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Faction favoring tourism, hotel interests will control St. Pete Beach commission

ST. PETE BEACH — The city's political wars over development ended Wednesday without a single vote cast.

The apparent winner is the political action group, Save Our Little Village (SOLV), which supports tourist-oriented development of hotels and related businesses on the beach.

All five members of the new City Commission that will assume or continue in office in March are either ardent or tacit supporters of SOLV's goals.

Two commission seats, currently held by supporters of the rival political action group, Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), were supposed to be contested in the upcoming March election.

One incumbent, Harry Metz, decided not to seek re-election.

The other, Linda Chaney, said she wanted to run again, and even picked up candidate qualifying forms from the city clerk.

But when the qualifying period ended Wednesday, only two candidates actually filed to run — Beverly Garnett for Metz's District 4 seat, and Jim Parent for Chaney's District 2 seat.

Neither Chaney nor Mary Hacker, who had pulled papers for the District 4 seat and who was supported by Metz, turned in their qualifying papers.

With no opposition for the open commission seats, St. Pete Beach's March election was canceled by the city clerk.

In March, Parent and Garnett will join Commissioners Alan Halpern (District 1) and Christopher Leonard (District 3), who favored the SOLV plan to bolster tourism when they ran for office last year.

Mayor Michael Finnerty, who was also elected in 2008, described the SOLV plan at the time as a "sign of the frustration" by residents who supported development benefiting both hotels and residents.

"I believe I could have won, but I just can't in good conscience be a part of what SOLV is doing to this community and its residents," Chaney said Thursday.

She said she did not want to continue to be a minority voice on the new "all-SOLV" Commission.

"I can be more effective to stand up for average Joe in other ways," she said. "Now I am out of their way and the ball is theirs. Let's see what they do with it."

In an e-mail she sent to more than 50 supporters and others, Chaney said 2009 is a time for a "new beginning" in the city.

She called for residents to tell Parent how they feel about "important issues" facing the city.

Parent, 61, who retired to St. Pete Beach only a little more than a year ago, acknowledged that many of his supporters are involved in SOLV, but said he will try to find a "middle path" to resolve the city's divisions, which he likened to the famed Hatfield and McCoy feuds.

"One of the major reasons I ran is because of the divisiveness in the city," Parent said.

That divisiveness began several years ago when CRG, angered over city-proposed development rules that would have allowed high-rise hotels along the beach, began its successful fight to defeat that plan and require a citywide referendum vote on any changes to the city's comprehensive plan.

SOLV, backed by many hotel interests, used that new rule to get more hotel-friendly development codes passed by voters.

CRG supporters are now fighting that vote in a series of lawsuits against the city.

Parent said his international management background with Johnson and Johnson should help him find ways to unite residents on both sides of the SOLV-CRG development debate.

He said he does not agree with all the SOLV positions, but "the citizens voted, so lets rock and roll."

Garnett, 52, is unashamedly a SOLV supporter.

She helped gather signatures for the SOLV referendum petition and is even specifically named in one of the lawsuits filed against the city by CRG supporters.

She said she is "disappointed" there will be no election, but is "thrilled" that she will sit on the new commission.

"The opposition is finding they don't have the support they thought they did," Garnett said.

She said she wants to "bridge the divide and unify this town someway, somehow" to return St. Pete Beach to being a "nice, quiet beach town."

Garnett has lived in St. Pete Beach for more than seven years and is president of GPS Relocation Resources Inc.

Instead of campaigning, both Parent and Garnett plan to spend the next few months immersing themselves in city government and budget issues.

Faction favoring tourism, hotel interests will control St. Pete Beach commission 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 9:27pm]
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