ST. PETE BEACH — An August referendum to ratify the city's revised comprehensive plan won't happen — and may not happen for a year or more.
A unanimous City Commission canceled the vote Monday at the urging of Circuit Judge David Demers, who is presiding over a series of lawsuits challenging the validity of the plan and the 2008 referendum that put it into effect.
Ken Weiss, the attorney for three residents who are suing the city over aspects of the vote and the plan, had asked Demers to halt the August referendum until after he could rule on the issues in the legal cases.
The first of what could be several trials is scheduled to be held Aug. 19 and 20.
During a special hearing last week, Demers agreed the referendum should be put on hold.
"There should be no election scheduled … until we have the final hearing and any appellant review that's going to take place so that the court is done," the judge told the city's attorneys.
He did not directly rule against the referendum, however, and indicated he was uncertain that he had the legal authority to do so.
City Attorney Mike Davis reiterated that preference to the commission in a special meeting Monday and recommended the referendum be canceled.
"City Manager Mike Bonfield and I feel the best course is to cancel the referendum scheduled in August," Davis said, while cautioning the commissioners against getting into any lengthy discussion of the legal issues in the cases.
He said there would be no detriment to the city in postponing the referendum and predicted that because of the appeals process, "probably we will not have a final decision in either of the cases for a year or so."
Bonfield stressed his and Davis' original recommendation to hold the referendum was a "proactive effort on our part" to abide by an earlier statement by Demers that another referendum would likely be necessary.
"We thought we were doing what the judge wanted us to do. There was never any intention to go against the judge's wishes. We were doing what we thought was in the best interest of the community," said Commissioner Bev Garnett.
"We acted in good faith as a commission," said Mayor Mike Finnerty.
A new referendum will be required at some point.
The reason is that the comprehensive plan approved by voters in 2008 was changed slightly in response to comments from the state Department of Community Affairs, which reviews municipal comprehensive and land use plans.
The city's charter requires that any changes to the plan that affect height and density be ratified by voters.