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State flags St. Petersburg yet again for land management plans

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council may delay its plan to blunt the effects of a November growth management ballot measure after state officials concluded that it was overstepping its authority.

It's the third time this summer the state has played spoiler to the city's development plans.

This time around, the City Council was to have voted on a simplified future growth map that limits the number of land use changes that would require voter approval. The move was to preempt Florida Hometown Democracy's Amendment 4 on the November ballot, which aims to shift the responsibility of approving changes to land use laws from elected officials to registered voters in an effort to stop sprawl.

But Florida's Department of Community Affairs said the city had no legal basis in establishing a second map, which whittled the city's land use categories from 23 to five. Each category, from residential high and low to commercial and industrial, comes with rules that govern how high, dense and broad development can be. The city's proposed map merged categories together and, by the city's own estimate, would reduce the number of future land use changes that would need voter approval by 20 percent.

The DCA, however, said the remaining categories were blurred together so much that they are too vague.

"The description of the land uses allowed under each of the categories is broad and general and therefore fails to establish meaningful standards," the Aug. 26 report states. "Furthermore, the description of the categories fails to establish the type of uses and the density of those uses as required (by Florida law)."

That objection, together with many more in the report, caused city officials to request this week that the council delay voting on the new map until Sept. 16. There still be will be a public hearing at 9 a.m. today, during which residents can make comments.

It's the latest blow to city plans to increase density within its borders.

In July, a Tallahassee judge rejected the city's plan to redevelop 18 acres on Tierra Verde because he said the project didn't account for how vulnerable the barrier island is to a hurricane. The city is appealing that decision, which will be referred later this year to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet for a final decision.

Last week, another Tallahassee judge tossed out a controversial growth management law passed last year that relaxed building rules in an effort to spur economic development. The city relied on the law to ease rules on Jabil Circuit and its plans to develop nearly 100 acres north of Gandy Boulevard. The city is pushing to reclassify the project so Jabil can skip paying more than $4 million in road fixes.

David Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development, has shrugged off the setbacks. The Jabil project is still moving forward, he said, because another law allows for it. The city hopes to win its appeal of the Tierra Verde project. And the objections made by the DCA of the map can be addressed through modifications, he said.

Others, however, interpreted the DCA's objections differently.

"It looks to me like (the DCA) said if you're going to pull a fast one, we're going to nail you," said Cathy Wilson, who reviewed the city map for the Council of Neighborhood Associations. "The DCA has addressed all my concerns regarding this very hasty proposal."

Thomas Reese, an attorney representing the Tierra Verde Community Association, said he applauded the DCA report.

"Their comments were strong," he said. "I'm not surprised they were strong considering what the city was trying to pull. I'm surprised the DCA caught it. They caught the city basically trying to make growth management not work."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com

State flags St. Petersburg yet again for land management plans 09/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 8:58am]
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