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Language to undo Tierra Verde annexation by Pinellas is killed

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida House committee on Tuesday stripped out language in a bill that would have voided St. Petersburg's controversial annexation of a sliver of Tierra Verde.

The bill, which now moves to the full House, still requires municipalities to take all of the island instead of just a portion in any future annexations. It also would put any annexation up for a referendum.

But members of the House Finance and Tax Council eliminated a provision to apply the changes retroactively.

The amendment comes amid pressure from St. Petersburg and an accusation that the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, slid in the retroactive clause without consulting the Pinellas delegation.

Frishe told his House colleagues that Pinellas members supported the clause, said state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.

"I would have expected more from a colleague and a friend," Kriseman wrote to Frishe. "Over the next several years we will continue to work on both local bills and bills with statewide impact. I hope some of the actions that took place with this bill do not occur again."

The pared down language is a victory for St. Petersburg officials, who have stood by their decision to annex 28 acres of the unincorporated county community last year despite protests from area residents and Pinellas County.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker appeared before committee members Tuesday to fight the bill. Baker was in Tallahassee to discuss potential stimulus projects with the Department of Environmental Protection.

"I'm not supportive of the bill, but now I'm not nearly as against it as I was," Baker said.

Commercial property owners in the annexed area approached St. Petersburg about joining the city, which has more flexible development rules than the county. City officials then limited the potential redevelopment to eight stories after residents in the area complained.

"We responded to the home­owners," Baker said. "We have gone through the rules. We have followed the law."

County officials support the latest version of the bill without retroactivity. But Commissioner Karen Seel lobbied for the retroactivity measure on Monday.

Like Tierra Verde residents, the county sued to stop the annexation.

"It was our strong preference to have the retroactivity for a lot of reasons," Seel said, adding it would have prompted St. Petersburg and other sides to review the plans anew to resolve disputes over development plans and boundaries.

And the legal fight would have been rendered moot, Seel said.

Seel said she was uncertain of any plans to revive the retroactivity clause.

Times staff writers David Decamp and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Language to undo Tierra Verde annexation by Pinellas is killed 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:38pm]

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