ST. PETE BEACH — A series of motions filed this month could punt the city's long-standing legal battle over the character of future development to the Florida Supreme Court.
At issue is the validity of a bill passed this spring by the state Legislature that allowed the City Commission to, in essence, readopt a comprehensive plan previously invalidated in Circuit Court and now under appeal.
Attorneys Tim Weber and Ken Weiss, who represent resident Bill Pyle, believe that action was improper and probably unconstitutional.
The comprehensive plan in question was proposed by a political action group, Save Our Little Village and approved by voters in 2008. The plan was later invalidated by Circuit Judge David Demers and is now being appealed.
"The city bemoans the money it has spent trying to adopt a comprehensive plan amendment," Weber said in a motion filed last week. "However, it simply has no one else to blame but the City Commission, SOLV, and their respective lawyers."
"The city's lobbyists also overlooked the minor detail that the Florida Constitution prohibits the passage of special laws without publication of advance notice to the public," Weber added.
He asks the appeals court not to "reward the city's continued lawlessness" by agreeing to the city's request to dismiss the Pyle case, as well as other outstanding and related cases filed by resident Bruce Kadoura.
Meanwhile, the city's attorneys filed motions to block any further discovery by Weiss or Weber.
"We want to get a resolution and a comprehensive plan that is in fact solid and final," Susan Churuti, one of the city's attorneys, told the commission last week.
She said the legal actions filed against the city are "part of a pattern or practice of harassment of elected officials."
That harassment, she said, was done on behalf of "the city's political opposition" and included residency challenges, ethics and elections complaints, "electioneering communication violations" and Sunshine law complaints.
The opposition's goal, Churuti said, is to "prevent adoption of the comprehensive plan approved by the electorate."
The motions filed in the state Court of Appeal by the city's attorneys are an attempt, she said, to "educate" the court on the history of the legal battles that began more than five years ago.
Here is a brief history:
• 2005 — Voters approve a charter change requiring voter referendum approval of comprehensive plan amendments that change building height or density.
• 2008 — Voters approve an amended comprehensive plan proposed by a hotel-connected political action group.
• 2008 to present — Multiple lawsuits filed against the city to block implementation of that plan. Although the city won on several points, the 2008 plan is eventually declared invalid. The cases are being appealed by both sides.
• Spring 2011 — Voters rescind the charter provision requiring referendum approval of comprehensive plan amendments.
• Summer 2011 — The state Legislature enacts a law that allows the city to reapprove its invalidated comprehensive plan. The city does so.
The city's attorneys are hoping the court will "moot" or dismiss most if not all of the cases against the city as irrelevant now that a new comprehensive plan (same content, different ordinance number) has been adopted.