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School superintendent, political candidate win land-use approvals from Tampa City Council

TAMPA — In one case, it was a high-profile Democrat who's running for the state House.

In another case, it was the superintendent of Hillsborough County schools.

In both instances, the Tampa City Council on Thursday granted them land-use changes despite significant opposition from neighbors, prompting charges of political favoritism.

"We live in a democracy in which one of the basic principles is majority rules," said Patricia Torres, who spoke against a request by school superintendent MaryEllen Elia to rezone her property so she can enclose a patio.

The rezoning makes her property the only one with a planned development designation in the entire neighborhood. Torres called the council's support of Elia a "repulsive display of political cronyism."

Neighbors say they worry what type of future development will be allowed on the property with its special zoning.

In a first hearing on the matter last month, Elia appealed to council members as fellow public officials, saying she needed the patio because her privacy had been invaded when a neighbor took a picture of her home.

On Thursday, the council voted 4-3 in favor of Elia, with council members John Dingfelder, Linda Saul-Sena and Mary Mulhern voting against the request.

Dingfelder, who voted in support of Elia last month but against her in Thursday's final hearing, said his vote had nothing to do with Elia's position.

"It's not true about me, it's not true about the rest of us," he said. "I don't care if it's the mayor, the governor or the president."

Tampa, he said, is "really a small town," and longtime residents know each other.

"We can't make decisions based on who people are. We have to make decisions based on the facts," he said.

The council also voted to give Stacy Frank, a candidate for the District 57 state House seat, a waiver from height restrictions so she can build a 150-foot telecommunications tower in South Tampa.

"This is all about political favors," tower opponent Lisa Williams said after the vote. She and others are concerned about safety and aesthetics.

The vote was 4-2 in favor of Frank, with Dingfelder and Mulhern voting no. Saul-Sena abstained from the vote because her husband works for the company that wants to use the tower.

Council member Charlie Miranda said that although he made a contribution to Frank's campaign, that was simply because he thinks she would make a good state lawmaker. "It has nothing to do with the way I vote and the way I do things," he said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

School superintendent, political candidate win land-use approvals from Tampa City Council 03/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 1:04am]
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