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Longboat Key Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 3 weeks ago

Welcome back, Longboaters: Here's what you missed

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While the summer heat was on, a batch of stories made us think and (occasionally) smile. Here are the 10 best, plus a few extras for good measure.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

There are a few common feelings of relief we all can share: catching yourself from tipping over in a leaned-backwards chair; finding your wallet after a few minutes of trying; and the last month of hurricane season.

We’ve arrived at the last one, which just happens to coincide with the arrival of the first wave of our friends and neighbors from The North.

The first two? Well, just be a little more careful, huh?

While you were gone, dear Winter Residents, we watched and worried over a few storms, but ultimately nothing really threatened us. But we did watch a steady procession of Longboat Key events dawn, develop or come to a conclusion.

As usual, we’ve bottled it all up for you here in our annual Top 10 stories you missed while you were away – stretching generally from about Easter to the end of October.

Welcome Back!

Signs of the times

Before you go setting into motion that promotional strategy for your pre-holiday Garage Sale … you know … the one that relies on dozens of little signs all over town, we’d better talk.

Over the summer, the town’s code enforcement officer and police force shifted from educating folks about a sweeping new set of rules, enacted in January, to actual enforcement. That means, dozens of temporary signs – either out of synch with the new size restrictions or placed improperly on rights of way or private property – have been scooped up and dropped off either at the police department or Town Hall. Real estate agents and retailers have been hardest hit, though Gulf of Mexico Drive has never looked nicer. Oh, and speaking of code enforcement, that changed too.

The town’s code enforcement board has been disbanded and replaced with Milan Brkich, a special magistrate.

The town's underground utilities project launched in July and has remained on schedule.

Underground work gets started

It’s one of the biggest underground utility conversion projects ever launched in the state. Longboat Key’s endeavor to install buried power lines and communication cables kicked off on the south end of the island in July.

The $49.1 million project is expected to last until 2022.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the work has been gas main breaks. Three days into the town’s project, Gulf of Mexico Drive had to be shut down because drilling equipment struck a gas line. Two other contractors elsewhere in the town did the same thing. In September, crews working in the town project struck a gas line on the north end of the island.

In one case, traffic was routed through Bay Isles around the scene. But in all others, vehicles came to a stop on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

In response, more help from gas-service providers in locating underground obstacles was enlisted. Today, the project is ahead of schedule, officials said.

Jed Clampett would be proud.

Pickleball expansion has been a frequent source of discussion.

Pickleball planning

 Do you like pickleball, the new “it” sport for people of a certain age?

Chances are, you’ll have more places to play in town.

When, and exactly where, is still shaping up.

Throughout the spring and summer, a lot of proposals floated up for new or tennis court conversions. Among the ideas considered: new courts near the Public Tennis Center; new courts near the library, new courts in Bayfront Park’s green space and more.

The latest (and perhaps the one that sticks): new courts to share the space with Bayfront Park’s basketball courts and a conversion of one of the park’s hard-surface tennis courts into two pickleball courts. Expanded pickleball facilities have drawn support, but costs and who to share them with have also been topics of discussion.

Also, some raised the notion of “cucumber-ball.” We’re going to pretend we didn’t hear that.

New restaurants, new parking issues

You might not know but there’s a new place to eat in town. The Shore, which had been under construction for years on the eastern end of Broadway Street in Longbeach Village, opened in September. The tropically swanky place has been a hit with diners ever since.

Mar Vista Dockside is still as popular as ever, and perhaps by the end of the year, Whitney’s will open at the corner of Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway.

You should plan to go.

But parking, well, that’s become a thing. Both restaurants offer valet services but they have to keep those cars on their property. A lot more no-parking zones exist in the Village, there are new restrictions on late-night or overnight parking and the speed limit is 20 mph.

We mention all this because your neighbors in the Village are very concerned about the changes happening nearby.

Maybe an Uber is your best bet?

 

Ringling decides against working with town

Ringling College of Art & Design in late April backed away from a relationship with the town that was on a path to, perhaps, lead to the construction and operation of an Arts, Cultural and Education Center.

