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St. Petersburg group rejects restrictions on waterfront development

ST. PETERSBURG — In a victory for business leaders, voters won't consider development restrictions along the waterfront when they go to the polls this November.

The city's Charter Review Commission on Tuesday rejected proposed ballot measures that would have prohibited the construction of convention centers, museums, theaters, professional sports facilities, parking garages and office buildings on downtown waterfront parks and on the approach to the city's Pier without voter approval.

The nine-member volunteer commission sided with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the restrictions. Several business leaders talked about the negative implications of the measures during a public hearing Monday.

Last month, the commission nixed a proposal that would have required voter approval of public projects that cost more than $100 million.

"The chamber got its voice back," said Chris Steinocher, the chamber's president and chief executive. "We're focused on the economy, on getting this area going again, and this issue really organized everyone."

Steinocher said the ballot measures went too far. The limitations would have scared developers from investing in projects because they wouldn't have the certainty of knowing how voters would decide their projects, he said.

Others argued that extra protections are needed.

"This is disappointing to say the least," said Hal Freedman, a resident who opposed the Tampa Bay Rays efforts to build a waterfront stadium. "Business has hijacked the process in preventing the people from voting."

Yet even Darden Rice, who had supported the restrictions, said she was satisfied with Tuesday's meeting because another proposed amendment, this one requiring a waterfront master plan, was tentatively approved. It requires the City Council to review the plan every seven years. The plan would establish criteria for waterfront development.

The board must approve it at a final meeting on July 26 for it to be put on the ballot.

"I'm not unhappy because of the decision (to approve the master plan)," Rice said. "That will be the catalyst in making the city implement a visionary plan for the waterfront. It's a good compromise."

St. Petersburg group rejects restrictions on waterfront development 07/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:36am]
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