ST. PETE BEACH — The city will continue to defend against lawsuits challenging voter-approved land development rules and regulations.
The decision comes after news that secret negotiations between groups of unidentified residents — known officially as "parties" to the current spate of lawsuits challenging the June referendum — reached no conclusions.
Residents Bill Pyle and Bruce Kadoura filed separate lawsuits against the city. They are supporters of Citizens for Responsible Growth, or CRG, a group that has fought against high-rise, high-density development.
On the other side is SOLV, the Save Our Little Village organization that successfully proposed the development-related ordinances approved by voters and is named as a defendant, along with the city, in the lawsuits filed by Pyle and Kadoura.
The voter-approved ordinances amended the city comprehensive plan to create a community redevelopment district, established a large resort section of the city's land development code, and changed the city's general standards for redevelopment and the city's Town Center core development regulations.
Suzanne Van Wyk, a city attorney, said representatives of the two opposing groups of residents met Tuesday and "engaged in a fair amount of positive discussion," but want the substance of their discussions to remain confidential.
Ken Weiss, an attorney representing Pyle and Kadoura, said he did not attend the meeting and declined to reveal who did participate. Previously, he offered to postpone further litigation of Pyle's lawsuits until Kadoura's lawsuit can be resolved.
Kadoura is asking that the voter-approved comprehensive plan amendment and related land development regulations be tossed out as violating state law, both in relation to the state's Growth Management Act requirements and other laws that prohibit municipalities from contracting away their development regulation authority.
The City Commission had hoped to hear a report on the lawsuit negotiations at its meeting last week that could reduce the amount of money they would have to spend to defend against the lawsuits.
Van Wyk told the City Commission that the residents involved in the lawsuits are interested in continuing discussions, "but they also agreed that the litigation should continue at this time."
As a result, it appears the city's development-related legal costs, which are approaching a half million dollars, will continue to mount.
Several residents warned the commission last week against any effort to negotiate a change to the election result.
"There is no legal right to give away that vote, to declare it null and void," said Lorraine Huhn, president of SOLV.