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Welcome back: We dug up so much Longboat Key news at the beach

You missed a lot of summer blockbusters this year. Not at the theater. In Longboat Key.

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  • | 9:00 a.m. November 10, 2021
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Life’s a beach.

At least that’s what sassy middle-of-the-roaders claim while trying to sound “hip,” though their delivery often comes off more “artificial hip’’ than “I-was-there” Woodstock hip.

It’s also a phrase commonly sighted at craft sales and touristy T-shirt shops, where rough-wood wall hangings featuring soothing typefaces compete with teal souvenir-wear to deliver a Jimmy Buffett-esque message that all is good where the water meets the land.

Amen, you might say.

Ahem, you might say if you were around Longboat Key during the Hot Months, when crowds take a break but news rarely does.

Why? Because as we prepared to present our annual look at the events that took center stage while you were gone, something struck us. So many of our headlines, so much of our attention, focused on the beach in the spring and summer of 2021.  

There was the town’s project to return about a million cubic feet of sand to the shore.

There was red tide, which manifested itself in the usual way but included a bizarre twist.

There was noise, made by boaters and fought by residents.

And there were questions of private property and public access, which still prompt acrimony in the one place on Earth there should only be Good Vibrations.

To be sure, there were plenty of stories that didn’t involve sand in your shoes (What! You wear shoes?). But it should be no surprise that a community named the fifth best island in the country (Take that, Manhattan!), should concern itself with the sea from time to time.

So, find yourself a spot by the breakers, settle in and catch up on the news everyone who’s been here all summer is talking about.

Oh, and welcome back!

Extreme makeover: Fire station edition

If you spy a firefighter smiling on the job these days, it might go beyond normal department esprit de corps and have something to do with their new work homes. The town over the summer opened its new fire station on the south side of the island and wrapped up deep renovations on the north side station.

The total cost of the twin projects was close to $5 million, but what the town and its firefighters got in return was a quantum leap in up-to-date features.

Perhaps the most significant is a shift to private bedrooms for each team member on a shift. Additionally, some new ventilation and firefighter safety features were built in.

For the public, new walk-in treatment areas were added, so if you're feeling woozy while walking past or scraped a knee while cycling, there's a place for you.  

Education Center opens up in a new home

Like the town's firefighters, the Longboat Key Education Center has a new home.

Formerly located at the Centre Shops, the popular adult-learning organization is now under the roof of Temple Beth Israel.

The Education Center found itself struggling financially and in April agreed to merge with the temple instead of closing after 35 years of operation. For now, the plan is to operate much like The Paradise Center operated before it established its new location a few blocks up Bay Isles Road. The ultimate goal is to launch a fund-raising campaign to find the center its own home, too.

But for now, programming that should sound familiar to clients of The Education Center will be offered at TBI. Familiar instructors and staff, including director Susan Goldfarb, will be there as well.

Goldfarb started welcoming students into the new space in October. There are more than 400 members who carried over from the Longboat Key Education Center and more than 500 TBI members get automatic membership, so it could be a busy season.

No mask, mask, no mask

Virtually all of Longboat Key's residents over the summer were vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus, which led the town to relax some of its restrictions in the spring, as the state suspended local emergency orders that allowed mask mandates, temperature screenings and other checks. 

But by August, when the Delta variant began causing trouble, masks again were required inside town facilities. In June, the town had one reported case. In July, that number was up to 37. In August, the number was 27. 

But in October, with local positivity rates falling, the town rescinded its mask order, removed the clear partitions from the Town Commission chambers and did away with temperature screenings. 

No (real) storms, but a new truck

The tropical weather season treated Longboat Key well this season, but the town is oh-so-ready to deal with rising waters that may someday come.

Tropical Storm Elsa in July stayed farther offshore than initially forecast, dispelling worries still raw from 2020’s floods from Eta.

With future floods in mind, though, the town satisfied a long-running goal of adding a high-water rescue vehicle to its fleet and did so with a hulking ex-military machine designed to roll up the Fulda Gap (look it up, kids) as easily as down a flooded Juan Anasco Drive.

The 1998 Stewart & Stevenson M1078 cargo truck is a light- to medium-duty tactical military transport to haul soldiers and cargo. Its Austrian designers built into it the capability of fording a 1-meter deep body of water and climbing a 60% gradient.

And the best part: it was free. While still the property of the Florida’s Department of Agriculture, the truck is the town’s for as long as it cares to keep it.

Noisy weekends

North shore residents were mad. Really mad. Mad enough to call police. Mad enough to email Town Commissioners.

Mad enough to hire the pioneering law firm of Marantz, Bang & Olufsen in their fight against loud music coming from boats and boaters anchored nearby (OK, that last one was an 1980s stereo joke).

