A lot happened while you snowbirds were up north.
Hurricane Irma scared us all
In the week immediately after Labor Day, Hurricane Irma was almost all we could think of. That, and finding gas.
A powerful storm the likes of which Florida hadn’t seen since Andrew in 1992 was forecast to head right for us. With tracks windshield-wipering from the east to west coasts, most of Florida was alarmed and immediately went shopping for water, food staples, generators and gasoline, leading to shortages.
When the track firmed up on the west coast by late in the week, worst-case worries of triple-digit winds and double-digit storm surge became a rattling possibility. Mandatory evacuations of the barrier islands and vulnerable mainland sites were ordered. Residents boarded up, sandbagged and packed. Most left Longboat as ordered, wondering what they’d find when they returned. One of those who stayed described the experience as “hellacious.’’
In the end, a weakening Irma moved up the center of the peninsula and subjected the west coast to its less-severe side.
Returning residents streamed back Sept. 10 to find trees down, some roof damage, orders to boil water and widespread power outages. Power returned in frustrating fits and starts, house by house in some cases.
To help, the town opened a “comfort station’’ for residents in Town Hall.
“We’re very blessed,” Pat Crincoli, a Bay Isles resident, said. “We thought we were going to lose our entire property.”
Homicide at resort shocks the island
Not since 2000 had a homicide taken place on Longboat Key, so the robbery and double homicide at the newly opened Zota Beach Resort deeply shocked the community on Aug. 4.
Both victims, 51-year-old security guard Kevin Carter and 59-year-old Timothy Hurley, the night manager, were recalled as loving and smiling family men whose losses hit family and friends hard.
Suspect Darryl Hanna, Jr., arrested about a week later after days of textbook detective work, was employed as a part-time security guard at the hotel.
Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said the crime was especially cruel because there appeared to be no reason to kill -- $900 was stolen.
At a news conference to announce the arrest of Hanna, who remains jailed on no bond in Manatee County, Cumming also assured the citizens of Longboat Key that their community was just as safe now as it had been previously.
“Our residents are not accustomed to this kind of violence, and they won’t become accustomed to it," he said. "This was an isolated incident, an ugly, horrible incident and the quick resolution to that, and I can reassure people this is a safe community and it will continue to stay that way."
Recently, we learned Hanna was taken ill in early September and is now in a coma-like state. The future of his prosecution is unclear.
A new plan for Colony redevelopment
Plans to redevelop the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort took a few big steps forward over the spring and summer, but a few issues still remain before work begins at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
On the legal side, an August communiqué from Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments, and Jay Yablon, president of the Colony Association, came out, saying: “All litigation has finally been resolved after seven years and brought to an amicable peaceful end that paves the way for a new resort to be developed at the former Colony.”
So, there’s that.
On the planning and development side, Whittall’s company filed a revamped plan that includes a five-star 166-room hotel, operated by St. Regis, and 102 residential condominiums, for a combined total of 268 units.
While not requiring another referendum, it will require some careful needle-threading for zoning and land-use approvals from the town government.
And also, this: just this week, the Colony’s condominium association and Whittall agreed to allow the developer to pursue judicial termination of the association, instead of doing in through controlling 91% of the condo units.
Also, a new slate of sale prices were offered for the remaining units,
Arts Center torn down, cottages hit the road
Before you head up to the Arts Center to meet friends or sign up for a class, we’ve got some news.
It’s not there anymore. Nor are the historic Whitney Cottages.
What you might see is work underway on a development of 12 single-family homes instead.
Demolition of the popular north end landmark that opened in 1952 began in late July on the property now owned by developer Jim Clabaugh. Meanwhile, Michael Drake, the president of the Longboat Key Historical Society, arranged for the two cottages to be moved to a lot at 521 Broadway to someday become the home base for his organization.
And what about everything the Arts Center hosted? A lot of the events and classes have been scattered around the community, and Ringling College in late September rolled out a preliminary look at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Culture and Education planned for the Town Center. Fundraising is underway for that, though construction is not expected until the $10 million-$12 million is raised. Projections shoot for an opening in 2020.
One county study moves ahead
Longboat Key is in rare company: only three other towns in Florida cross county lines, and none of them are either as large as Longboat or more evenly distributed.
Acknowledging the effort will be long and complicated, Town Manager Dave Bullock began the process with a study of taxes and return on taxpayer investment. In short, Longboat Key residents who live in the Manatee County portion of town would save about $2.5 million annually if the town was entirely situated in Sarasota County.
Financial and legislative considerations are large and complex and there’s no telling if this will ever get off the ground.
“It’s just sort of a messy situation,’’ Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said.
