ST. PETERSBURG — The city plans to move forward with a controversial plan to annex a sliver of Tierra Verde despite objections from Pinellas County, a city official said Wednesday.
Those objections prompted the City Council to cancel a public hearing scheduled for tonight. It was the second time this year the council canceled a hearing on the plan to annex about 28 acres of commercial property and submerged lands.
A letter from the county planning department expressed concerns that the annexation would create an incorporated "finger" stretching across open water and referred to a potential U.S. Department of Justice election-intimidation investigation linked to the city's previous annexation attempt of the same area.
The land the city wants to annex includes two marinas, several condominiums and a small shopping center, connected to the city's boundary only by the Tierra Verde drawbridge.
Property owners in the area favor the annexation because they say the city's redevelopment rules are easier to deal with. The city sees the annexation as a way to increase its tax base, particularly if the land is redeveloped.
"As it stands right now, we still plan the annexation, but we wanted to review and respond to the county's concerns," said Rick Mussett, the city's development administrator.
But the city will be hard-pressed to appease the county's concerns, said County Planning Director Brian Smith.
"We had questions about the compactness and contiguity that are not technical things you can change very easily," Smith said. "If you're annexing across an intracoastal waterway to another island, how do you fix that?"
The city submitted similar plans in December but scrapped them after finding out more than a dozen live-aboard residents at the Tierra Verde Resort Marina would have to approve the annexation.
That prompted the Ballast Point Group, which manages the marina property, to force the live-aboards to change their home addresses with the elections office, eliminating the requirement of an election.
Since then, Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice for potential voter intimidation.
The Tierra Verde Community Association has vowed to fight the annexation, fearing high-rise development and offshore gambling boats.
The association and county staff have suggested that the issue could wind up in court but city officials downplay the controversy.
"From what I can tell, it's an amicable event between the business owners and the city," said council Chairman Jamie Bennett.
The city's less restrictive land use regulations are the main appeal of the city's annexation, said Ballast Point Group president Darian Johnson.
"We just felt like there were more arrows in the quiver of the city than in the county," Johnson said.
Nick Johnson can be reached at