ST. PETE BEACH — The fight over development on St. Pete Beach has come full circle.
In 2005 the city challenged petitions brought by the political action group Citizens for Responsible Growth in court. That fray resulted in a charter amendment giving residents the right to vote on comprehensive plan changes and the election of two CRG members to the City Commission.
Now a similar battle is under way, this time pitting the city against Save Our Little Village, a political group seeking to amend the city's comprehensive plan by petition, using the same charter amendment that was championed by the rival CRG.
SOLV has filed suit, seeking an election allowing residents to vote on the comprehensive plan amendment and five other petition items to bolster development.
The city has responded with a suit arguing that the process is unconstitutional.
"You can't put a comprehensive plan item on the ballot for citywide referendum without going through the Florida Growth Management Act process first," said attorney Thomas W. Reese, who was hired to represent the city in a similar suit brought by SOLV late last year.
State statutes require comprehensive plans to go through local and state planning agencies before approval, Reese has argued. If the residents were to approve the petition items by vote they would be effective immediately.
"Deferment tactics come in many packages, so this is just one of them," SOLV spokeswoman Lorraine Huhn said.
The City Commission decided to send the petition items to the planning board for review after Circuit Judge David A. Demers gave the commission until mid February to take action.
The initial step must be taken before the item can be voted on, which complies with the judge's orders, Reese said.
"So really it's not a matter of whether there can be a referendum on the item but when," he said.
But SOLV isn't buying it.
"That wasn't one of the judge's options," Huhn said.
SOLV has cited the city charter, which requires the commission to approve the petition items or place them on a ballot within 90 days.
SOLV's case, seeking a special election for the items, is set to be heard at 9:30 a.m. Thursday by Judge Demers.
Nick Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 893-8361.