ST. PETE BEACH — After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees, the City Commission is hoping to sharply reduce future spending on development issues.
City Attorney Michael Davis is expected to report tonight on the status of his negotiations with attorneys involved in a number of lawsuits relating to the comprehensive plan and land development regulations (LDRs) proposed by Save Our Little Village (SOLV) and approved by voters in June.
Attorney Ken Weiss, who represents residents Bill Pyle and Bruce Kadoura in separate actions against the city challenging the validity of the June referendum votes, has offered to postpone further litigation of Pyle's lawsuits until Kadoura's lawsuit can be resolved.
Both Weiss and Davis agree Kadoura's lawsuit could result in a definitive ruling on the city's voter-approved comprehensive plan. Weiss is asking that the plan amendment and related LDRs be tossed out as violating state law, both in relation to the state's Growth Management Act requirements and other laws that prohibit municipalities from contracting away their development regulation authority.
Suzanne Van Wyk, an attorney in Davis' Tallahassee office, called the city's land development dispute "a very intriguing case." She urged the city to try to reach a compromise with the parties to avoid generating additional legal fees.
She said, however, that so far SOLV does not appear to be interested in negotiating away the result of the voter referendum.
Robert Lincoln, the attorney representing SOLV, confirmed that Pyle had contacted the organization regarding settlement talks, but insisted the SOLV comprehensive plan amendments are now the law and that "no settlement can undo these official acts."
Lincoln said there is "no way that somehow this is going to be magically undone."
Similarly, Weiss did not back off from his position that the referendum was flawed and would eventually be overturned in court.
"I would like this litigation to end, but I don't think it is ever going to end until the people in this community reach a compromise," Weiss told the commission last week. "It bothers me that the city's money is being spent on litigation. If we continue to litigate, it will be another two or three years and another several hundred thousand dollars."
The commission however, asked Van Wyk and Davis to continue seeking an out-of-court resolution to some, if not all, the lawsuits.
"Sometimes people may be too entrenched to talk. If this doesn't work, we will go forward and litigate," cautioned Van Wyk, adding that the issues could end up being decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
She told the commission she is confident the city's agreement with SOLV to allow the June referendum to occur is legally valid.
The voter-approved ordinances amended the city comprehensive plan to create a community redevelopment district, established a large resort section of the city's land development code, and changed the city's general standards for redevelopment and the city's Town Center core development regulations.
Van Wyk did advise the city, however, to add special language to future building permits that warns developers that the legality of their projects could be affected by the pending court cases.