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St. Petersburg Pier lawsuit draws distinct lines

The City Council voted to demolish the iconic Pier, but a lawsuit wants a referendum on its future.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2010)

The City Council voted to demolish the iconic Pier, but a lawsuit wants a referendum on its future.

ST. PETERSBURG

This summer, days after the City Council rejected a petition signed by thousands of residents demanding a vote to save the inverted pyramid — a waterfront landmark since 1973 — a former council member lobbed a lawsuit contesting the decision.

Early this month, the matter came before a judge, who ordered the city and plaintiffs Kathleen Ford and 15,652 petitioners into early mediation. Talks could take place in the next 60 days.

Joseph Patner, head of litigation for the city, had argued for dismissal of the case on technical grounds. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Amy Williams granted part of his request, but held that Ford had the basis for a suit.

The judge gave Ford a week to file an amended suit, listing each of the 15,652 petitioners and naming only the city as a defendant, not the council and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. The city was given 20 days to file a response.

Here's a look at what's at stake:

Lawsuit

Plaintiffs: Kathleen Ford and 15,652 petitioners who responded to a referendum effort by voteonthepier.com, a group that proposed a plan to save and refurbish the current Pier.

Defendant: City of St. Petersburg

Purpose

• To force the city to hold a referendum to amend the charter in order to "preserve and refurbish the iconic inverted pyramid."

• A temporary injunction to halt demolition pending the court's ruling and outcome of a vote.

Argument

• The City Council's 2010 vote to demolish the inverted pyramid, "a significant part of the city's waterfront property," conflicted with an ordinance calling for the Pier's restoration.

• The city charter states that "no waterfront or park property owned by the city may be sold, donated or leased without specific authorization by a majority vote in a citywide referendum." The word "sale" is defined as "sale, donation or any other permanent disposition of an interest in real property."

• The petitioners were prevented from using the referendum process under the city's charter because the ordinance they would have proposed — restoration of the inverted pyramid — was already in place when the council adopted a resolution to demolish the structure.

• The city charter gives residents the right "to seek by initiative and referendum" a vote on ordinances related to capital improvement projects.

• The city might not be able to get an environmental permit "to build anything other than replacement structures in the exact footprint" of the inverted pyramid, causing a "significant city asset" to be lost.

Response

• The City Council's 2010 vote to demolish the inverted pyramid did not conflict with a prior ordinance calling for its restoration.

• The ordinance providing for repair of the old Pier was lawfully superseded by one paving the way for its replacement.

• The city charter requires a referendum before waterfront property is sold, donated or leased, but the Pier is not being sold, donated or leased. The charter's definition of sale does not mean that a structure cannot be redesigned or replaced without a referendum.

• The city is entitled to repair, redesign or replace its infrastructure. The Pier approach, ground floor retail space and other support spaces must be demolished because of structural deterioration.

• The city was "ready, willing, able and eager to put a referendum question to vote, but petitioners presented "inconsistent requests'' and "rejected and withdrew their own ballot question."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

St. Petersburg Pier lawsuit draws distinct lines 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 6:18pm]
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