DUNEDIN — It looked simple enough: Dunedin city commissioners wanted to add an expiration date to their approval for development site plans.
That way, projects would be less likely to languish.
But Thursday night, two developers with an approved site plan for a major downtown project objected, touching off a two-hour brouhaha.
Decorum and Robert's Rules of Order flew out the window as commissioners talked to each other across the mayor. One commissioner repeatedly argued with the developers who were sitting in the audience. One developer demanded answers from the city, often from his seat.
Though the mayor tried, he couldn't stop the runaway meeting, slumping down in his seat at one point in obvious frustration.
In the end, commissioners postponed a decision and said they need to do better in the future.
"It just was not pretty," Mayor Bob Hackworth said Friday. "It wasn't productive and it is not the way that I expect us to conduct the people's business."
The item at the center of it all was coming up for a public hearing. It was a second reading, commissioners having approved the proposal with some modifications a month ago.
But then Richard Gehring and Bill Kimpton spoke up, two of three partners planning to build the Marina condominium and retail project at Victoria Drive and Main Street.
That's when things heated up fast.
On one side: the developers with an approved site plan that, as the city attorney agreed, has no expiration date. The project has four floors of condominiums over a floor of parking, with ground-floor stores out front. The site plan was approved in 2005.
Since then, however, the condominium market bottomed out, and Gehring and Kimpton told commissioners they were doing all they can just to hold onto the property for the $30-million project. They need sales before they can go forward with construction. And they wanted answers.
Rather than offer the business help in such times, they asked, why is the city changing the rules, putting time limits on them now? And how does that serve the public interest?
"I don't know what the pressing need is for the commission to go forward with this," Gehring said. "This could be the nail in our coffin."
On the other side: Dunedin commissioners who were seeking to achieve some uniformity in city codes by having the new expiration date on approved site plans apply to all site plans, including the Marina project.
"Let's not try to make this just about your project," said Hackworth, who insisted that the plan before them would apply to all.
But Commissioner Dave Eggers disagreed early, saying he would not support the site plan requirement as it stood because of the Marina project.
"Even considering this is offensive now, after talking with these two men," he said.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said that commissioners had thought the time limit on site plans was already a year, as the city's former planning director had said. She suggested several ways to give the Marina more time.
"Why are they even included in the ordinance?" she asked.
When Kimpton took the microphone, he and Commissioner Deborah Kynes, who supported the code change, had the most heated exchanges, addressing each other over and over despite the mayor's request that they follow established decorum.
"My life is at stake and I want to know why," Kimpton said, suggesting that Kynes did not have a clue.
"Quality projects are created on time," she said. "… That's the bottom line."
The commission finally directed the city attorney to add a provision back into the proposed rule change that would give the Marina more time to start construction. The commission plans to take it up again at a future meeting.
Then the commission took a short break.
Kimpton, a real estate lawyer, said he wanted to apologize to Kynes for his persistent questioning.
But she greeted him with these words, as recorded on an open microphone during the break: "Get out of my face. I never want to talk to you again. I am so furious."
Things got better after that, and the two eventually hugged before she returned to the meeting.
Friday, Hackworth said the unraveling of emotions at Thursday night's meeting was unusual. He likes to give people a chance to have their say, but this time, the pendulum swung too far.
"I'll have to start using the gavel, I guess," he said.
When asked Friday whether she thought decorum deteriorated the night before, Kynes said, "Hello! Yeah. I think so."
She had thought her conversation during the break with Kimpton was personal, she said, and she wasn't proud that she reacted to his emotions that way.
"I'd love to say the devil made me do it, but I haven't seen him around lately," she said.
When told the mayor may be wielding a gavel at the next meeting, she had a suggestion of her own.
"Maybe a bullwhip," she said, "or a cattle prod."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.