- September 29, 2016
American philosopher William James once said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
Now is the time for the voters of Longboat Key to act — to make a difference for those who value the quality of Key life today and for those who will inherit this precious place long after many of us are gone.
On Aug. 30, voters will decide on a referendum that allows for the rezoning of 2.6 acres bordering Gulf of Mexico Drive, a quarter-mile from the northern gateway to Longboat Key, adjacent to a neighborhood of single-family homes and historical cottages and directly across the road from two-story condominiums and beachfront homes.
Floridays Development Co. is spearheading the referendum for the purpose of bringing a 120-room hotel to Longboat Key. Its preliminary plan calls for rooms of just under 400 square feet in four stories with few amenities and no beach access — a project that cannot be accurately defined as upscale, boutique or resort.
Clearly, tourism is an important component of our island life. Tourists help support our businesses and, as was the case for many of us, a weekend stay often turns into a significant real estate purchase here.
With the loss of tourism units to residential development over the years, town commissioners were wise to introduce a referendum in 2008 making a pool of 250 tourism units available to developers. When voters approved that referendum, it would have been hard to imagine the vote would carry the potential for rezoning and significant density increases.
The referendum that is now before us allows the 2.6 acres in question to be rezoned to make way for the developer to absorb 120 of the available tourism units in the pool. In real terms, the rezone translates to a density increase from 15 units to 120 units, an 800% increase.
A more reasonable alternative for increasing tourism is to allocate new units to our existing beachfront resorts, such as the the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort or Resort at Longboat Key Club. There are plans at both of these resorts to increase their tourism units. Therefore, in the near future, demand for additional tourism units will be easily met without the need to award units to a developer who needs a rezone and significant density increase.
A recent Longboat Observer editorial paints the picture of myopic north-end residents with an “I-Got-Mine” attitude; the use of this negative stereotype simply takes the focus off the real issues.
A rejection of the proposed hotel is not about the threat of attracting low-rent commercial development. Nor is this about a threat to our property values.
Let’s look at the facts of Longboat Key Ordinance 158.180, the regulation that governs the distribution of the 250 tourism units in the pool:
Further, the town’s mission statement reads:
“Longboat Key is a beautiful place to live, work and visit where the natural assets of a barrier island combine with the cultural and recreational amenities, visionary planning and proactive leadership to enhance your way of life.”
Ask yourselves the hard questions about Floridays’ plan.
Zoning changes and density increases of this magnitude are generally only seen in urban redevelopment districts.
There are other more compatible development plans that would be welcomed by many residents.
Is this the right project in the right place? Is the scale of the development, on the edge of an already congested road at a busy pedestrian crossing, the right fit for the neighborhood? Is this project reminiscent of another controversial development right on the road, at the gateway to downtown Sarasota? Is this what you envision for Longboat Key?
Once built, there is no turning back.
A “no” vote gives us the opportunity to rethink this development, to work toward a solution that is a better fit for the entire island.
Michael Drake is a 31-year resident of Longboat Key and lives in the Village.