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Does Tierra Verde's landscape face change?

ST. PETERSBURG — Life on Tierra Verde is about to get a lot livelier.

Despite continued widespread opposition from residents there, the City Council passed a series of measures allowing for startling new increases in commercial and residential development on 18 acres of recently annexed land on Tierra Verde's northern tip.

The land development regulations passed Thursday allow for nearly twice as much commercial development as before the annexation and up to 518 new residential units where no homes had previously been allowed, according to Pinellas County officials.

Opponents said the moves are incompatible with the island's low-key, squat buildings, and that the increase in population could burden evacuation routes throughout southern Pinellas County and overstress the handful of roadways near Tierra Verde.

"We know it will have some effect," said Gordon Beardslee, the county's planning administrator. "How noticeable? I don't know."

But some Tierra Verde residents fear the new development could change life on their quiet island forever.

A restaurant complex with a swimming pool is already in the works on the northern part of the island, and the new regulations likely will bring new condominium towers, a hotel, retail shops or restaurants.

Still, some hope a lawsuit by island residents and Pinellas County challenging the annexation will stall most new development.

"I don't think anything will come out of it," said Paul Murray, president of the Tierra Verde Community Association. "This will probably be tied up in the courts for years to come."

City officials argue that the annexation of the former unincorporated Pinellas County land, approved in November, will hold up it court. Property owners approached the city about the annexation, and a majority in the annexed area supported the effort.

The city says it had to establish land development regulations, as it does for all land in St. Petersburg.

But property owners in the annexed area shouldn't necessarily rush to submit building permits.

"They are proceeding at their own risk, and the risk is that the annexation might be overturned," said Rick MacAulay, the city's manager of urban planning.

The regulations allow for:

• Up to 518 residential units. The county did not allow for any residences in the area because of potential flooding and storm surges.

• Up to 497,000 square feet of commercial space. The county allowed up to 263,000 square feet of commercial development.

Tierra Verde residents had lobbied for regulations that allowed less density.

But it is in the city's best interest that property owners build up their land because the resulting property tax payments would boost the city's overall income.

City officials contend that any new development will not significantly disrupt life on Tierra Verde.

The Florida Department of Transportation declined to comment on how the regulations could impact traffic routes.

Tierra Verde is accessible only by a two-lane road with an aging drawbridge. On the weekends, the road is often crowded with hundreds of people driving to Fort De Soto Park.

The city's goal is to eventually annex the entire island, which could prove difficult as most residents lobbied against the 18-acre annexation.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Does Tierra Verde's landscape face change? 05/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 11:09pm]
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