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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas congressional candidates can file this week

Federal candidates can file for office Monday through Friday this week, which means it should soon become clear how much opposition newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, will face in Pinellas County's Congressional District 13. Democrat Manuel Sykes has said he intends to run. The primary election will be Aug. 26 and the general election will be Nov. 4. Here is a look at the voter regisration in the district, which extens from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out. 

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Lawyer: New mixed-use zoning for ex-Nielsen site in Dunedin prompts offer

DUNEDIN| Officials say a new land use and zoning designation for the former Nielsen Media Research site has already sparked interest from at least one developer, who made a purchase offer even before the changes won final approval from the City Commission last week.

The new designations mean the developer who eventually buys the vacant 23-acre parcel at 375 Patricia Ave. can build a mixed-use project that might include condos, offices, boutiques, restaurants and other retail instead of a light-industrial project, which city and Pinellas County officials had been trying to attract since Nielsen left in 2005.

The developer would also be required to include a public square and designate at least 15 percent of the site, or roughly 3.5 acres, to offices for a target employment center - jobs in high-wage industries such as medical research, finance or information technology.

Joel Tew, land-use attorney for Wells Fargo, which owns the site, said the bank has authorized its broker to launch a brochure and "aggressive" regional marketing campaign.

Full story here.

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New Dunedin law cracks down on 'chronic nuisance' properties

DUNEDIN| City commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a new law that will levy tough fines against owners of properties with repeat code or criminal complaints.

Under the "chronic nuisance" ordinance, the code enforcement fines racked up by banks and homeowners with neglected rental or homesteaded properties and those in long-term foreclosure will no longer be subordinate to the mortgage.

A property that is cited six times in six months can be deemed a nuisance and the owner required to create a corrective action plan. If that fails and the city itself ends up having to clean up, the costs can be added to the home's tax bill (which the bank or homeowner must pay or risk losing the property).

The ordinance, similar to one adopted in 2012 by Madeira Beach, can also be used to crack down on residential and commercial properties that are the subject of multiple instances of criminal activity.

Read more here.

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Dunedin: Blue Jays architect to calculate spring training upgrade needs, costs

DUNEDIN| It will be at least another month or so before the Toronto Blue Jays submit a spring training facilities wish list and cost estimate to the city.

Dunedin officials, who met several weeks ago with top Jays executives to kick off talks about a possible contract renewal, had been expecting the document by mid April.

But Mayor Dave Eggers said Jays president Paul Beeston told him Monday that the team intends to send an architect next week to determine whether the upgrades the team wants at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the nearby Englebert practice complex are possible and, if so, how much they would cost.

Once in hand, city officials plan to use the Jays' letter to pursue state and county funding.

"I think they're trying to assess what their needs are and what the facility has to offer, so they have a better feel," Eggers said, adding that the exercise will help the Jays avoid alienating anyone by either underestimating or overestimating the project's scope and cost.

Full story here.

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Church of Scientology wins approval for building to store parishioner records

The Community Development Board Tuesday unanimously approved a Church of Scientology warehouse to be built in the city’s industrial corridor.

The nearly 90,000-square-foot warehouse will be used to house parishioner records, according to an application submitted by the church.

Church officials declined further comment Tuesday.

Board members wanted to know more about why the church would only provide 10 parking spaces for a building zoned for 133 spaces on the southeast corner of N Hercules Avenue and Calumet Street.

Between three and 15 workers will staff the facility in two shifts “day and night” behind a gated entrance, according to the application.

Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the church, said the church “essentially had its own transit agency,” and planned to shuttle workers to and from the facility in vans and buses.

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Political newcomer raises more cash than veterans in Dunedin commission race

DUNEDIN| Just one month into the nonpartisan race to win one of four City Commission seats on the November ballot, a political newcomer has raised more money than three candidates who have up to a decade of experience each.

As of Thursday, the deadline for the first monthly campaign treasurer's report, records showed it was Bruce Livingston, a community volunteer and retired dental industry businessman making his first run for office, who raised the most money in March.

