ST. PETE BEACH — A new settlement agreement under consideration Friday may finally end six development-related lawsuits against the city.
Two of the parties involved in the lawsuits have signed off on the agreement, putting it in the city's hands. City commissioners had planned to review it during a closed meeting with their attorneys Friday.
If a settlement is not approved soon, Commissioner Christopher Leonard suggested Thursday that the city might have to tax property owners to pay the city's mounting legal bills.
Those bills are now in excess of $300,000, and the lawsuits have yet to be tried in court.
"I strongly feel the city needs to defend itself and have the adequate resources to do so," Leonard said, stressing that normally he is against any tax increases during a time of economic turmoil.
At issue are development policies and regulations in the city's comprehensive plan that were proposed by the citizens' group, Save Our Little Village, and approved by voters last year.
Residents William Pyle and Bruce Kadura challenged the plan in Circuit Court and before the Florida Department of Community Affairs in Tallahassee.
The settlement calls for a citywide referendum in March on a series of development-related changes to the city's comprehensive plan.
The changes sought by Pyle and Kadura emphasize the need for design guidelines and strict impact fees charged on new developments; more beach access points for the public; a transportation study to evaluate the impact of new development; and limits on the mass of buildings along Gulf Boulevard.
As legal bills mounted for all sides, representatives for SOLV, the city, and Pyle and Kadura met informally over the summer to try and resolve the development dispute.
A formal mediation effort fell apart last week when the parties were unable to reach an agreement and an impasse was declared.
Then Friday morning, Ken Weiss, the attorney for Pyle and Kadura, sent a revised settlement agreement to City Manager Mike Bonfield.
Later that day, Robert Lincoln, the attorney for SOLV, signed the agreement for his clients.
"We approved it and let it go to the city. We thought it was the best way to assure that the process moves forward," Lincoln said, adding that if the city has issues with the proposed settlement, SOLV will support the city position.
Weiss acknowledged Friday that his proposal is based on the mediation agreement that was deadlocked last week.
The proposal also calls for the creation of a special Bridge to the Future Committee made up of representatives from SOLV, Citizens for Responsible Growth and the city. The committee would be active at least until 2014 and would be responsible for reviewing all new developments, and recommending design criteria and public improvements to "enhance the attractiveness of the community and encourage a distinctive common character for the city."
If the agreement is approved and implemented by the city, Pyle and Kadura pledge to withdraw their lawsuits.
"We regret that a delay was necessary in getting a counter-proposal to the other parties. We believe this agreement addresses our concerns with the terms discussed over the past month," Weiss said.