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St. Petersburg Council member Jamie Bennett wants public to have a vote on waterfront projects

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member and mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett said Wednesday he will propose a change to the City Charter that would let voters have the final say in any major development on the downtown waterfront.

The change, which would have to be approved by voters in November, would give citizens a stake in the city's precious downtown parks system, Bennett said.

Bennett plans to ask council members to consider the proposal at a meeting today.

"This will allow people to express their opinion on the future of this city," Bennett said.

The move strikes a different chord for Bennett, who is teaming up with a group whose members have been among his most vocal critics.

The idea for Bennett's charter amendment came from Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront — or POWW — the citizens group that originally opposed the redevelopment of Al Lang Field.

The timing — in the middle of a mayoral race — also is "suspicious," said City Council member Herb Polson. "I didn't hear those same level of concerns from (Bennett) at this time last year.

POWW founder Hal Freedman said Wednesday that the Bennett campaign approached POWW about supporting some of the group's proposed changes to the charter.

Still, the citizens group said it will continue to collect referendum petition signatures in case Bennett's effort stalls. It will also continue to push a second charter amendment that would require voters to approve any subsidy for professional sports facilities.

"We're invested in both of these being ballot measures at some point," Freedman said. "But right now, we're looking toward the one that has the best shot."

The charter amendment, if approved, would really only affect possible city developments.

The Tampa Bay Rays stadium plan already required a voter referendum under existing charter protections, as would other major private development projects.

And things like rebuilding the city Pier or even Al Lang Field would not need voter approval under the changes, Freedman said.

St. Petersburg Council member Jamie Bennett wants public to have a vote on waterfront projects 03/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:19pm]
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