No one has said the deal is forever scuttled,  but the town is moving ahead with making the property adjacent to  Bay Isles Parkway, which is now referred to the Town Center Green (you heard that here first, folks).

Work is soon to begin on some basic improvements to grading, drainage, foliage and more.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a tree lighting ceremony will be the official first use of the land. In January,  a series of four monthly concerts will kick off, coordinated by the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce. A portable stage will be set up, and ticketholders can bring chairs or blankets in a Tanglewood-like setting, officials said.

More events are likely, and town officials will be on hand chat about the possibilities for the future.

 

Speed bumps in St. Armands Circle could remain for years as officials study their effectiveness.

Speed bumps sprout in St. Armands

 Everyone’s favorite traffic control devices, speed bumps, have arrived in St. Armands Circle for a temporary stay – but how temporary is still an open question.

Installed in FDOT installed eight temporary speed humps near intersections around the Circle in July. The Florida Department of Transportation is using the project as an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of the humps, which are designed to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety.

At a St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, Sarasota city engineer Alex DavisShaw said the FDOT could leave the traffic-calming devices in place for three to five years if state officials determined they were improving the quality of the roads within the commercial district.

They could be replaced with more permanent structures if officials feel they are working.

The home known as Ohana sold in August for $11.4 million.

Landmark property sale closes 

It’s fun to say Ohana.

Imagine what it must be like to live there.

The nearly legendary estate on the island sold in August for $11.4 million – the largest home sale ever in Manatee County. Following its construction in 2013, the home at 6633 Gulf of Mexico Drive was originally listed for sale at $22 million and reduced to $19.9 million in 2018, then $15.49 million in February. 

The property features three pavilions, a tennis court, balconies, terraces, a pool, six bedrooms, seven-and-a-half bathrooms and it is the only Gulf-front property on the Key that has a seawall to protect the home’s beachfront from erosion. Peterson transformed the original structure on the property into a modern guest house.

Peacocks in Longbeach Village became controversial again when a young resident wrote a letter.

Peacocks return to the spotlight

A letter from an 11-year-old boy this summer relaunched a sometimes acrimonious public debate, dormant for years, over peacocks in Longbeach Village.

Brice Claypoole, who moved here with his family in September 2018, wrote to Vice Mayor Ed Zunz in July about his fondness for the neighborhood's peafowl and his hope that a new batch of babies could stay. It's been years since the last dust-up in the north end over peacocks, which can be stunning to look at but are also loud, leave droppings behind and tend to foul up normal life. At one point in 2015, the peacock population moved into triple digits and the town budget to rid them hit five.

The town maintains that keeping the flock to about 12 is what’s best for Village residents, given a difficult situation and opposing views. But even that is tricky, largely because of an especially hard-to-catch female that bears young every so often.

Judge allows condo association to dissolve

 Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll in August signed an order enabling the termination of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort's condominium association.

Unicorp National Developments Inc. filed for judicial termination of the association in the beginning of 2018 as a means of moving forward with a planned hotel and condominium project at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, where the once-iconic resort stood for decades. 

The next step, referred to as Phase 2 in the court documents, is scheduled to play out in April 2020, when the exact means of termination will be determined in court. Unit owner Andy Adams is pushing for a public auction and a possible division of the property while Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall, with whom the condominium resort has a development agreement, is pushing for a directed private sale, which will allow him to purchase all the remaining units – including those owned by Adams and his affiliated companies.

Whittall plans to build a luxury resort and condominium on the 15 acres.

The town sued to stop a property owner in Country Club Shores from renting a home on Schooner Lane in violation of the town's rules.

Town sticks up for short-term rental rules

 The town in June sued and ultimately settled with the owner of a Country Club Shores home over what it called “unrepentant’’ violations of regulations banning short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Equity Villa Fund LP, a San Diego company, and Equity Residences LLC, had been fined more than a dozen times over their rental of a home at 537 Schooner Lane and did not respond to the fines.

As part of the settlement, the companies paid $3,640 of the $6,250 they owed in fines. The owner said he was selling the house because the town made him feel  unwelcome.

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