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At retreat, commissioners talk about the future

Longboat leaders discuss cell-phone service, roads and more.

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  • | 4:54 p.m. November 4, 2020
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The Longboat Key Town Commission held its in-person retreat Wednesday at the Sea Place clubhouse to discuss long-term strategic planning.

It was the first time all seven commissioners have met in-person since March 23. While the town commission met in-person Monday at Town Hall, four of the commissioners fulfilled a physical quorum while three commissioners used Zoom to participate in the meeting. The town is expected to stick with the hybrid-meeting format for the remainder of the year.

“Sherry [Dominick] and I are probably the first two commissioners that have had, ‘here you go, good luck,’ ” At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop joked.

Bishop and Dominick were among the commissioners still using Zoom on Monday. Bishop and Dominick were sworn in to the commission on March 23, their only appearance at an in-person meeting as town commissioners.

Jack Daly has served on the town commission since 2015. He will be termed out in March 2021.
Jack Daly has served on the town commission since 2015. He will be termed out in March 2021.

On Wednesday, each commissioner sat six feet apart. While commissioners couldn’t make any official votes, they did discuss the highlights from fiscal year 2020, what’s working well for the island, how Longboat Key can improve, the fiscal year 2021 plan and long-term issues.

Intergovernmental relations

One area for improvement discussed among town commissioners was improving governmental relations with municipalities outside of Longboat Key, starting with those who either retained or won new seats on city or county commissions nearby.

“Now is as great a time as any,” Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said. “Particularly, if you don’t have issues with any of these folks to reach out and congratulate them and use that as a segue.”

The town commission must soon figure out which commissioner will serve on the Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization once District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly leaves office in March 2021.

“He needs big accolades for hazard duty,” Bishop said of Daly’s tenure on the MPO. “It may certainly serve us well that Jack can be around to offer introductions to the new commission member who moves into that role because you have done such a great job working there.”

Mainland transportation’s impact on Longboat Key

On Wednesday, Daly again expressed his desire for the city of Sarasota to create a permanent pedestrian overpass as part of the improvements to U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue to facilitate traffic movement on the link to the barrier islands.

“Long-term, as I see it, with all of the roundabouts on that U.S. 41 corridor…we’re going to have seven to eight roundabouts all of which have the push-button pedestrian signals where the pedestrian hits the button, [and] traffic stops,” Daly said.

A logjam of traffic on the mainland can back up traffic for people wanting to head out to Longboat Key or Lido Key.

The city is considering the possibility of adding a temporary overhead pedestrian overpass during the construction of the roundabouts.

Town Manager Tom Harmer speaks during Wednesday’s town commission retreat at Sea Place.
Town Manager Tom Harmer speaks during Wednesday’s town commission retreat at Sea Place.

In 2019, the region of Sarasota and Manatee counties ranked as the fourth-most dangerous place in the U.S. for pedestrian deaths. Smart Growth America found Sarasota, North Port and Bradenton had 194 pedestrian deaths from 2008-2017.

Town Center site

Daly said he believed the most pressing long-term issue for the commission to address was the proposed Town Center. Earlier this year, the town finished phase-one improvements to the 4.8 acre site between the Public Tennis Center and the Shoppes of Bay Isles.

“I think it is incumbent on this commission here to define the concept, recognizing there will be some costs,” Daly said.

Mayor Ken Schneier said he thinks the town needs to distinguish the purposes between the proposed Town Center and the deteriorating Recreation Center building in Bayfront Park. The town has not allocated any funding toward rehabilitating or rebuilding the Rec Center, the concept plans have been formulated.

“We have to make sure as a commission and as a town that [the proposed Town Center] generates excitement,” Schneier said.

The town has budgeted about $1.09 million for phase two of the Town Center project. Phase two uses the preliminary concepts as a basis for designs that include hard-surface walkways, a fixed location for a performance structure to support a portable stage, public restrooms, landscaping, locations for tents and space for food trucks.

For years, Longboat Key leaders have discussed on what specifically to build. Possibilities include a community center, a new recreation center, a library, pickleball courts and a cafe among other things, though none of those structures are currently planned. The original concept was an arts, culture and education center built in partnership with Ringling College of Art & Design, financed through private donations. 

The proposal fell through in 2019. Since then, the town has moved ahead with plans to initially create an outdoor venue while gauging public interest in more elaborate possibilities. 

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop speaks during Wednesday's  town commission retreat at Sea Place.
At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop speaks during Wednesday's town commission retreat at Sea Place.

On Wednesday afternoon, town commissioners watched a video on the construction of the View Arts Center in Old Forge, New York.

While the View Arts Center could serve as an overview of what Longboat Key commissioners could decide to build, there are some differences compared to what the commission had previously considered. The View Arts Center cost $7 million to build, is 28,000 square feet and is bigger than anything Longboat Key has proposed.

Cell phone service

District 2 Commissioner George Spoll expressed his concern about improved cell phone service in Longboat Key, especially with the undergrounding project underway.

“It’s time we put that hot effort together because time is of the essence. We’re running out of time,” Spoll said. “We’re putting in a piece of tubing, and no fiber, and we’re not solving the cell problem. And, we’re going to hear about it. I’m already hearing about it.

The town has had conversations with private companies about the possibility of using Longboat Key’s new infrastructure to offer its services, though no firm deals have been made. Improved service would come from numerous small-cell installations on streetlight poles erected as part of the town's underground utilities project.

The town has for years resisted traditional cell phone antennas, even disguised versions.

“If we end up two years from now with the undergrounding project finished, and we don’t have an improved cell phone service on the island, we will have failed,” Schneier said. “And, the situation is getting worse, not better. I hear about it all the time.”



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