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Our view: Post-mortem on the vote

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 7, 2010
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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In spite of the lousy weather over the Fourth of July weekend — no doubt, a big disappointment for tourists and hospitality businesses alike — the holiday’s timing was good.

For all of those involved in the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed expansion and redevelopment plans, the holiday weekend gave them a much-needed break, time to play and think about something else.

Everyone needs to recharge. Especially from the past eight, draining months of public hearings, town elections and decision making.

In the wake of last week’s decision, though, there is much to review as a post-mortem to move forward:
• The scope of last week’s decision.
• The process.
• The lessons.
• What’s next.

The scope
Prediction: In the annals of Longboat Key, last week’s vote will mark one of the four most crucial decisions. The other three were: the vote to incorporate 55 years ago; approval of Arvida Corp.’s master plan, which included the developments of Islandside and Bayside; the charter amendment in the 1980s capping density; and now this.

No one, of course, can predict what will occur here over the next 25 years as a result of last week’s vote.

But either way — if the courts strike down the vote or if the Key Club ultimately builds what was approved — last week’s vote was enormous in terms of historical context and shaping the future direction and redevelopment of the Key.

The process
It would be difficult to find any Longboaters who followed the Key Club proceedings to say the town has a good process for considering large-scale development proposals.

To the contrary, it proved frustrating, annoying, cumbersome, tedious, vague, maddening, absurd and ridiculous.

But it worked. And in spite of all of its faults, it worked the way it was designed. We’d venture to say no one — participant or spectator-citizen alike — can say the process was unfair or tilted in anyone’s behalf.

Due process prevailed. And that occurred primarily because town attorney David Persson knew all along what was at stake for the town taxpayers. Accordingly, he steered the process fairly and capably. Credit also the Planning and Zoning Board chairs, B.J. Webb and Al Hixon; Mayor George Spoll; and Planning, Building and Zoning Director Monica Simpson. Clearly, residents could sense the pressures under which all of them operated to make sure the process was executed fairly and impartially. It was not easy.

Altogether, whether you agreed or disagreed with the Town Commission’s 6-1 vote for the club’s plan, it’s appropriate to thank the Planning and Zoning Board members and town commissioners for the extraordinary effort they devoted to this issue. 

The lessons
There is much to look back on and ask: How can we improve the process? What’s right? What’s wrong?
This is worth a Ph.D. thesis in itself. And as Persson said on numerous occasions, rewriting the Key’s land-use codes and approval process must be done. They were written when Longboat Key was largely undeveloped, and much of what is in the code is outdated.

Also worth questioning and exploring:
• The authority of the planning and zoning director. Is it proper, for instance, for the planning director and town staff to issue recommendations of approval or denial? Or is it appropriate only for them to opine on whether applications meet the town codes?

• The practice of extorting cash from property owners in exchange for permission to develop. Imagine you, the homeowner or condo owner, approaching Town Hall for permission to build a one-room addition onto your home or to tear down your home and build a new structure. The town says, “OK, but in exchange for permission to build on your property and to consume more of your yard space, you need to contribute $1,000 to the town.” Clearly this practice needs to be challenged and revised — if not eliminated.

• Quasi-judicial proceedings and the limitations on town commissioners’ freedom to speak. This was particularly thorny in the two most recent Town Commission elections.

• How the existing process will affect future projects. We must explore now how to simplify the process for the next inevitable applicants — the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, Avenue of the Flowers, the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort and Whitney Beach.

This is not a call to make development applications a 15-minute approval process. It is a call to recognize that time is money. Every delay and bureaucratic imposition on a property owner drives up costs and discourages investment.
What’s next?
Unfortunately, this journey — some might say “battle” — is far from over. The next confrontation will occur in the courts. And once again, the two sides — the Key Club’s owners and the members of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition — each will expend enormous amounts of time and money on lawyers before reaching another decision-making precipice:

How much more are they willing to spend to pursue their end?

The legal question inevitably will be the same one Commissioner Hal Lenobel asked last week in the final hour before the Town Commission’s vote: Did the Town Commission have the authority under the law to approve a plan with 23 departures from the town’s land-use codes and against the recommendation of the town’s planning director? Lenobel went so far as to ask the town attorney whether it would be a misdemeanor if the commission approved a plan with so many code departures.

Persson, as he had repeatedly, said it would not be illegal; as delineated in the town codes, the commissioners have the authority to approve the plan and all of its departures.

In the end, Persson told them, they were voting yes or no on whether in their own judgment the Key Club presented substantial evidence showing its project would conform with Goal 1 in the land-use section of the Longboat Key Comprehensive Plan. We’ve said this all along, and in fact have reprinted this passage nearly a half-dozen times in the past two years, likewise noting this is the legal issue on which the club’s application would be decided:

“To preserve and enhance the character of the town of Longboat Key by the following: 1) ensuring that the location, density, intensity and character of land uses are responsive to the social and economic needs of the community and are consistent with the support capabilities of the natural and manmade systems; and, 2) maintaining an environment that is conducive to the health, safety, welfare and property values of the community.”

Going forward, IPOC’s courtroom challenge will be whether it and its lawyers can prove the Key Club’s plan is contrary to that passage above.

IPOC now faces a high threshold.

For the sake of the town and most of its taxpayers, it would be far preferable if IPOC were to accept the Town Commission vote and move forward. Legal battles create long-lasting divides. Indeed, to the detriment of the town, it took nearly a quarter century for the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee and the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce to quit seeing each other as adversaries and work in concert on behalf of the town.

To be sure, not everyone agrees 100%. But this much is sure: Every property owner on Longboat Key has the same self-interest inherent in private-property rights — to maximize the value of his property in a manner that does not inflict material harm on his neighbor. In short, you would be hard pressed to find anyone on Longboat Key who isn’t driven to keep Longboat Key Longboat Key.

Would that all could accept last week’s vote and resolve to move forward, ever mindful of making what we have even better for our heirs.

Rain on our parade

Given the weather conditions this past weekend, three out of four is a good record.

Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub and Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant & Marina, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and downtown Sarasota lit up the sky with their annual fireworks shows.

The one casualty: Longboat Key’s colorful and charming Freedom Fest.

The cancellation was disappointing to be sure. But it shouldn’t douse the thanks deserved by the chamber of commerce’s organizers (Dawn Mims) and sponsors (especially Blue Dolphin Café and Pattigeorge’s, our breakfast food suppliers), all of whom still worked for days to prepare.

Best fireworks of all

It’s not a popular practice on this page to delve into personal matters. But some occasions are just too momentous to pass unacknowledged. This past weekend was one of those: the birth of grandchild No. 1.
Daughter Emily Walsh, with her husband, Julian Parry, as coach, delivered Rhys Humphreys Parry at noon July 1, at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

All went well. The youngster weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces and stretched 21.75 inches long. All parts were accounted for and functioning. The new mother is healthy as well and on Cloud Nine.

And Grandmother Lisa Walsh is on Cloud 99. If there are more errors than usual in this week’s edition, we hope you understand. She couldn’t put him down or keep her mind off of him.

Talk about an awesome fireworks show; none could be better. — MW



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