His $6,629 campaign account - which contains mostly $25 to $250 increments from nearly 30 donors -dwarfed those of sitting Commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski and Julie Scales (who are running for mayor) and former City Commissioner Deborah Kynes (who is eyeing the seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Ron Barnette).

Read more here.

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Parts of elevated highway could be lowered

The private company proposing an elevated toll road in south Pasco County is considering whether to place sections of the road at ground level.

Frank Chupka, a Department of Transportation administrator in Tampa, said Thursday that state officials asked the company to consider placing some of the 33-mile highway at ground level to appease residents and businesses after a public backlash.

The road would still track along the State Road 54/56 corridor in south Pasco, but at some point it would transition from an elevated structure to a ground-level highway, Chupka said.

The existing highway would be bowed out to make room for the four-lane road, which would run in the center along the median.

The project has angered residents who worry an elevated road would hurt property values, cause noise and pollution and become a neighborhood eyesore.

A group called Pasco Fiasco has gathered 1,500 online signatures from residents opposed to the project, said Rich Connors, one of the group’s organizers.

The company, Florida 54 Express LLC, submitted the proposal to the DOT in December. The DOT will decide by the end of the year whether to allow the project to proceed, Chupka said. …

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Hillsborough Commissioner Sharpe: HART needs to change

TAMPA -- Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority management need to change their view their buses are only for poor people and "retool" the agency into "something dramatically different," County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said Wednesday in an open letter.

Sharpe, who also serves on the HART board, has been vocal about his belief the agency needs to take the lead in expanded transit options for Hillsborough residents. Present HART management, Sharpe wrote in the letter has been "resistant to thinking beyond compliance with regulations."

"The prevailing management view is that public transit exists primarily to serve the economically disadvantaged. I fundamentally disagree," Sharpe wrote.

Sharpe sent the letter to other board members Wednesday after one of his fellow board members, Fran Davin, told Sharpe earlier in the week he was being too critical of HART, Sharpe said.

Sharpe said he hoped the letter reinforced his message that HART needs to change, a message he hopes is embraced by whoever takes over the agency. HART CEO Philip Hale is stepping down at the end of April. HART COO Katharine Eagan will serve as interim CEO until the board selects a new boss.  …

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That's two very fit judges

Two judges from the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit are about to embark on some endurance sports.

Judge Cynthia Newton, who handles felony criminal trials, is scheduled to compete Sunday in a "half Ironman" competition in Haines City and Lake Eva. That's a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bicycle ride and a 13.1-mile run. She also is planning to participate in a full Ironman -- double those distances -- this summer in Idaho.

Meanwhile, Judge Dee Anna Farnell, who presides over Drug Court, is scheduled to compete in her 17th Boston Marathon on April 21.


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Clearwater City Manager is sticking around

CLEARWATER —City Manager Bill Horne said Wednesday that he has no plans to retire this year and hopes to squelch a rumor to that effect spreading through the city.

Horne, the chief administrator of Tampa Bay ’s third-largest city since 2000, said several people had approached him in recent days to ask him if he intended to retire at the end of this year.

“Now is not the time to think about leaving,” Horne said. “I wouldn’t think of doing anything destabilizing.”

Major initiatives all require his attention, Horne said. Those include negotiating a 60-year lease with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on city-owned land where City Hall now stands for a downtown aquarium, securing land for a downtown parking garage and picking a location for a new City Hall.
“I would want to see those things through,” he said.

A recent conversation with a “community leader” may have been the origin of the misunderstanding, Horne said.

A retired Air Force colonel who will turn 65 in June, Horne said he will reevaluate his options in 2016.

Horne said he doesn’t ever want to overstay his welcome and become perceived as “too long in the tooth” for the demanding job. …

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New study asks: Replace or repair Dunedin bridge?

DUNEDIN| Pinellas County is gearing up to study options for repairing or replacing the drawbridge that leads to Honeymoon Island State Park.

The causeway reached its 50-year estimated useful life in 2013, so county officials in 2009 tried to get a head start by doing a routine feasibility study, which recommended a new bridge.

