TIERRA VERDE — Between county commissioners and state legislators, Tierra Verde residents may be able to avoid St. Petersburg's threatened annexation of commercial property at the tip of their island.
Pinellas County commissioners are prepared to take the first step in filing a lawsuit to stop the annexation, which the St. Petersburg council approved last month.
State law requires that government bodies come to the negotiating table before lawsuits are filed. Commissioners are scheduled to vote Dec. 16 on a resolution to start mediating with St. Petersburg.
County officials have many objections to the annexation. Among them: failure to explain the costs of providing police service to the area and to note whether money has been or will be budgeted to provide such service; and failure to show how the city plans to pay to provide fire service to the area.
Among other things, the mediation process would likely delay finalization of St. Petersburg's annexation of 28.32 acres on the island and 10 acres of submerged land next to the island. That delay could give the county legislative delegation time to work its magic.
Delegation members are considering a proposal that advocates call the "all or nothing bill." If passed, the bill would ban anyone from annexing only part of Tierra Verde. Instead, the annexing city would have to take the entire island, and voters there would decide in a referendum whether to be annexed.
"It will either all go in or none go in," said state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, one of the bill's sponsors. "It will keep Tierra Verde a cohesive island area."
The delegation is scheduled to vote on the bill in January. If it passes, the entire Legislature will have to vote on it and, if it passes muster there, Gov. Charlie Crist will have to sign it before it becomes effective.
State Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, said the bill would stop any annexation that had not been completed at the time it became law.
Frishe predicted that the delegation would pass the all-or-nothing bill.
"I would be surprised if it doesn't," he said Thursday.
Tierra Verde residents have bitterly fought the prospect of the annexation from the beginning, saying increased development of the commercial area could destroy the ambience of island life. The residents have hired attorneys and explored becoming a city.
The cityhood movement is on hold while the all-or-nothing bill is debated. If the bill passes, the incorporation initiative would also become moot.
The property owners also have hired their own attorney and have threatened to file their own lawsuit against St. Petersburg.
The sparring over Tierra Verde's fate is being closely watched by anti-annexation activists in other unincorporated areas of Pinellas, such as Lealman.
Those activists hope that finding a solution for Tierra Verde will help them cobble out a plan to protect themselves from annexation and preserve their communities.
Also trying to preserve their community are activists from Palm Harbor. In their case, incorporation is the goal.
They have asked the legislative delegation several times for a bill allowing them to try to become a city but have failed to get permission. This year, they are trying again.
The delegation is considering a bill that would allow Palm Harbor to become a city with boundaries that mimic the Palm Harbor Fire District.