TREASURE ISLAND — Land development regulations became a dirty word here in 2002 as residents fought the city over rules that would have allowed 10-story hotels.
Now, officials are hesitantly considering again broaching the politically charged issue of updating the city's development rules.
Just how difficult that process might become was clear Tuesday during more than an hour of debate concerning who should write new regulations.
The debate pitted a commission reluctant to spend money against the professional opinions of its city manager, city planner and city attorney.
In the end, the commission agreed that new development rules are needed, but it could not decide whether it wants to spend any money to do so.
City Manager Reid Silverboard argued strongly that the city should hire an experienced planner to review regulations; meet with city officials, business interests and residents; and update more than 300 pages of regulations.
The process, he said, would take up to 18 months at an annual cost of nearly $100,000.
The job is too big for the city's two-member planning staff, Silverboard said, and hiring an outside consultant could cost two or more times the cost of a temporary full-time employee.
The City Commission, which increasingly in past months has called for the land use rules to be updated, balked at Silverboard's recommendation.
Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. objected. He suggested that if he were "king" of Treasure Island he would direct the city's Local Planning Agency, a citizen board, to do the job.
Gayton repeatedly argued that the LPA could review regulations and have a secretary write whatever changes it recommended.
Commissioners Phil Collins and Carol Coward pushed for city planner Lynn Rosetti to be assigned the task, a suggestion Silverboard called "unrealistic" because of Rosetti's heavy workload.
Rosetti agreed with the commission that she might be the "best person" to do the job, but she said she has too many other responsibilities.
"You asked me how we could get this (updated regulations) done. I am telling you this is how we get this done the cheapest, fastest way to get the best product," Silverboard said.
Later in the discussion, City Attorney Maura Kiefer suggested that she should be given the job of rewriting the land use regulations.
"When it gets down to the nuts and bolts of writing, it should be done by an attorney," she said. "I envision I would play a large role in that."
Kiefer said the first thing the commission should do is decide what it wants changed in the rules and why.
The last big effort to update the land use rules occurred in 2002. That ended in a political and legal battle over the height of hotels.
Two weeks before a resident-initiated referendum to let voters decide future height and density increases, commissioners passed the new rules allowing buildings up to 10 stories.
The referendum restricting future height and density of developments was successful. But a subsequent lawsuit voided the entire land rules package, including the commission's 10-story building height approval.
That put the older land use rules back into effect.
Since then, there have been some changes, but most of the city's development regulations are at least 30 years old.
Areas most needing to be modernized include codes regulating flood control, dock and land use, developer agreements, signs, and even lists of environmentally compatible plants.
If, when or how the city codes will be updated has yet to be decided.