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St. Pete Beach development director resigns

ST. PETE BEACH — A little over seven years ago, Karl Holley became the city's development director and was thrust into the middle of an increasingly bitter war between factions with very different visions of the city's future.

However the city's legal battles over development are eventually resolved, Holley will not be there to see his yearslong planning efforts come to fruition.

On Friday, Holley will leave his $96,688 salary job.

The city's development wars, which began years before Holley arrived in 2004, progressed to include a series of citywide referendums; residents' rejection of a comprehensive plan that allowed up to 20-story hotels on the beach; charter restrictions on future development rules; a new comprehensive plan; and most recently, the reversal of previous voter-approved charter restrictions.

More than a dozen lawsuits and legal challenges led to a failed mediation, and last spring a new state law, successfully lobbied by the city's attorneys, allowed the city to quickly approve a new comprehensive plan.

Holley was repeatedly called to testify about those plans and often became a focal point in related development issues, drawing both praise and criticism from residents, businesses and commissioners alike.

During this period, the City Commission spent more than a million dollars on legal fees defending lawsuits filed by residents.

Holley's departure does not signal an end to those wars.

There are still five legal actions outstanding, several of which are being appealed by the city or the residents suing the city.

Tuesday, the commission met privately with its attorneys to consider a settlement offer involving several of the ongoing development-related lawsuits against the city.

Following that meeting, the commission publicly rejected the offer and instead countered with a proposal that all five pending lawsuits be dismissed.

A day before the counter-offer was to expire, it too was rejected, this time by Ken Weiss, attorney for the two residents suing the city.

Weiss submitted a counter-counter offer Thursday that is conditional on the commission discussing it at its regular public meeting Tuesday evening.

In his resignation letter, Holley told City Manager Mike Bonfield it is "a good time for me to explore alternate career options" and that he hoped "the city will be able to make progress on the numerous development and growth management issues it faces."

Those issues started virtually his first day on the job in 2004 when he took over management of a then-proposed comprehensive plan that allowed buildings in the city's hotel district to soar to as much as 20 stories.

Increasingly, Holley found his time consumed with responding to the legal challenges to the city's development planning.

"Karl and his staff are constantly scrutinized for their role in these matters and must spend considerable time assisting in the legal defense of these decisions," Bonfield said in 2007.

Most recently, those battles expanded to two issues directly affecting Pass-a-Grille — the repeatedly failed attempt by the Coconut Inn to secure traditional hotel district, or THD, rezoning and the city's effort to investigate a code enforcement action against Ron Holehouse, a long-time political power in the city.

Both Coconut Inn owner Joe Caruso and Holehouse are now suing the city over its differing interpretation of land use issues for their properties.

In Holley's last performance review, Bonfield noted that land-use issues "continue to be a source of controversy in St. Pete Beach."

Earlier this week, Bonfield again acknowledged the difficult time Holley had trying to mediate between factions in the city.

"He has been in tough position for a long time, quite often not of his own doing and he was caught in the middle," Bonfield said. "Karl has done a lot of good things for the city."

St. Pete Beach development director resigns 11/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2011 4:19pm]
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