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Lealman annexation foes ponder "all or nothing" bill

LEALMAN — Activists in this unincorporated area want protection against annexation, but it's far from certain they'll get it.

The lack of certainty could come as a surprise to some in this unincorporated area who say state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, and state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, have agreed to sponsor an "all or nothing" bill to protect Lealman.

The bill, activists say, would be like one the Legislature passed last term for Tierra Verde. It provides that any city wanting to annex a part of the island must take it all. It also says that Tierra Verde residents must vote to go into the city before the annexation can take place.

Since that bill was passed, anti-annexation activists from unincorporated communities such as Lealman and East Lake have sought support from the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation for a similar law to protect them. Many in Lealman believe Long will sponsor such a bill.

"There have been discussions about an all or nothing bill," Long conceded Thursday.

But, Long said, "there are many different factions to consider, or issues to consider."

As for Justice's support, Long said, "We haven't really sat down to dialogue what this bill would in fact look like."

Justice could not be reached for comment.

Factions that could affect Lealman's quest for an all-or-nothing bill could come from St. Petersburg, Seminole, or Pinellas Park, the three cities that border that unincorporated area. All have annexed property from Lealman at one time or another and a couple have in the past fought against protections for the area. Kenneth City, which sits in the middle of Lealman, has recently begun annexing property from the area and wants to protect its options.

Seminole or Pinellas Park both have legal agreements not to annex from Lealman for the next few years. The question is whether those cities would oppose a permanent method of limiting annexation into Lealman.

"The city of Seminole has no desire, no plans, nothing, to go east of Park Street," said Mark Ely, the city's development director. "The city staff would like to stay out of fire district politics. The best armor is to stay out of range. The city has no dog in this hunt. ... We wish the county, Lealman, Pinellas Park and all the parties the best of luck."

Pinellas Park was unsure.

That's a policy decision the City Council would have to make if such a bill is proposed, city spokesman Tim Caddell said. The response would likely depend on the bill's wording.

St. Petersburg, on the other hand, has requested of a planning committee that the entire Lealman area be put into an annexation planning zone. Such a zone would mean that St. Petersburg could annex there but no other cities could. It is unclear if St. Petersburg will get its wish.

Kenneth City Mayor Pro Tem Teresa Zemaitis said she not only opposes an all-or-nothing bill, she's already asked town attorney John Elias to draft a counter-proposal.

"I understand their desire to be protected," Zemaitis said. But annexation "is a necessary part of the equation. We have to increase revenue."

Kenneth City has about 4,500 residents.

Besides, Zemaitis said, such a bill would be catering to the needs of a minority of Long's constituents. Long, she said, "represents more than just Lealman. ... The bill that they were talking about does not represent all of her constituents."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Lealman annexation foes ponder "all or nothing" bill 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 4:31am]
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