But to get federal funding for the project, the county has to hire consultants and embark on yet another study using federal guidelines.

Read more here.

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Murphy qualifies for state House race

State Rep. Amanda Murphy this week qualified to run for re-election in this year’s state House District 36 race in west Pasco County.

Murphy, who won the seat in a special election in October, qualified by petition, meaning she turned in enough voter signatures to have her name placed on the ballot.

Candidates can also qualify by paying a filing fee of $1,781.82 (for party affiliated candidates).

In Murphy’s case, the Pasco supervisor of elections certified enough voter signatures – 1,012 – to qualify her as a candidate in the upcoming election. She qualified this past Monday.

So far, she is the only candidate in the race to qualify and the only Democrat running.

Also running are two Republicans, Jim Mathieu and Chris Gregg. Both have said they intend to qualify by petition as well.

Mathieu, chairman of Pasco’s Republican Party, said Friday he has about 60 percent of the necessary signatures. Efforts to reach Gregg were unsuccessful.

The candidates still have plenty of time to gather signatures. The deadline to qualify is June 16 to June 20.

The primary is Aug. 26. The general election is Nov. 4.

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Vice Mayor of Clearwater proves to be tempting prize

CLEARWATER-- After wishing farewell to outgoing Vice Mayor Paul Gibson on Thursday, the City Council got busy selecting his successor to the ceremonial position.

The job, which mainly involves filling in for the mayor when he is absent or on a bathroom break during meetings, proved to be an appealing prize for three council members. Bill Jonson, Jay Polglaze and Doreen Hock-DiPolito all threw their political hats into the ring.  

Mayor George Cretekos had suggested at Monday’s council work session that the position just be rotated annually, which wouldn’t require a vote of the five council members, but that idea didn’t gain any traction. 

When faced with three candidates, Cretekos quipped: “Y’all understand why I said this was awkward?”

It fell to newly-elected council member Hoyt Hamilton to anoint the honorary second. Hamilton chose Hock-DiPolito. Jonson seconded that motion. Cretekos voted for her and she voted for herself.

Polglaze voted no.

Hock-DiPolito, who was elected to the council without opposition in 2012, will fill the vice mayor role for the next year. 

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Wells' son to take on Wilson in Pasco Commission race

Mike Wells Jr., the son of Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells, announced Friday he is running for Pasco County Commission District 4, the seat currently held by Republican Henry Wilson.

Wells, like his well-known father, is running as a Republican, which ensures a GOP primary election Aug. 26.

He's a first-time candidate and Wilson is seeking his first re-election after defeating incumbent Michael Cox, then the commission's only Democrat, four years ago. District 4 is in central west Pasco. It includes parts of New Port Richey and Land O’ Lakes and generally runs from State Road 54 to State Road 52.

Wells, 42, is a former manager at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and currently works as a Realtor at Coldwell Banker F.I. Grey & Son in New Port Richey. He is married to Tiffany Wells, 39. The couple has one son, Cole, 12.

Wells said he got a taste for politics while a youngster watching his father at County Commission meetings in the 1980s. …

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Dunedin ballot filling up fast

DUNEDIN| Two longtime city commissioners who often disagree on policy issues have announced they both plan to run for mayor.

Julie Scales resigned her commission seat and announced her candidacy for mayor on March 18. Julie Ward Bujalski announced Tuesday that she plans to file paperwork to run for the top post.

With Mayor Dave Eggers leaving to run for Pinellas County Commission and one of two commissioners who are up for re-election announcing retirement, four of the five commission seats will be up for grabs in the November election.

Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, who in late February was contemplating another run for the top spot, told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that he will not run.

Hackworth said he has typically run against incumbents in order to give citizens a chance to hold those officials accountable.

Noting the "unprecedented" number of open seats, Hackworth said he will "sit this one out" and let some new blood have a chance at office.

Community volunteer Bruce Livingston is running for Scales' seat. And former commissioner Deborah Kynes hopes to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Ron Barnette.

Read details about each candidate here. …

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