ST. PETE BEACH — Yet another in a long list of lawsuits challenging voter-approved development regulations was filed against the city last week.
The City Commission is expected to discuss the lawsuit, either in public or in a private "shade" session with its attorney, at its meeting tonight.
At issue are four ballot questions containing ordinances proposed by Save Our Little Village (SOLV) and approved by voters in June.
The ordinances amended the city comprehensive plan to create a community redevelopment district, established a large resort section of the city's land development code and changed the city's general standards for redevelopment and the city's Town Center core development regulations.
Attorney Ken Weiss, who represents resident Bruce Kadoura in this latest lawsuit, is asking the court to:
• Invalidate the settlement agreement with SOLV;
• Rule that the proposed ordinances resulting from the agreement and placed on the referendum ballot are null and void;
• Affirm that the City Charter voter referendum provisions and any voter referendum ballot questions must comply with the state's Growth Management Act; and
• Void the June referendum questions and subsequent development ordinances passed by the City Commission because they are not consistent with state law.
"The settlement plan was flawed from inception and will turn out to be nonenforceable," Weiss told the commission last week.
According to Weiss, two appeals case rulings found it "void and unenforceable" for a municipality to contract away its police powers.
That, Weiss says, is what the city did when it entered an agreement with SOLV to settle a lawsuit over a pending ballot initiative to change how the city regulates development and redevelopment.
Weiss says the cases "leave no doubt that not only is the city not required to comply with the settlement agreement, it is specifically prohibited from doing so.
Last week, Weiss offered to temporarily suspend other pending cases he has filed against the city regarding the SOLV petitions and ballot initiatives.
In exchange, he wants the city to join him in "resolving" his latest lawsuit "on a fast-track basis."
The other legal actions charge ballot misrepresentations and allege the SOLV land development regulations are inconsistent with the city's comprehensive plan.
"The SOLV plan was flawed from inception," Weiss said, citing the petition gathering process and what he calls misleading ballot summaries, rezoning without proper notice and impact fees credits and waivers he said could require taxpayers to bear some of the costs of Large Hotel District redevelopment.
Until the issues are resolved in court, Weiss warned, the city will continue to incur legal costs, which he said are approaching $500,000 to date.
"This (lawsuit) is the big one we have been expecting that gets to the merits of the whole issue," City Attorney Michael Davis told the commission.
He said he supports moving the lawsuit forward quickly, but would prefer Weiss' other lawsuits be dismissed rather than delayed.
During the discussion of Weiss' proposal, Commissioner Linda Chaney repeatedly asked the commission to delay any action on the city's comprehensive plan relating to the SOLV voter-approved ordinances.
"I have concerns," Chaney said. "We have an opportunity to reduce our legal costs. If we adopt (comprehensive plan changes), we are putting ourselves in front of a train of other lawsuits."
Mayor Michael Finnerty then questioned how Chaney could "justify going against the vote of the people."
Vice Mayor Harry Metz also objected to approving comprehensive plan changes that were requested after a state Department of Community Affairs review, but they were eventually overruled by Finnerty and Commissioners Al Halpern and Christopher Leonard.
"This is clearly a stalling tactic," Halpern said. "The residents have voted. We need to move forward. This is a lawsuit by one resident against all of the people who voted for the plan."
Chaney and Metz are supporters of Citizens for Reasonable Growth (CRG) and were represented by Weiss in past actions relating to city development issues.
CRG and SOLV are rival organizations with differing views on how the city should regulate future development.