same direction.

A municipality in a democratic republic is different. It’s unrealistic to expect all 7,700 permanent Longboat Key residents — each with separate brains, values, desires, behaviors and thinking — to sign on to a vision plan with 77 or more specific goals. Likewise, it would be unrealistic for the town to codify in its comprehensive plan a vision for how specific parcels of private property should be developed or utilized.

These are excercises in government enforcing limits and restrictions on people’s freedom.

It should be the other way around, the way the Founding Fathers crafted the U.S. Constitution, the citizenry placing limits on government. We need that sentiment in whatever vision plan is created.

What’s more, the vision plan for Longboat Key should be less, not more; it should be succinct and inspiring:

• Disneyland: “To be the happiest place in the world.”

• Komatsu: “Encircle Caterpillar.”

• Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to athletes around the world. (If you have a body, you are an athlete.)”

We know Longboaters have liked the town’s restrictive codes, often saying they are why Longboat Key looks the way it does. (That’s not necessarily true.) But we also saw in the Longboat Key Club hearings that the town’s codes and comprehensive plan were written for a different time and need rewriting for today and the future.

Before that begins, a vision is worthwhile. But keep it simple, simpler than it is. Create a framework of what Longboat Key is or aspires to be, and that will become the roadmap. Wherever Longboat goes would flow from that.

When Longboat Key Vision Plan Subcommittee members discussed the plan recently, committee Chairman Patricia Zunz, who also serves on the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board, indicated how she would like to re-shape Avenue of the Flowers. Excerpts:

“I raised concerns about the apparent lack of green space — park lands — on the colored map you gave us. The following addresses that, along with ideas related to the Publix Redevelopment.

“An additional thought for the Publix Redevelopment possibilities to be added to the second bullet point:

“We should explore the possibility of working closely with Publix to change the essential character of that complex from almost exclusively a supermarket/drugstore location into a vibrant town center. 

“This could provide great advantages to both Publix and the community. The complex could become a destination for more than one-stop shopping for food and medical essentials.

“The Tennis Center, which has grown into such an important amenity open to our entire community, has recently undergone a major upgrade with the construction of the new building.  However, this vital public facility stands alone, separated from the Publix complex by the defunct Einesman condo site. 

“If the Einesman site could be acquired by the Town, with creative imagination it could be converted into a park that would connect the Tennis Center to the Publix complex. 

“It might contain facilities to appeal to a variety of our residents. For example: a shuffleboard area, a small putting green, benches, tables and chairs, better access to a platform that now exists for watching tennis, a water feature. 

“This attractive and convenient connection would encourage the ever-growing number of tennis players to walk over to the new restaurants and outdoor cafes in the Publix complex for coffee, lunch or snacks.

“A creative reconception of the Publix complex as a genuine town center would provide Longboat Key with a first-ever nucleus. At the same time it would make the area an attractive destination for more than shopping for essentials and would help to support a wider variety of shops and cafes within the complex.”

As the saying goes, “All is fair in love, war and politics.”

But as we have witnessed in this year’s Republican gubernatorial election, “fair” does not equate with right and proper, and it certainly doesn’t equate with integrity.

Indeed, as this is written, we don’t know the outcome of the Bill McCullom-Rick Scott race. But if McCullom wins the Republican Party’s nomination, this is a pitiful shame. McCullom does not deserve the nomination, certainly not the office of governor. His behavior and campaign tactics against Scott unequivocally demonstrated the type of person he really is — a little man of little integrity, the stereotypical narcissistic politician who would stoop to any level to destroy his opponent’s character with weasel-like words, accusations and lies for the sake of his own ego and lust to hold an elected office.

Equally disgusting: The Florida Republican Party leadership, i.e. former House Speaker John Thrasher, funneling millions of dollars of party money in a primary to support McCullom.

These are the behaviors that so thoroughly nauseate the American electorate.

Related Stories