A new commission elected on promises of compromise over the city's development issues has delivered.
Within hours of being sworn in, Mayor Michael Finnerty and Commissioners Alan Halpern and Christopher Leonard were faced with a presentation on the lawsuit surrounding the Save Our Little Village political group's petitions.
The commission agreed unanimously to try and settle with SOLV and schedule an election for the petition items, which include an amended comprehensive plan.
The agreement followed an order from Circuit Judge David A. Demers on March 13, requiring that the city hold an election on the petition items and setting another hearing this Monday.
The previous commission had refused to put the items to vote, arguing that comprehensive plans cannot be passed by a referendum vote and expressing concerns about the increases in building height and density that it contained.
"We've got a judge's decision that it should go to voters and it's in our charter," Finnerty said, referring to the charter requirement that petition items be voted on within 90 days.
"This is the first real test, I guess, as to how people within our city feel about height and density."
City Attorney Ralf Brookes, City Manager Mike Bonfield and Commissioner Harry Metz met with SOLV on Wednesday to discuss a settlement agreement.
A main concern over the petition items has been how to implement them. Comprehensive plans usually go through a series of local and state planning agencies before they are finalized and there's an additional requirement in the city's charter that any changes to the city's comprehensive plan be voted on by residents.
"We've been successful so far, in finding ways that we could agree to implement the proposed ordinances," attorney Robert K. Lincoln, who represents SOLV, said. "These are the kinds of things that could have been worked out 90 or 120 days ago, if the city would have gotten involved as soon as the petitions were turned in."
Instead the city has ended up in court with two lawsuits filed by SOLV, leading to mounting attorney's fees and arguments over development that weighed heavily on the last commission.
"We need to get it over with and get back to basic business in the city," Metz said.
Now Brookes and Lincoln are working on a settlement in hopes that the judge will give them an extension on Monday, to finalize the details.
It remains to be seen when the elections will be held, but the date of May 20 has been suggested.
That would give the city enough time to organize an election for the SOLV items and several other pending comprehensive plan changes that need to be voted on.
If the SOLV items are approved, they would likely go to the local and state planning agencies before returning to the residents for final approval.
The judge will also hear from St. Pete Beach resident William Pyle's attorneys at Monday's hearing.
Pyle, who funds the city's rival political group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, intervened in the first SOLV case last year.
Nick Johnson can be reached at
email@example.com or 893-8361.