The Longboat Observer hosted a forum Thursday evening for the public to hear from commission candidates about a swath of island issues.
Bill and Bonnie Coughlin are new to Longboat, but not to politics.
“When you grow up in Boston, everything is politics,” Bill Coughlin said.
That want for the political world drew the year-round residents last week to a forum hosted by the Longboat Observer — an effort to shed light on where the would-be commissioners stand on key issues.
“There are so many bright people on Longboat Key, the candidates are all brilliant. In so many little towns we’ve lived in, it’s not that way,” Bill Coughlin said.
Eric Warneke said the forum created a convenient space for him to hear what each of the candidates think outside of what he has read in the newspaper.
“In this environment, this will be an unscripted conversation,” Warneke said.
As for that conversation, District 3 candidate John Weber stuck to his campaign message throughout the evening: Stop commercial development of the island in the form of condos and hotels. Stopping such development, Weber said, would help reduce traffic snarls on the island.
“We need to work together to solve the underlying problem that is commercial development,” Weber said.
Ken Schneier, Weber’s opponent for the soon-to-be-vacated District 3 seat and a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board, said growth on the island is a “non-issue,” saying the population has drifted downward in recent years.
Redevelopment on the island is the issue, Schneier said, and the town needs to be careful and crafty when updating its zoning codes.
“Our responsibility is to create a legal framework for people to work within the boundaries of,” Schneier said.
Randy Langley, a former developer who is running for the District 5 seat, also said the island’s zoning codes need updating, particularly to address the issue of the island’s nonconforming structures.
Other than that, Langley said the only thing he would change about the island, after the overhead wires are buried underground, is the town’s street lighting. He said he likes the island the way it is, traffic included.
“I want to protect the interest that I have,” Langley said. “I can bring energy, time, an open mind and recent development experience (to the commission).”
Incumbent Ed Zunz, Langley’s opponent for the District 5 seat, said the island needs to think big about an inevitable challenge it faces: sea-level rise.
“It’s about time we start thinking about the future,” Zunz said.
Warneke said he was encouraged to hear a commissioner talk about such an issue in a matter-of-fact way. But another thing was clear to him, he said: “no one is really planning to do anything about it.”
Zunz also endorsed redrawing the town's borders solely within Sarasota County, a proposal Irwin Pastor, incumbent at-large candidate, said he would also support.
Glenn Peterson said this is what he would like to see from his commissioners. But there are some things Peterson said he thinks went unsaid that could have been discussed.
“Nobody talked about the shadow hotel industry with Airbnb,” Peterson said. “I’ve got to do some thinking about who I’ll vote for.”
Pastor said the one-county issue should be thought about regionally so all parties involved — Longboat Key as well as Sarasota and Manatee counties — benefit from the move.
“I don’t think it’s going to be five or six years, it could be within a few years,” Pastor said of the potential move to one county.
Pastor’s opponent, Jack Wilson, had been in a hospital after a fall and could not make the forum.
April Stratton, a resident who has owned on the island since 2001, has never been to a candidate forum on the Key. But now, Stratton said, she’s interested.
Stratton wants to see the island evolve — it has been “kind of stuck” for some time now, she said.
“I think it’s time for me to get involved,” Stratton said. “It is an interesting time on Longboat Key.”