ST. PETE BEACH — More than a year after a citywide vote, a complicated series of changes to the city's comprehensive plan and land development regulations are now in effect.
Tuesday, the state Department of Community Affairs rejected a petition filed by resident William Pyle, who contended that the comprehensive plan did not meet state comprehensive plan and development policies.
Earlier that same day, a state administrative law judge issued a ruling rejecting virtually all of Pyle's complaints heard during a two-day hearing here in February.
The ruling and the subsequent action by the DCA effectively declared the city's plan "in compliance" with state law.
Just how these changes will affect development in this beach community only time and a stronger economy will tell, but one thing is certain — the rules are quite different.
The plan, proposed by Save Our Little Village, a pro-development group of residents, ho- teliers and business owners, was approved overwhelmingly by voters in June 2008.
The plan sets up 11 different special development districts, with the most controversial involving large hotels on the west side of Gulf Boulevard between 64th Avenue S and the county park near 46th Avenue S.
The large hotel district would allow developments of 3 acres or more to exceed previous building height restrictions and density requirements, according to the city's community development director, Karl Holley.
Under the old rules, the maximum number of hotel rooms allowed was 30 per acre. Under the new rules, some hotel developments could have as many as 75 rooms or units per acre.
Previously, hotels could not exceed 50 feet above base floor elevation. Now, those that meet certain development criteria can go as high as 12 stories or 146 feet above grade level.
"There is a substantial increase in the allowable density of tourist lodging along the city's gulf beach front," said Holley.
Another key redevelopment district involves the city's downtown commercial area, particularly along Corey Avenue.
The new rules will allow greater building heights in some areas, but lowered heights in others, Holley said.
In general, the new rules encourage mixed-use development, both in the downtown area, in parts of Upham Beach, and on the west side of Gulf Boulevard, he said.
The old rules discouraged this by not allowing sufficient floor space for both ground-level retail and upper-level residential uses in the same building.
"The new plan encourages consolidation of properties for assembly into larger projects," Holley said.
He said there is no indication any property owners or developers will soon pull permits to begin building, mostly because of the economy.
However, the city is warning anyone who plans a project under the new rules that because of ongoing lawsuits challenging those rules, that they are building at their own risk.
City Manager Mike Bonfield said it may take up to a year to fully implement the new comprehensive plan. Most of the special development districts remain to be fully defined in the city's land development regulations.
Further complicating the prospect of future development are the multiple lawsuits filed against the city and SOLV by Pyle and resident Bruce Kadura.
Both are supporters of the rival political action group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, which is strongly opposed to the type of redevelopment allowed under the SOLV plan.
Representatives of both groups have been meeting with city staff members during the past month in an attempt to reach compromises that could end the legal battle.
So far, the city has been forced to spend more than $200,000 defending against Pyle and Kadura's lawsuits. SOLV, also named as defendants in those suits, has spent additional money for legal fees.