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Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 23, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: Surely the Villagers see reality


Step back. Face reality.

If Whitney Beach Plaza on north Longboat Key is ever to become a property befitting of Longboat Key, here is the unavoidable reality and truth, which few Longboaters apparently wish to face:

Whitney Beach Plaza will continue to deteriorate and become a blighted eyesore where nothing ever changes for the better as long as all of Longboat’s residents, especially those in Longbeach Village, and the town commissioners refuse to recognize that town zoning laws absolutely stand in the way of that property changing for the better.

Specifically, here are the issues: the town’s cap on residential density and the requirement for a public referendum to increase the density.

When a developer interested in converting Whitney Beach Plaza to, say, a mixed, residential-commercial property learns he must conduct a referendum to obtain the density necessary to make a project work economically, in almost all cases he will walk away. Indeed, one of the most prominent residential developers in this region told us he already did that — walked away because of the density cap and referendum requirement.

It’s that simple.

And, yet, changing or eliminating those two requirements would make the fight about the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s expansion plans look like the Falklands War compared to the Vietnam War, a skirmish versus an all-out jihad.

Historical context:

When homebuilder/developer Pat Neal and his father completed Whitney Beach and the adjoining plaza in March 1970, Publix Super Market at mid-Key did not exist. Sales at the Whitney Beach Plaza grocery did OK for the next dozen years, peaking in 1982 at $2.8 million in gross sales. That was the year Publix opened.

From that point on, the Whitney Beach Plaza grocery struggled, chewing up four owners who poured their hearts, souls and millions of dollars into a venture that just couldn’t sustain itself. They were not inept. They were undercapitalized to an extent, and Publix was far more powerful. But the bigger problem stemmed from political and policy decisions made at Town Hall and the ballot box.

The biggest decisions that assured the death of Whitney Beach Plaza included: 1) capping the town’s residential density in the mid-1980s; 2) creating through zoning an oversupply of commercial property; and 3) restricting resorts and condominiums to 30-day minimum stays for visitors. Given Longboat Key’s extraordinary seasonality, these factors assured there simply would not be enough people on the north end of the Key to support the 33,000-square-foot shopping center.

Here’s another way to look at the ramifications of those decisions: They have contributed to the aging of Longboat Key. And, as the population ages, it buys less of everything, making it even more difficult to have multiple groceries, delis and convenience stores on the island.

Add to these political and demographic influences the anti-everything pollens that north Longboat residents breathe every day. If, say, you lined up Alan Moore, owner of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant, Ed Chiles, owner of the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, and Jane Buckman, executive director of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a division of Ringling College of Art and Design, and asked them to reveal evidence of their thwarted attempts to change their properties for the better over the years, their backs would be covered with scars of resistance lashed by many a Villager. It’s still a wonder that Sarasota architect Frank Folsom-Smith was able to complete his Conrad Beach residential development on the west side of Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive. He, too, carries his share of scars.

The message from this treatment is clear, of course: Don’t move the Village residents’ cheese. They like their area the way it is, even though they don’t like the way it is, in particular Whitney Beach and the corner of Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive. The Village residents want improvements, but they don’t want what is economically viable.

Here is what must be accepted as reality: Retail will not work on north Longboat Key. Office will not work. A service station will not work.

Nor will a park. We don’t need another town-owned park. (If Villagers want a park, they should pay for it themselves, not taxpayers.)

The only thing that will work at Whitney Beach Plaza: residential — with maybe a little commercial mixed in. Two- and three-story condos, town homes, single-family homes. Condos above and smatterings of commercial, maybe a restaurant, below. And here’s a stretch: Maybe an adult living facility could work — although it’s far from a hospital and vulnerable to hurricane evacuation. The point: Predominantly residential is the only option.

And, yet, two weeks ago, after Villagers’ and others’ emotions filled the Town Hall Commission Chambers, the Town Commission voted on first reading to remove from the town’s comprehensive plan the creation of a Whitney Beach Overlay District. That zoning classification would have given what any Whitney Beach property owner must have: flexibility, flexibility to maneuver outside of Longboat Key’s economically suicidal town codes.

Commissioners must recant and rescind that move at their June 4 meeting. To do otherwise is to condemn Brian Kenney’s ownership of Whitney Beach to an inevitable default and to seal the north end’s future reputation as a red zone where prospective buyers won’t buy.

Longboat Key residents have been living in denial for more than a decade. All those zoning codes that are touted as the creators of paradise are also the codes that are destroying it. Face reality.

+ New manager’s new budget
There’s a new town manager running Longboat Key Town Hall, all right. One indicator: In the past, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis unveiled the entire town budget for the new fiscal year all at once. This year, Interim Town Manager David Bullock began the process by releasing a 14-page Powerpoint, “2012-13 Preliminary Budget Discussion.” In it Bullock prepares the Town Commission for what’s to come:
It looks like general-fund revenues are going to decline about $325,000 from the previous year while pension and health insurance costs are going to increase $421,760. You get the drift.

But this is refreshing: “Except for possible pension impacts, no tax increase will be requested by staff,” Bullock wrote. He also said: “Further research and analyses are under way to look for more cost effective ways to provide the services.”

Monday, May 28, is the nation’s official celebration of Memorial Day, the day we honor all of our service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed the first Memorial Day on May 5, 1868, in his General Order No. 11. The day was first observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to recognize the holiday officially was New York in 1873. By 1890, Memorial Day was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I.

Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May. Eight southern states, incuding Florida, have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead. In Florida, the date is April 26.

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