ST. PETERSBURG — In an effort to clear the air about its legal right to annex part of Tierra Verde, the city of St. Petersburg has withdrawn from its interlocal agreement with Pinellas County.
In a letter dated March 17, the city withdrew from the agreement, which provided for cooperation between the two entities and allowed the city to establish land-use regulations outside its boundaries before annexing them.
The termination will be official in mid April.
"Recently people have been waving it around and telling other people that it prevented us from annexing," said City Attorney Mark Winn. "This agreement had no effect on that."
The city had never used the agreement, which was set to expire in 2010.
The city decided to terminate the agreement, which had become ammunition for rumors and misinformation about its legal rights, Winn said.
The city submitted its application to annex the commercial part of the island last year, but plans were put on hold after it was discovered that live-aboard residents at the Tierra Verde Marina would have to vote to approve the annexation.
The recent decision has residents worried that the city is preparing to regroup to continue with the plan.
"They're just holding off," said Paul Murray, president of the Tierra Verde Community Association.
Members of the residents' group has been exploring avenues to fight the annexation, including incorporation. They fear that the proposed annexation of the Tierra Verde Marina, the Tierra Verde Yacht and Racquet Club, and several other parcels would be the first step toward annexing the entire island.
"I imagine years ago annexation was for the purpose of providing services" such as police and firefighters, Murray said. "We've got all that. There's nothing they can offer us but higher taxes."
Residents have also been outspoken about the possibility of high-rise development and shuttles to an offshore gambling boat if the city is successful in annexation.
The marina applied for a waiver of the no-gambling clause in its submerged land lease with the county last June but withdrew it after island residents protested.
As far as the city's next move, City Council Chairman James Bennett said that he thought the issue of the live-aboard residents having to vote had been "cleared up" and that the city would proceed with the plans.
"If people keep finding ways to stop it, I guess it could fail, but at this juncture this is a friendly annexation. The business owners came to us," Bennett said.
Officials from the Tierra Verde Marina declined to comment.
If St. Petersburg is successful in annexing the properties, those properties would still fall under the county's land development regulations until the comprehensive plan is amended to include them. It is a process Brian Smith, director of the county's planning department, said could take up to a year.
"I don't know why they would dissolve the agreement because it was to their benefit," Smith said.
Nick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 893-8361.