But, still, you know, mad.  

And town leaders listened to the level of proposing noise-ordinance changes designed to put a cork in “a few bad apples that are playing at a rock-concert level,’’ one commissioner said.

Among the ideas, adding specific allowable decibel levels to residential and commercial areas, though that comes with a requirement to buy about $50,000 in equipment and training to actually measure sound levels.

Over the summer, five citations were levied against boaters totaling $1,850, and appeals to each were denied.

These proposals were expected to come before the Town Commission two weeks ago but were delayed.  

The sands of time 

Bright, white, new sand seems to be everywhere along Longboat Key beaches, though sunset photographers might lament the disappearance of driftwood on the island’s north end. Still, the reviews are in for the town’s renourishment project and most everyone likes what they see.

About 1 million cubic yards were pumped and dumped on town beaches, widening them along with the smiles of visitors and residents alike. Most recently, sand-saving structures were completed around North Shore Road, and spaces between filled with sand, creating perhaps the biggest visual impact of the project.

Town Projects Manager Charlie Mopps said the town will have moved 8.7 million cubic yards of sand in the history of its beach renourishment projects, which are necessary every six to eight years.

Mopps said the project will also come in under his February estimate of about $38.85 million. Residents will be paying the bill for years to come, with those owning property west of Gulf of Mexico Drive paying a higher tax rate than those on the east side.

And if the Bob the Builder in you regrets missing out on the machinery, you’re in luck. In winter 2021 or early 2022, the town is looking to hire a contractor to conduct maintenance of the New Pass groin on the south end of the island. Town staff is planning to start and finish construction before the 2022 start of shorebird and sea turtle nesting seasons.

Hey, you! Off our property

In a case of beach, interrupted, the owners of a unique property broke with years of tradition and posted signs over the summer banning passage along their private-property seawall. Among the warnings: "Not a public beach" and "Bad dog guarding."


A representative of the Ohana Trust, owners of the property, did not wish to be interviewed but released a statement via email from an account bearing the name “Michele Ohana.”

“We have been in frequent dialog with the town of Longboat Key in reference to public safety concerns and actual incidents involving injuries at the seawall as it relates to liability imposed on the Trust,” the email said. “During these communications we have proposed multiple notions including indemnification by the Town of public injury, a safety guard rail, concrete barriers, renourishment of sand seaward of the seawall to provide pedestrian access behind the wall, as well as groins that would hold in that sand permanently.”

Public outcry over the owner's take on their private property came quickly. On Oct. 7, a dustup between a beach walker and one of the property owners resulted in battery charges and a cell phone thrown into the gulf. 

Town officials have been working on solutions to regain access past the property, though nothing formal has been proposed.

Real estate goes nuts

We heard recently about a house on fire that attracted four offers from firefighters putting it out, three of them over asking price. 

OK, not really, but that's the thing about real estate jokes. They don't always stay jokes. 

Real estate has been going like a house afire (see what we did there) around here for some time. Sage Longboat Key Residences, a luxury complex of 16 units at 4651 Gulf of Mexico Drive sold out in July, though it's not expected to be move-in ready until the time you're back in Longboat Key again next year. Four penthouses sold for between $5.8 million and $6.3 million each. Lower-floor unit prices range from mid-$4 million to about $5.5 million.

The Residences at the St. Regis Resort Longboat Key were about 70% sold out before the first ceremonial shovel broke ground. 

As for single-family homes, try these on for size: $9.1 million on the north end; $7.5 million in Country Club Shores; $5.25 million in Bay Isles. 

Meanwhile, inventory of available properties plummets to less than a month in many places. 

Red tide, with a twist

Yes, red tide returned this summer, with its usual smells, throat irritation and dead fish and (ew!) eels. But, the outbreak wasn't as consistently odious as in past years, and residents employed serious gear and pool noodles to keep the floaters out of their canals. 

What they couldn't keep out of their canals were sharks. 

Hundreds of them, schooling around in residential waterways hiding from the red tide. The Observer first told you about this weird phenomenon in July, and our reporting went viral -- which means lots of other news orgs did their own reporting after seeing ours. If you read about it or saw it on TV in Michigan or Wisconsin or New York, ahem, you can thank us. 

Power to the people!

Underground, power that is. The town's underground utilities project is humming along with some neighborhoods on the south end of the island now devoid of overhead cables and utility poles. 

Next up is the north end, which is working south to Dream Island Road as part of the town's overall enterprise to remove all overhead cables. Verizon is also working with the town to tap into those underground cables to build out a small-cell network on the north end to improve reception there. 

The town launched the $49.1 million project in 2019 and expects to be complete by 2022. 

(From Longboat Observer content reported by Mark Bergin, Nat Kaemmerer and Eric Garwood)






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