There once was an awful bully of a city named Sparta. It invaded its neighbors and forced them to bow to its will. These unwilling subjects were called "helots," a word we still use today.
This brings us to St. Petersburg's invasion of its own unincorporated neighbor, Tierra Verde, which is moving right along.
You will recall that developers at the north end of Tierra Verde made a deal with St. Petersburg to annex their 18 acres, on the theory that the city would let them build more than the county.
This annexation took some effort. It took a weird "snorkel" on the map, a 10-acre strip running beneath the water, for St. Petersburg to claim that Tierra Verde is "contiguous." That claim is being fought in court.
It also took the St. Petersburg City Council telling several hundred angry Tierra Verdans who showed up to beg for the future of their community that they could drop dead. After all, they don't vote in the city.
Now the other shoe drops, and we see what this has all been about.
The other day the City Council voted on what kind of things it will allow to be built in its newly acquired domain:
• Up to 415 multifamily residences, or even up to 500 or so if the developers qualify for certain "density bonuses." The old county rules allowed none.
• Upward of 500,000 square feet of retail, office, restaurant or other commercial uses. The county rules allowed a little more than half that.
Here is great news, though:
The city says this won't have any bad effect.
It won't have much effect on the Pinellas Bayway, the only road on and off Tierra Verde, which runs down to the popular Fort De Soto Park. That road will keep "an acceptable level of service," the city says.
Neither will there be a "negative effect" on the city's garbage collection, water use, the bus system, schools or stormwater management, the city says. It won't hurt any environmental lands, and it's not in the area the city considers "coastal high hazard."
To which I am thinking: Whew! What a relief!
I was afraid that sticking a few hundred new residences on the north end of the island, with a bunch of new drivers trying to dart across the Bayway at Madonna Boulevard, let alone adding twice as much commercial square footage as the nation's largest Wal-Mart Supercenter, might have had a bad effect. Glad to learn otherwise.
Once and for all:
If the mayor of St. Petersburg or any member of the City Council tries to tell you, all innocent-like, that this was a "voluntary" annexation and that the "people of Tierra Verde" actually ASKED for it, you should just laugh.
The people of Tierra Verde do not want it. Only the few landowners at the north end want it. One is Tony Amico of Tierra Verde Marina Holdings LLC, which owns the northern parcels. Another is Steve Sembler of A&S Tierra Verde Ventures LLC, which owns the parcels just to the south along the Bayway.
Hey, I don't criticize them. They saw a chance to deal with the city, and they took it.
But the city! The city rammed this through with a single-mindedness that is downright scary. I've never seen anything like it.
As it turned out, Sparta only had a brief reign after beating Athens. Sparta soon learned bitterly that bullying your neighbors creates deadly enemies. It was the wrong way to run a city, then and now.