Off Islands

| May 1, 2015

By Rodger Skidmore

Whose got my car keys?
Many remember the key clubs that were fashionable in the suburbs back in the 70s. Attend a party, throw your car keys in a bowl when you arrive, drink and have fun and, when everyone leaves, the women take a set of keys out of the bowl and go home with whoever’s keys they are. There were Key Clubs like that all over America – even in the upper mid-west.

Fast forward forty years and Ocean Properties is proposing a $100 million key club on Longboat Key – but not the kind you remember. Today we are hard pressed to find where our keys are, let alone putting them in a bowl and figuring out whose are whose at the end of an evening.

Instead there is talk of a hotel with 259 units and 90 plus condos towering 10 to 12 stories over Sarasota Bay. But that kind of talk is the pie in the sky kind – no concrete details have been released. Instead everything defaults to another game from our younger years where people swap places – musical chairs. The property on which The Longboat Key Club now stands is not configured the way the new owner / developers feel will best suit future clients. Instead of the present layout there is talk of not just moving all new development to the south side of Longboat Club Road but to move the road itself. To where should it be moved? – closer to where a driving range now sits. That would, of course, mean that they would move the gatehouse further west. Tennis courts will also be replaced, but no mention of what the would be replaced by, although new condos west of the hotel are planned. One thing that won’t move, or al least not very quickly, is traffic along Gulf Of Mexico Drive. Even with a number of resort destinations – The Colony and the Hilton, among others – not open, traffic just seems to creep along. Additional traffic kind of gives one the creeps, doesn’t it.

It also seems that, because reservations are hard to get at the Chart House restaurant, Ocean Properties will build, at some point in the future, 48 condos where the restaurant now sits. This way, those that can afford to, can permanently occupy that Chart House space without having to phone ahead. Ocean Properties doesn’t plan on canceling anyone’s leases, simply to not renew them when up for renewal.

What is holding up the developer from releasing a concrete conceptual plan for review?: the referendum ballot scheduled for May 12. A YES vote will permit 300 more units on select areas of Key Club property. If residents vote NO Ocean Properties will have to go back to Square One – if it hasn’t been moved.

The dog ate my homework
Remember when one of your children used that excuse in school when they did not finish their homework on time (because of not starting their homework on time) – or was that you, a few years earlier? Anyway, residents of Longboat Key, as represented by Mayor Jack Duncan and Town Manager Dave Bullock, are asking for a study for the cities of Sarasota, Bradenton, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria along with the Florida Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Sarasota and Manatees. 

Why the study? Mayor Duncan says that many concerned citizens say they are so late, due to traffic, that they are missing doctor and dental appointments. The study will ask: Is traffic getting worse? And the answer, of course, will be – Yes. A second question might well be asked as well: What to do about it? Two answers come to mind. One is, get developers to pay higher impact fees (hard to do politically) to pay for more infrastructure (turning lanes, etc), and the other is to tell the concerned citizens to leave earlier for all their appointments: that one would be really hard to do. 

A more daring plan would an additional lane running the entire length of Gulf of Mexico Drive. From the midpoint of the key – perhaps Westfield Street – going toward Bradenton Beach and Cortez Road the extra lane would be used for northbound traffic. Going toward St. Armands and Sarasota the extra lane would be used for southbound traffic. This lane would help move more traffic off the island in both directions during evacuations, for early bird dinners and for dental appointments. Although I’m not sure why people with dental problems can’t just FedEx their teeth in for repair and save the round trip.

Wish for the moon
Admittedly, crossing either of Longboat Key’s two bridges to the mainland in a timely fashion is a problem, but so is just crossing Gulf of Mexico Drive – especially in a safe and stress free way. Mayor Jack Duncan is concerned about safety and feels that a crosswalk at the intersection of that thoroughfare and Wake Island Road is a necessity. The Florida Department of Transportation, not so much. 

Apparently the FDOT will not consider putting in a crosswalk, or any other safety measure, unless 72 people have died or become quadriplegic at that location (the actual number and/or severity of injuries may be somewhat lower, but you get the drift). The mayor feels that facts (and voters) can sometimes speak for themselves. With the amount of foot traffic that crosses Gulf of Mexico Drive at that point, he feels an accident is just waiting to happen. 

One problem with adding this particular crosswalk is that the FDOT is already set to add 4 crosswalks later this year at various points along this island long roadway and Mayor Duncan is also asking for 4 other additional crosswalks. That seems to add up to a total of nine new crosswalks – a bit of a stretch one might say.

Perhaps Mayor Duncan should prioritize his requests and then, for the one he feels is needed most, ask for a pedestrian bridge over G of M Drive. The FDOT, after seeing how much that would cost,might relent and add one more crosswalk to its existing list.

Category: Columns

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