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St. Pete Beach to consider land use settlement

A settlement agreement aimed at ending the legal debacle over proposed land use ordinances will be presented to the City Commission during a special meeting Monday, but the fight may continue in other incarnations regardless of the outcome.

City attorney Ralf Brookes and the Save Our Little Village political group's attorney, Robert K. Lincoln, have spent two weeks hashing out the deal. SOLV sued the city after the previous commission refused to put the group's petition before voters within the 90-day time frame outlined by the city's charter.

But different opinions remain as to exactly what residents would be voting to approve. SOLV asserts that a "yes" vote would approve the comprehensive plan as is. The city has maintained that the plan should go through the process outlined in the Florida Growth Management Act, which requires public comment and would allow the commission to make changes to the plan.

The ballot language for the SOLV ordinances will be key in determining the process that the city will be forced to follow if they are approved.

If the settlement is approved, the commission is scheduled to draft ballot language for the SOLV petitions and two other state-mandated comprehensive plan changes for a June 3 special election.

"What I don't like is cutting the public out of the process," Commissioner Linda Chaney said about SOLV's viewpoint. "I think what it does is create an opportunity for lawsuits and discontent."

Circuit Judge David A. Demers alluded to a similar scenario in a proposed order he sent out Thursday to clarify a March 13 order he issued that required the city to hold an election for the petition items.

The proposed order says that if approved, "what would become effective are proposals that can be amended, rescinded or replaced and must go through the Growth Management Act" and that any future disagreements can be pursued in court.

"The fact that an election may lead to further disagreement does not justify refusal to carry out a clear legal duty," Demers wrote.

Adding to the dispute is William Pyle, a supporter of the rival political group Citizens for Responsible Growth, who intervened in the lawsuit. Pyle initially sided with the city but has pursued legal action against SOLV's proposal despite the city's attempts to settle.

Attorney Ken Weiss, who represented CRG members when they successfully petitioned to give final approval of any comprehensive plan change to residents, has joined in representing Pyle.

The city charter allows residents the final say on any major land use changes, "but SOLV is trying to reverse it and have approval before any legislation," Weiss said.

Weiss came under fire from the city attorney and Lincoln at Tuesday's commission meeting when a commissioner questioned why he had been allowed to attend an initial settlement meeting between the city and SOLV.

Weiss, who was not present at Tuesday's meeting, said he had done nothing illegal or unethical; the meeting was open to the public.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

St. Pete Beach to consider land use settlement 03/29/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2008 6:03am]
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