It’s time for the new Town Commission to get to work.
The group of seven volunteers, chosen by voters to make policy decisions on behalf of Longboat Key residents, has much to discuss and decide in the coming months. And none of it has to do with the 17.6-acre property at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive that drew dozens of residents to Town Hall for years.
But that’s not to undercut its importance.
There’s the town zoning code — last updated more than three decades ago; a vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Board; a sign code undercut by the U.S. Supreme Court; a citation process that needs revision; and a meeting with community leaders about local wants and needs.
Here's a breakdown of each of those decisions and how they will affect residents.
The zoning code
The town’s zoning codes need some work, according to the Planning, Zoning and Building Department. The first thing the department wants to tackle is the abundance of nonconforming structures on the island, according to a memorandum sent March 27 to the town manager.
An effort to do this began in 2015, when the Planning and Zoning Board hired consultants to figure out what to do about the many nonconforming buildings on the island — structures that are at a higher density than allowed in their zoning district.
Most of these became that way in 1984 when the town capped zoning allowances to a maximum of six units per acre.
To resolve the issue, consultants suggested establishing a “floating” planned unit development, or PUD, zoning district. This new zoning would allow nonconforming properties to seek admission to the PUD zoning district at their current density.
If a nonconforming property would like to redevelop now, it would have to build a structure of the same cubic yardage — a rebuild of what already exists. Eliminating a nonconforming status would give property owners the flexibility to redevelop buildings into something that appeals to the modern-day market.
Planning board vacancy
The empty spot on the Planning and Zoning Board left by rising District 3 Commissioner Ken Schneier needs to be filled, a position seated by appointment from the Town Commission.
Any appointee must be a registered voter on Longboat Key — no planning or zoning experience is required.
The seven-person Planning and Zoning Board has the authority to make recommendations to the Town Commission when it comes to zoning district changes, amendments to the town’s comprehensive road and zoning plans and subdivisions of plats.
It also has the power to recommend any changes to building or zoning regulations that “seem beneficial” to the island, according to town codes.
Any registered voter may apply for the position, as long as she or he does not serve on any other town boards. An application for the board, which asks for occupation (or former occupation), how an applicant can contribute to the board and other community involvement, is available online or at Town Hall.
An application can be found on the town website — longboatkey.org — under the tab “How do I?” in the upper right corner of the page: select “Apply For…” then “Town Board or Committee.”
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the town’s sign codes more than two years ago with a decision that deemed content-based regulations a violation of the First Amendment.
And the town has been working to fix it ever since.
The town’s code now delineates signs based on what is on them when it comes to how many are allowed and for how long. The Supreme Court decision disallows regulations based on a sign’s content.
The Town Commission tabled a discussion about making a change to the sign code early this year. The board requested the matter be heard after last week’s election.
The proposed sign ordinance requires a permit fee for all signs — a cost the commission did not want to pass onto candidates in the heat of a campaign. The code now permits two campaign signs without a permit fee.
The town got close to rewriting the sign code late last year when the Planning and Zoning Board recommended the commission approve a policy that allows two temporary signs on any property for up to six months, regardless of what is on them.
This includes one 2-square-foot sign and one 4-square-foot sign with a 1-square-foot informational rider (like “for sale,” “this way,” etc.).
The town does not have a means to issue a citation backed by the town when people violate its codes — something staff want to change.
As it stands, if someone cuts down a tree without a permit, rents their home for less than 30 days or leaves a chair on the beach, a town code enforcement officer has the authority to issue a warning and notice to appear before the town’s Code Enforcement Board.
These means of enforcement do not offer an immediate reparation for violating local laws — a system that could be circumvented by a citation process, said Code Enforcement Officer Chris Elbon.
So the Police Department is working with town attorneys and code enforcement to create a citation process for when town codes are broken, Elbon said.
“What that would do would allow a more somewhat expedient process for violations instead of taking every case to the Code Enforcement Board,” said Elbon.
The Code Enforcement Board may charge anyone who violates a code up to $5,000 for an irreparable and irreversible violation, like felling a tree without a permit. Elbon said a citation would cost much less — a fine that is up to the commission to decide.
Goals and objectives
The Town Commission has met with local leaders for decades, including various community, civic and religious organizations.
This meeting serves as a means of giving town leaders direction on how island taxpayers want their money spent before the town begins discussing its budget for the next fiscal year.
The April meeting comes just before the town begins budget discussions, said Susan Phillips, assistant to the town manager. It’s a time for the community to evaluate the town’s vision statement and request, validate or reject any town projects.
“It gives [the commission] ideas and gives them input from the community on where the community would like to see the town go, what the community thinks is important,” Phillips said.
Projects that have come up at these meetings in the past include beautification of Gulf of Mexico Drive, the plan to put all the island’s overhead wires underground and a proposal to build an arts, cultural and education center in collaboration with Ringling College of Arts and Design at the Town Center, Phillips said.
The Goals and Objectives Workshop with Community Leaders is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 23 at Town Hall.