If you have a ripped screen on your pool cage or park a boat or trailer on the side of your house, the town of Longboat Key is going to eventually force you to fix your screen and park your boats and trailers elsewhere.
At its Monday, Nov. 12 regular workshop, the Longboat Key Town Commission agreed with staff’s recommendation to strengthen a property-maintenance code that, right now, can only tell property owners to cut weeds and grass.
“This is really thinking about the standards you want to apply to properties town-wide and how you want the community to look balanced with government intrusion, while potentially creating an issue with personal property rights,” said Town Manager Dave Bullock.
The issue about beefing up the code arose when commissioners started receiving complaints about the dilapidated Whitney Beach Plaza and the rundown Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
The roof is caving in certain spots at Whitney Beach Plaza; the vacant gas station on the north end has a fence falling down; and the outward appearance of the Colony has been an eyesore for months.
None of those issues can be corrected, though, through the current property maintenance code.
Town planner Steve Schield presented the following core value of the town statement to commissioners: “The town shall support well-designed and well-maintained neighborhoods, communities and commercial areas through the regulation and enforcement of landscaping and property maintenance codes for the beautification of the island and protection of property values.”
That value, which was projected on a screen during the discussion, was all commissioners needed to agree on to allow staff to make amendments to the code for their future review.
Some of those changes will include addressing ripped screens on pool cages, extreme cases of peeling paint, visible open storage areas in places such as carports, storage of construction materials, pools that are turning green from lack of maintenance and broken garage doors. The elimination of boats and trailers parked in side yards and in driveways is also likely.
“What’s creating the most problems are foreclosed properties that are vacant,” Schield said. “They are creating blights in our community.”
The issues commissioners will have to wrestle with when they review a future amended code are increased costs for the code-enforcement department, which currently only has one code-enforcement officer, and backlash from residents who think the town may be intruding on their personal property rights. Future community meetings to inform the public and an integrated enforcement plan would be developed if the changes are approved at future public hearings.
“We are not here to be Big Brother and won’t be going after homes with a little bit of paint missing,” said Schield, who said town staff didn’t find numerous future violations Key-wide. “For the most part, we are a lucky community.”
Commissioners are excited with the potential changes.
“Most people here live at a pretty high standard, and these standards are ones I think our residents would expect,” said Mayor Jim Brown.
If the changes to the code are enacted, Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer said his staff could mandate changes be made to a roof that’s caving in at Whitney Beach Plaza.
“If (Whitney Beach Plaza owners) don’t do something soon, we have an issue with unsafe structures, and as our code currently is written, things there would have to get worse before we can enforce them to make it better,” Meyer said.
The same goes for a fence falling down at the former gas-station site.
“If panels are lying down, we can make you pick them up, but I can’t make you fix the fence,” Meyer said.
Core value for the town of Longboat Key
“The town shall support well-designed and well-maintained neighborhoods, communities and commercial areas through the regulation and enforcement of landscaping and property maintenance codes for the beautification of the island and protection of property values.”