ST. PETE BEACH — With little fanfare and deliberately less comment, the City Commission once again approved new rules it hopes will fuel redevelopment, particularly along the hotel district on the Gulf of Mexico.
"We felt the less said the better," Mayor Steve McFarlin said Tuesday. "Any issues that are still under appeal will be a moot point by us readopting this plan. Hopefully, we are at a point that this is the end of this and we can move forward."
Ken Weiss, attorney for Jim Anderson, the resident who is appealing the city's previous actions on the comprehensive plan, disagrees.
He stressed that the plan is not officially in effect until the state issues a letter certifying its compliance with state law and regulations.
"That can't happen for 30 days, during which time anyone can file a formal objection to the plan," Weiss said.
Just before the commission approved the newest iteration of the comprehensive plan last week, resident Bill Pyle, who also had filed numerous legal actions to void the plan, voiced his continuing opposition.
"Our residents have a history of substantial opposition to over-development," Pyle said, listing four specific effects he said existed in the plan that would detrimentally affect property values at the beachfront Silver Sands Condominium complex.
City Manager Mike Bonfield sharply countered that there was "nothing in the comprehensive plan" that would allow public boardwalks behind private property, that would allow buildings to encroach any closer to the beach than previously allowed or that would declare any nearby properties as "blighted."
Bonfield did agree, however, that the new plan authorizes a slight increase in building height.
Four other residents spoke in favor of the new plan, urging the commission to approve it.
"It would certainly improve the city," said Rosemary Manning.
"Our community has gone backward and it is time for us to go forward. This city needs certainty and finality," said Deborah Nicklaus, whose family owns the Sirata Beach Resort.
Michael Lehman, a member of the city's Planning Board, also urged passage of the plan.
"We need a plan so this community can get on with things and redevelop," he said.
Deborah Martohue, a real estate lawyer and former city commissioner, echoed her support.
"This has been going on since 2000," she said. "We need to allow family-owned businesses to redevelop so they can reduce flood insurance costs."
McFarlin said although he couldn't be specific, he has heard there is development "interest in some of our larger properties."
McFarlin insisted that the commission's actions will ensure the city has a comprehensive plan unaffected by previous legal actions.
That plan has been a long time in coming.
The land use plan the commission adopted last week is intended, according to the ordinance itself, to "limit further litigation expenditures," "bring closure" to issues under appeal, eliminate any "uncertainty" over the city's development regulations and "provide certainty" to residential and business property rights.
Since 2000, there have been several versions of the plan, repeated lawsuits filed by a group of residents, several voter referendum elections held and a special law passed by the state Legislature.
Since the contentious and legal debate began 13 years ago — one remaining lawsuit, focused primarily on possible violations of the Sunshine Law — remains undecided at the appellate level.