Longboat Key cheers Sarasota traffic decision
Longboat Key leaders don’t usually agree on much with their colleagues on the other side of Ringling Bridge. But there was plenty of barrier island goodwill to go around when Sarasota City Commissioners voted unanimously to undertake a series of changes to U.S. 41 where it intersects with Gulfstream Avenue and Fruitville Road.
Splitting with City Manager Tom Barwin, the commission OK’d changes that include a third northbound lane on U.S. 41 in that area, a third left turn lane from eastbound Gulfstream to U.S. 41 and a signal for pedestrian crossing near First Street and Ritz-Carlton Drive on U.S. 41. The hope is that those modifications will allow traffic to flow smoother and avoid backups than can stop barrier island traffic in its tracks.
“The thinking is, more lanes, more traffic,’’ Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans said.
Your new town manager …
Tom Harmer’s name should sound familiar. He’s the Sarasota County Administrator.
But come Dec. 11, he’ll be Longboat Key’s new town manager, serving for a few weeks in tandem with Dave Bullock, who will retire in early 2018.
"I don't think we can find a better person who has more of the right background for this community than Mr. Harmer," said Commissioner Jim Brown in voting to hire Harmer. "I don't think we will be disappointed."
Harmer will be paid $187,000 a year during his five-year contract with the town. While no one disputed Harmer’s qualifications or the town’s good fortune in landing him, there was contention over how he was hired.
Passed over for consideration, former Assistant Town Manager Mike Hein resigned his post in August. Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray announced her resignation in early September for a post in suburban Washington D.C. She left in early October and was replaced by Allen Parsons, a former Sarasota County planning executive.
Isaac Brownman began his tenure with the town in August, working in tandem with Public Works Director Juan Florensa, who is retiring early in 2018.
It’s a park!
Bayfront Park is now open, but it was a long time coming.
Construction of the $3.5 million park at 4052 GMD, began in June 2016 and essentially wrapped up a year later.
Still to come, a beachside phase that will provide public parking and an observation deck.
Among the highlights: courts for tennis, pickleball and basketball; two dog parks; a playground; kayak launch and fishing pier. In May, the town selected Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & Eco Ventures to provide excursions from the park.
Trash, and the people who leave it behind, became a big deal over holiday weekends, particularly Memorial Day weekend on the north end of the island.
Residents who live near Beer Can Island spoke up after crowds left behind bottles, cans, boxes and other castoffs from a day of partying on the shore. One resident theorized when nearby Coquina Beach filled up, the crowd moved to the Broadway beach access, which simply can’t handle a crowd.
“It’s like a frat party on the weekend,’’ one woman said.
Police geared up for the Fourth of July weekend and sought ways to gain easier access through the sliver of mangrove-covered land that connects Beer Can Island to Longboat Key.
Amore heads east to Sarasota; Zota opens
When Amore Restaurant closed in May, loyal Longboat Key customers were left without a gathering space.
But owner Howard Rooks is soon to reopen in Burns Court, bringing hostess Liana Vitorino and her husband, Amore manager Tito Vitorino, with him.
The new Burns Court location is about half the size of the Longboat location. Rooks said the new restaurant has seating for about 180 people.
Longboaters are also finding their way to the Zota Beach Resort, which opened in June, and its Viento Kitchen + Bar. Led by chef Jason Pellett, the restaurant focuses on what it calls “Floribbean’’ cuisine, influenced by Florida, Caribbean and Mediterranean cooking.
Also worth mentioning . . .
- Water playground
When it first appeared near Longboat Pass, few knew what to think. A floating playground began attracting a following through word of mouth and media coverage. Though not in the town limits, the fun barge drew complaints from some north-end residents (“It will destroy our way of life”) and comparisons to Bradenton Beach. Leaders confirmed it was not in town waters and promised to keep an eye on the operation.
- Fish finder
Longboat guide Steven Herich of Beach Fishing Adventures experienced a case of waterfront déjà vu in June, landing and releasing a 50-inch, 35-pound barracuda under nearly the same conditions he caught almost exactly the same-sized barracuda in August, 2014. “You gotta be totally on your game,’’ he said of the sharp-toothed catch, hooked near the Islander Club groins. The fight to land the barracuda lasted about 30 minutes and included several jumps.
- Maria Sharapova is watching
It’s official. Longboat Key has a piece of Maria Sharapova’s heart, or weather app, at least. The local favorite and tennis ace shared with the Wall Street Journal that she has Longboat Key listed as one of the cities on her phone’s weather app. Longboat Key joins Sochi, Russia, New York City, Manhattan Beach, Calif., Tokyo and Indian Wells, Calif.