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Tierra Verde residents remain opposed to annexation

Crowds pack the St. Petersburg City Council chambers waiting to speak on a plan put forward by the city to annex a small slice of unincorporated Tierra Verde.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Crowds pack the St. Petersburg City Council chambers waiting to speak on a plan put forward by the city to annex a small slice of unincorporated Tierra Verde.

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to continue its efforts to annex 28 acres of unincorporated Tierra Verde, a controversial plan that has failed twice before.

The decision came despite the protests of more than 50 Tierra Verde residents gathered at City Hall to denounce the annexation, which would extend St. Petersburg's boundaries across the Pinellas Bayway.

Mayor Rick Baker said annexing the land would benefit all St. Petersburg residents. "Anytime you annex a new property, you increase your tax base," Baker said.

St. Petersburg seeks to acquire about 18 acres of commercial property, including the Tierra Verde Marina, a vacant 56-unit condominium resort, five residential lots and a 7-Eleven. Property owners there support the move because the city has a more lenient approach to development than Pinellas County.

The city also wants 10 acres of submerged land, the only way it can connect to the 18 acres of commercial property.

Another hearing and a final vote are scheduled Nov. 17. The annexation would add at least $132,000 to the city's property tax rolls. The city would begin providing services such as police and fire protection and code enforcement to the northernmost tip of Tierra Verde.

The city has yet to research how much it will cost to provide services there, but David Goodwin, director of the city's Economic Development Department, said he is confident the territory will be absorbed without problems or extra staffers.

Tierra Verde residents fear the annexation would divide their community and remove valuable commercial property from what could one day be an independent city.

"I'm appealing to you to consider what is ethically right and just," Corrine St. Jean told the council. "Please do the right thing. The right thing is not to take over our island."

Pinellas County has worked with Tierra Verde leaders on annexation alternatives, including incorporating as an independent city. Residents want the Legislature to require any annexation to involve the entire island, which would take the approval of a majority of Tierra Verde residents.

Tierra Verde residents, "definitely have a desire to remain intact and cohesive," said Gordon Beardslee, the county's planning division administrator. "The proposed annexation would be contrary to that."

This is the city's third attempt to acquire the 28 acres. Two earlier efforts were dropped after questions arose over voting rights of boat dwellers in the annexation. The city is no longer attempting to annex the marina where those people live.

Property owners, including Steven Sembler's Ballast Point Group, approached the city last year about the annexation after Sembler's plan to build a hotel was shot down by the county, which, at most, would allow a 100-foot-tall building. The city would allow a 150-foot-tall hotel.

Sembler, however, agreed to limit development to eight stories if Tierra Verde residents did not fight the annexation.

But residents aren't interested in a compromise. "We don't want annexation. Period," said Paul Murray, president of the Tierra Verde Community Association.

By fighting the annexation, residents are attempting to trounce the rights of the property owners, said R. Donald Mastry, a spokesman for several owners. "I don't know why they think they have the right to take this away from them," he said.

Mastry said complaints about future development are merely emotional. "Everybody can keep making a big deal out of height," he said. "Height is not a big deal."

Tierra Verde residents remain opposed to annexation 11/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 3:08pm]

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