Tourism Central in LBK Elections

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JAN 12, 2017

How should Longboat Key balance the needs of residents and the rising interest of tourists in the island? The question seems central to town elections being held on the island this spring, and comes as some world-renowned hotel sites ponder their future. 

Voters on March 14 will decide who fills two seats on the seven-member town commission. Commissioner Jack Daly is being challenged by conservation activist Larry Grossman for the District 4 seat, while former commissioners Jim Brown and Gene Jaleski fight for an at-large seat. Commissioner George Spoll won the election to the District 2 seat unopposed.

Grossman says the island can’t widen its roads anymore and needs to be looking at ways to reduce burdens on infrastructure even as an increase in AirBnB rentals and the potential addition of tourism units looms. “We can’t handle the traffic,” he says. “We have a mismatch between the capabilities—and the resources and physical limitations of the town—with demand.” With his background in planning in Alexandria, VA, he wants to redirect city efforts on multimodal transportation and getting less people driving on the island. Commissioner Daly, running for his second term, says voters need his experience over someone never elected to the board, and that the town needs to be measured and careful as it reviews its comprehensive planning documents. “I’m very comfortable with the direction of our policies,” Daly says, mentioning that the city already regulates rentals, and that the balance of tourism and residential units on the island right now seems on track.

In the citywide election, Jaleski characterizes the race as a decision for voters to choose between leadership that wants a place suitable for living or a place geared to tourism. “I’ve been preaching tourism doesn’t serve a high-end residential community. There are different lifestyles,” he says. Those living in multi-million-dollar mansions shouldn’t live with short-term rentals dominating life on the island, and as plans for redeveloping The Colony come up for consideration in town, Jaleski wants the town to find ways to stop an increase in tourism—and maybe even decrease it. Brown, for his part, agrees that a spike in AirBnB traffic has proven problematic. He also notes that the island community is one of a few with rental restrictions enforced in town, and that the commission had defended the right to do so in court. Voters have approved more tourism units, even if they have not supported many new projects where those units can go. “We do need to think carefully about how to give out those units until we prove there is a need,” he says. Such planning matters will be complicated, and he says his six years on the commission and seven on the planning board will be useful.

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