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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: Eight years and counting ...


Dec. 7, 1941: The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Aug. 14, 1945: The Japanese surrendered. World War II ended.

Three years and nearly nine months.

That’s how long it took the United States to fight and win a war that encompassed nearly the entire earth.

Now contrast that with a property owner’s attempt on little Longboat Key to make more productive and valuable what it owns.

In February 2004, the previous operating partners of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, Shane Eagan and Tom Rasmussen, submitted plans to re-do the club’s golf courses, redevelop the Islandside clubhouse and spa, build a new tennis center and develop new residences in place of the original Islandside tennis center.

A month later, Eagan and Rasmussen were gone. Michael Welly became the club and resort’s new general manager.

One of Welly’s first steps was to pull back the Islandside development plans in the face of stiff opposition from Longboat Club Drive neighbors and the town planners.

Welly shelved the project for four years before reviving it — this time reconfiguring its size and scope. We all know what happened next.

So here we are, September 2012 — more than eight years and millions of dollars later — and not one shovel has turned.

If there is anything emblematic of how the land of the free and the constitution delineating limited government have become the antithesis of what the Founding Fathers envisioned, surely the Key Club’s expansion oddyssey is a symbol.

It is how we have devolved. What always starts out as well intentioned — i.e. the town’s zoning codes — by the nature of government, laws and their attendant regulatory regimes always grow to confer special favors on one group over another. And they grow at freedom’s expense.

Sure, due process and equal protection are as essential as constitutional and private property rights. But the system is seriously flawed when a property owner battles through eight years of government hearings, intervention and judicial reviews — only to start the process all over again.

Former Town Commission candidate Ray Rajewski in his recent letter to Mayor Jim Brown (above) makes reference to how the town codes “have served us well over the years” and says “residents bought their homes on Longboat Key for what it is now.”

“Served us well”? Debatable to be sure. And to presuppose that land use will remain static ignores reality. Indeed, Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown, in his response to Mr. Rajewski, bluntly and accurately makes the case that property cannot remain static if it is to retain or increase its value.

Look around, Brown says. You can see the deterioration spreading — a phenomenon no one on Longboat Key wants. Indeed, you could argue, if town codes had served the town well, those deteriorating parts of the Key might not be declining as they are. But they are emblematic of a system and regulatory regime that cry for reform.

Eight years just to obtain government approval to improve the property you own — that’s misguided.

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 11:37 AM
To: James L. Brown
Subject: Who is “misguided”

Mayor Brown:
Now that the Key Club has decided to re-apply for its massive expansion, we will hear more and more as to whether the majority is in favor or the majority is opposed.

Based on the courts’ rulings (upheld on appeal),the Town Commission and the Key Club are the “misguided” parties. Whether they or the citizens are the minority, no one knows for sure. The residents should be allowed to vote on the expansion to remove all doubt …

Let’s face it, the only ones who come out ahead are the owners of the club.

I have often heard that you are an architect. Have you ever submitted plans to a city or town that were turned down because it was not in compliance with the code? If so, would you have asked the town to change its codes so you could proceed with your out-of-code plans?

That’s exactly what you have done. Our town attorney and the club’s attorney re-wrote the code, that you approved, so the club can proceed — after the courts ruled against them.

Our codes have served us well over the years, and changing them to accommodate an extensive
development will not serve this community in the future.

Remember why the residents bought their homes on Longboat Key for what it is now … not because of a massive development plan!

Enjoy your golf game.
Ray Rajewski
Bayou Road

From: James L. Brown
Sent: Saturday, September 15, 2012 9:03 AM
To: Ray Rajewski
Subject: RE: Who is “misguided”

Mr Rajewski,
I’m glad you pose your quesstions.

While I can’t comment directly on the merits of the Key Club proposal, due to being controlled by the rules of a quasi-judicial hearing, I will say that I’m glad the Key Club refiled its application. Let me explain my position:

While you and others apparently think the proposed redevelopment of the Islandside Key Club is wrong, I believe it is exactly what the town of Longboat Key needs.

Apparently as you sit in your double-gated community, you have failed to notice that the community is deteriorating.

Only because of the redevelopment of the Publix shopping center will we now have a place to shop that doesn’t look like it will soon collapse.

These kind of investments in our community are a must if we are to continue to attracct the kind if future buyer to our island. Even in your neighborhood, most of the houses that sell are demolished, and new homes are built. In case you aren’t aware, Longboat Key is getting old, and the buyers of today expect something better.

The reason for this is simple: Most of the properties, condos, single-family [homes] and commercial [buildings] were built before the mid-1980s downzoning of the Key.

Approximately 80% of the condos on Longboat are non-conforming. As a result, they are grandfathered as to their zoning.

Even more important is these buildings built in that era were built before the modern state building codes and do not meet today’s building standards regarding hurricane provisions and many other modern-life and safety measures. Most of them also don’t live up to the current ideas of lifestyle and amenities. That’s why most of them are demolished.

If we citizens of Longboat Key continue to sit in our homes and believe that this is paradise and that nothing needs to be changed, we are fooling ourselves. The notion that new construction such as the Key Club will hurt property values is absurd. Exactly the opposite is true.

If Longboat Key doesn’t keep up with the trends of today, you will be selling your home to people looking to buy cheap homes, not to people looking to retire in an “elite” community. Look around: the Colony, Whitney Beach, etc., etc., etc.

You ask if, as an architect, I had ever submitted projects that were turned down because they didn’t meet the codes. Absolutely, quite often. This is a very common thing in the development of projects.

Building and zoning codes are a fluid thing. They evolve. If an architect can show how a modification to an existing code can benefit the community, it is usually granted. This is why all communities have boards of zoning appeals.

I think you don’t like our democratic system in this case because it didn’t rule your way. That’s how it works. In the past, I’ve lost on issues I believed in, and I accepted that it was the majority’s decision. I wasn’t happy, but I knew that I wasn’t on the majority side. Move on.

I hope you can understand why I feel the way I do about Longboat Key’s need to look at the future and try to keep up with the needs of a changing population.

This is what I believe I was elected to do, and I feel responsible to all citizens to protect our community.

This is not about more money for the owners of the Key Club, it is about the salvation of the future of Longboat Key.

Who is misguided?
Jim Brown

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