Council approves Tierra Verde annexation
ST. PETERSBURG - In the end, the letters to City Hall, the petitions and the stern comments from critics in all levels of local government weren't enough to persuade the City Council to vote against annexing Tierra Verde's waterfront commercial district.
The council voted 5-2 to annex 28-acres of unincorporated Tierra Verde Friday in a financially motivated effort that expands the city's borders across the Pinellas Bayway into the small wealthy enclave.
Council members Herb Polson and Jeff Danner cast the dissenting votes. Council member Jim Kennedy was not present.
The Tierra Verde Marina, a vacant 56-unit condominium resort, five vacant residential lots and a 7-Eleven are among the former Tierra Verde properties that will now reside in St. Petersburg. Property owners there supported the annexation because the city has a more lenient approach to development than Pinellas County. The city also annexed 10 acres of submerged state land, the only way it can connect to the 18 acres of commercial property on the island.
The annexation would add nearly $200,000 to the city's coffers in 2009. New development could eventually contribute $1-million in annual property tax revenue. In return, the city is now responsible for providing services such as police and code enforcement to the northernmost tip of Tierra Verde.
City officials offered a last minute bargaining chip late Thursday to sweeten the deal: don't challenge the annexation, and development will be limited to eight stories instead of the maximum allowable height of 15 stories. If the annexation is challenged, the deal is off and 150 foot tall buildings could be built.
Mayor Rick Baker said the deal was cut after he met with Tierra Verde community leaders to address concerns about over-development. Tierra Verde limits building height at five stories.
"We have been trying to act in good faith," said Baker. "The city has tried to listen."
But county and Tierra Verde residents not involved with the land grab say they plan to challenge the legality of the annexation in court anyway.
"They left us no choice," said Brian Smith, the county's planning director. "I'm kind of disappointed."
The annexation has been widely criticized. State and county leaders and neighborhood groups implored the city to delay the vote. Critics said the annexation is inappropriate at a time when the county is in the midst of overhauling its annexation restrictions and hundreds of Tierra Verde residents who are not part of the annexation oppose it.
Council members said they received phone calls up until Friday morning asking them to delay the vote. Council member Leslie Curran said she spoke with a critic who described the annexation as a communist takeover
Many Tierra Verde residents fear the annexation will divide their community and remove valuable commercial property from what could one day be an independent municipality. They also worry new development will strain the bedroom community's already overstressed main corridor, the only road to the county's Fort De Soto park.
This was the city's third attempt to acquire the 28 acres. Two earlier efforts were dropped after questions arose over voting rights of boat dwellers in the annexation. The city ultimately decided not to annex the dock where those people live.
At one point Friday, several council members seemed uncomfortable with the decision before them.
"I'm struggling with this," said Danner. "Is it the right way to go? Should we have engaged the neighborhoods more?"
Council member Karl Nurse also expressed some reservations.
"I must confess I've been kind of wrestling with this. I think all the pros are self evident, and, frankly, for the citizens of St. Petersburg a million dollars a year over time is not insignificant," he said.
But, Nurse added, the city's actions could also strain its relationships with the county and the people of Tierra Verde.
Cristina Silva, Times staff writer