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Tierra Verde fights St. Petersburg's annexation attempt

The proposed annexation area includes the Bayway bridge, about 10 acres of submerged land and about 18 acres of upland that includes the Tierra Verde Marina, above, five residential lots and a 7-Eleven.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2007)

The proposed annexation area includes the Bayway bridge, about 10 acres of submerged land and about 18 acres of upland that includes the Tierra Verde Marina, above, five residential lots and a 7-Eleven.

TIERRA VERDE — St. Petersburg is trying a third time to annex two marinas and other property on unincorporated Tierra Verde.

But this effort, like St. Petersburg's last two tries at annexing the nearly 28 acres, faces heavy opposition from Tierra Verde residents, who are trying to form a city or find another way to stop any part of their island from being annexed.

"The citizens don't want anything to do with St. Petersburg or an annexation attempt," said Dave Striebich, chairman of the long-range planning committee for the Tierra Verde Community Association, which is spearheading the anti-annexation effort.

"We're going to explore all of the things we were exploring before," Striebich said of the organization's decision to oppose the annexation. The TVCA's efforts include potential legal challenges as well as the formation of a city.

Striebich and other Tierra Verde residents oppose the annexation because St. Petersburg allows greater building density than Pinellas County permits. Tierra Verde is in unincorporated Pinellas County, under whose rules property owners would be limited as to the size of any development. St. Petersburg would allow more to be built in the same space.

That displeases Tierra Verde residents, who fear large hotels or huge condominium complexes could destroy their laid-back way of life.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker did not return a phone message asking for comment. David Goodwin, director of the city's Economic Development Department, was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

The property involved includes the Pinellas Bayway Bridge, about 10 acres of submerged land as well as about 18 acres of upland that includes the Tierra Verde Marina, five residential lots and a 7-Eleven store.

St. Petersburg first moved to annex the land in December but dropped the effort after officials discovered people living on board boats who would have been able to vote on the annexation. The Pinellas Planning Council also raised questions about fire service to the island.

The city resumed its efforts to annex the land in April. This time, the city excluded the portion of the property where the so-called live-aboards were dwelling. That would keep those residents from voting against the annexation while allowing the property owners who petitioned St. Petersburg for the annexation to vote. City officials denied that was their reasoning in changing the annexation boundaries. St. Petersburg dropped that effort in May when the planning council questioned the city's ability to provide police service as well as the form of the annexation, which would have created a "finger" that would stretch across a mile of open water before intruding into Tierra Verde.

Now St. Petersburg is trying again and has again left out the area where the live-aboards dwell.

But some things have changed since May.

In the intervening months, the community association has taken steps toward forming the county's 25th city. Those steps include fiscal analyses, the writing and approval of a charter and a mailing to determine how much support the idea has. Jack Parker, a director of the TVCA and the head of the incorporation committee, said 54.1 percent of the mailings were returned. And 93 percent of those supported incorporation.

The next step is to have the state Legislature approve the move and then to hold a referendum, neither of which could come in time to stop the annexation.

Parker said Tierra Verde residents are not relying on the possibility of becoming a city. They're also urging the Pinellas County legislative delegation to approve a protection area around Tierra Verde. Known as the "all or none bill," it would require any annexing city to either leave Tierra Verde alone or annex the entire island, which would take the approval of a majority of Tierra Verde residents.

Parker said the TVCA is going ahead full steam with both ideas and is prepared to go to court if necessary to fight the annexation.

Tierra Verde fights St. Petersburg's annexation attempt 10/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 7:15pm]
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