ST. PETE BEACH — The city took a major step Tuesday toward ending its yearslong legal battle over development regulations.
The commission voted 4-1, with only Mayor Steve McFarlin dissenting, to settle three of four outstanding lawsuits filed against the city by resident Bruce Kadoura.
Kadoura had voluntarily dismissed several other lawsuits against the city. The final remaining suit involves an appeal of a Sunshine Law case, which the city won and now awaits a court ruling.
That leaves the city with only one major development-related lawsuit. Resident Jim Anderson is challenging the current comprehensive plan, alleging that the city violated the Sunshine Law in developing the plan, that its passage is based on an unconstitutional law passed last summer by the Legislature, and that the March referendum that made the new plan possible was invalid.
In exchange for mutual dismissal of the Kadoura lawsuits, the commission agreed to pay Kadoura $12,000 to cover some of his court costs.
Payment will not be made, though, until March 31 or until the Anderson case is resolved, whichever is first.
City Attorney Mike Davis said the city "come out ahead" financially by settling. The commission directed Davis to arrange a public workshop that would allow the city to meet with Kadoura and other residents to discuss possible comprehensive plan modifications that would relieve their concerns.
"It is a good compromise," Kadoura said, likening the city's legal battles to the armistice that ended World War I.
The battle lines in St. Pete Beach's version of that war began softening this year when Kadoura and Commissioner Jim Parent began talking.
Several weeks ago, Kadoura voluntarily dismissed two minor actions against the city.
On Tuesday, Parent said it now was the city's turn to show "good faith" as well.
"Everybody seems to be cooperating lately. Is the war ending? I certainly hope so," Kadoura said, adding that the talks with Parent had "really helped."
Kadoura hopes the commission can schedule a public workshop before the end of the year.
Both he and the commission appear ready to tighten the comprehensive plan's language, primarily to ensure that hotels or other developments pay their fair share of any infrastructure costs and to block any variances that would increase building heights.
Kadoura said he also plans to ask Anderson to join the workshop discussion and possibly move toward ending his lawsuit against the city as well.
"We really need to work together on this. Otherwise nothing good will happen," Kadoura said.