Property owners who want to protect their communities from being gobbled up by cities are caught in the cross fire.
Some of them want to create zones that would, for all intents and purposes, be exempt from annexation. That might sound simple, but it isn't.
State legislators say the county has the power to do that. County attorneys say the state has to first pass a law allowing the county to create so-called annexation-free zones and to have them exempt from both voluntary and referendum annexations.
"The conversation gets so convoluted," said Ray Neri, head of the Lealman Community Association.
Neri and the association have spearheaded the anti-annexation fight in Pinellas for almost a decade. Several years ago, they were joined by anti-annexation activists from the unincorporated Seminole area. And last year, residents of Tierra Verde joined the fight in an effort to stave off St. Petersburg, which wants to annex a marina and some other parcels on that island. Feather Sound residents have not joined the fray but have historically resisted annexation.
It was Neri's idea to create these annexation-free zones, which he calls community protection areas. He and the Tierra Verde activists have been lobbying the county hard to pass a community protection act. But it looks as though that will not happen.
All hope may not be lost for the residents, however. A task force formed from members of the Pinellas County Commission and the Pinellas Planning Council is seeking ways to solve the annexation mess that has plagued the county for more than a decade.
The six members of that committee believe their best hope lies with the creation of boxes that surround each city. A municipality could annex only within its box. Some areas would not be in any box. That, in essence, would create annexation-free zones, or protected areas.
Neri said the success of such an idea would depend on where the lines are drawn. The county had such an agreement, which prompted a lawsuit over the location of the lines. Last year, a court struck down the agreement.
This time, subcommittee members are hoping they can reach a firmer agreement about the annexation boundaries.
But it's far from certain whether an agreement can be reached that will please all cities and residents of unincorporated Pinellas. If negotiations fall flat, the task force may have to go to the Legislature and ask for help. That could include Neri's idea of a protection act.