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St. Pete Beach leader says legal foe seems willing to settle lawsuits

ST. PETE BEACH — As the city's development-related legal wars enter a sixth year, settlement talks are in the wind again.

In the past few weeks, city officials, lawyers and residents took different tacks with one goal in mind — to end the myriad lawsuits that, along with a tough economy, have paralyzed growth in this beach community.

Commissioner Jim Parent announced last week that he had met privately with Bruce Kadoura, a resident whose legal fight against the city's development regulations is under review by the Second District Court of Appeal.

Kadoura appears willing to settle his lawsuits and "can get other guys to go along," Parent told the commission. Other residents suing the city include Bill Pyle, Richard McCormick and Jim Anderson.

In a letter sent to the commission last month, Kadoura said the lawsuits "have expended vast amounts of time and treasure." He called for a "different approach" and a "more cooperative spirit," and suggested the residents suing the city and commissioners meet without their attorneys present to explore exit strategies from their legal battles.

"We fear that we will be looking at many more years of litigation this community cannot afford," Kadoura warned.

On Monday, Kadoura's attorney, Ken Weiss, sent a letter to the city's attorneys offering to dismiss some of the lawsuits to reach a "compromise solution." But Weiss also made clear that some of his clients' legal battles with the city are not over.

He renewed his demand that the city's attorneys stop asking the city to pay for defending them for alleged legal misconduct.

Susan Churuti, one of the city's attorneys, responded in an e-mail to Weiss that she and other members of her firm are city "officers" under the city's charter.

As such, she said it is "appropriate" for the city to reimburse its attorneys for legal costs.

This latest phase of legal disagreements over development rules was triggered in 2006 when a group of residents concerned that skyscrapers could line the beach succeeded in changing the city's charter to require voter approval of building height changes.

That charter change was repealed by voters last year, but a legal battle over a 2008 comprehensive plan, also approved by voters, is still working its way through the courts.

Kadoura suggested that the city reconsider a settlement that was proposed in 2009 during failed mediation talks.

"If this can end the lawsuits, it will save us some money," Parent said.

Although other commissioners were skeptical that Parent's talks with Kadoura would end the suits, they urged him to continue his efforts.

"Please forgive my skepticism, but they don't act in good faith," said Commissioner Bev Garnett.

Garnett, a former member of a pro-development group that originally proposed the embattled comprehensive plan, has been a target as well.

Last week, she emotionally declined the commission's unanimous decision to pay her latest legal bill, incurred during her successful defense against multiple elections and ethics complaints filed against her since her election in 2009.

"My attorney believes that if I accept, it can open the city and me up again for more lawsuits," Garnett said.

"It's harassment, pure and simple," said Commissioner Marvin Shavlan.

St. Pete Beach leader says legal foe seems willing to settle lawsuits 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 3:24pm]
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