MADEIRA BEACH — In what is becoming the norm, an overflow crowd filled the commission chambers Tuesday to both protest and support multimillion-dollar hotel-condominium-marina developments proposed for the city's entrance and downtown core.
It didn't matter that the commission decided to delay its scheduled vote on one of the projects, for nearly an hour resident after resident rose for the permitted three minutes to comment for and against redevelopment of the former Leverock's restaurant site, now known as the Holton property.
Most of the audience was opposed and loudly applauded each speaker who spoke against the projects.
Only scatterings of applause met those in favor of the redevelopments.
Originally, the commission had planned to take the final of two votes needed to approve the Holton redevelopment. The first vote, taken last month, was 4-1 in favor of the proposed hotel, condominiums, retail space and marina at the southwestern foot of the Tom Stuart Causeway bridge.
Since then, two residents filed a lawsuit challenging the city's development rules, partly on the basis of how those rules were advertised to the public. Their aim is to block the two projects.
Tuesday, in "an abundance of caution," the city's attorney, Tom Trask, advised delaying the commission vote on the Holton project until its May 10 meeting to allow time to "properly notice" the meeting.
It seems the legal advertisement the city ran for Tuesday's meeting did not meet all state law requirements, including the size of the type in the advertisement headline.
One thing the meeting did reveal, however, were answers to two rumors that had been floating around town for weeks — that Mayor Travis Palladeno worked or once worked for developer Bill Karns and that City Manager Shane Crawford lives in a condominium owned by Karns.
"Absolutely not," said Palladeno when confronted by resident John Neff.
Trask prevented Crawford from answering, arguing that it was "inappropriate" for the public comments portion of the meeting to become a question and answer period.
After the meeting, however, Crawford told the Tampa Bay Times that he does live in an Indian Shores condominium owned by a Bill Karns, who is not the developer. This Mr. Karns is the developer's father and has nothing to do with the proposed development along Madeira Way, Crawford said.
"The attorney told me that even if Bill (the developer) owned my condo, I was doing nothing wrong," he added.
Commissioner Elaine Poe also came under attack for her alleged ethics complaints against Crawford for living with his assistant.
"Ms. Poe, you are tearing this city apart and as a commissioner you need to resign," resident John Hendricks said.
Poe has not publicly admitted, but did not deny she filed a formal complaint with the International City/County Management Association about Crawford's relationship. The public version of the complaint says it was made "confidentially."
One of the final comments on the issue was an email sent by resident Ginger Tolliver and read by Trask:
"I feel that these innuendoes have no part in our government. … Shane please do not resign. … You are the best thing that has happened to our city."
Ironically, Tolliver is opposed to both proposed redevelopments, and had planned to donate $10,000 to the legal fund being set up to fight the projects.
"I immediately tore up my check," she said in her email. "I want no part of demeaning Shane Crawford. …What he does in his private life is no business of ours. …"
As for the projects themselves, Crawford said both developers are not backing away, despite passionate opposition and pending legal challenge.