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Tierra Verde, St. Pete Beach flirt with possibilities

TIERRA VERDE — Residents here oppose the annexation by St. Petersburg so much that they are considering joining St. Pete Beach.

Informal talks have begun, but any real move toward consolidating neighboring island communities is months away.

"We have talked to St. Pete Beach officials unofficially," Jack Parker, president of the Tierra Verde Community Association, said Monday. "It may be something we want to consider in the future."

Parker said that one "nice thing" about becoming part of St. Pete Beach would be a significant drop in property taxes for residents. If Tierra Verde were annexed by St. Petersburg, taxes would go up about 20 percent, he said.

"If we became part of St. Pete Beach, we would make up about one-third of residents of the city, giving us a big say-so about what happens on our island," Parker said.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Mike Finnerty confirmed Tuesday that he spoke with Parker. He said he sees only positives in the possibility of Tierra Verde joining his city.

"It would be something that would be mutually beneficial to both St. Pete Beach and Tierra Verde," Finnerty said. "It would help our businesses, our restaurants, our hotels; it would increase school participation and membership in our new recreation center."

Tierra Verde homes and condominiums are valued at more than $1-billion and would give St. Pete Beach a much-needed infusion of tax revenue.

"They need us and we need them," Finnerty said, stressing that residents of his city and Tierra Verde have a lot in common politically and particularly in their attitudes toward development.

For more than a year Tierra Verde residents fought St. Petersburg's effort to annex a small portion of their island, largely because the city's rules allowed more intensive development than county rules.

That fight ended last month when St. Petersburg completed its annexation of about 18 acres of mostly commercial land on the northern end of unincorporated Tierra Verde. It includes the Tierra Verde High & Dry marina, the Sandbar restaurant, the Tierra Verde Marina Shopping Center, a 7-Eleven, a Century 21 real estate office, the vacant Tierra Verde Resort timeshare condominium and retail complex, the Tierra Verde Resort Marina High and Dry and five vacant residential lots.

Because no registered voters lived on any of the properties, no annexation referendum was required.

Dave Goodwin, St. Petersburg's economic development director, said it will take about six months to update the city's land use plan and zoning before any development of the Tierra Verde properties can occur.

"The city would be interested, but there aren't any plans for additional annexations," Goodwin said, adding that it would be up to individual property owners in the remaining unincorporated Tierra Verde to ask to become part of St. Petersburg.

That is just what Parker and other members of the Tierra Verde Community Association want to prevent.

The association is hoping to persuade local state legislators to support a bill that would force any further annexation efforts to include all of Tierra Verde.

This "all or nothing" bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dennis Jones, would not reverse the recent annexation but would require a referendum of all Tierra Verde residents before the island community could be absorbed by St. Petersburg or any other city.

Tierra Verde has about 2,500 homes and condos, more than 5,000 residents and about 3,000 registered voters.

At one point, the community association considered seeking incorporation as a state-recognized city, but it has now virtually abandoned that effort. Parker said the state does not want to add to the 24 existing municipalities in Pinellas County.

Meanwhile, Pinellas County, which also strongly opposed the annexation, was scheduled to vote Tuesday night on what could become a court fight to overturn St. Petersburg's land acquisition.

The county plans to initiate a conflict resolution effort allowed in state law, and if that effort is not successful, petition the courts to rule on the annexation.

Parker said the county's legal action and the pending legislative effort must play out before any serious consideration could be given to joining St. Pete Beach.

"Once that is done, it may become time to get serious with St. Pete Beach," Parker said.

Tierra Verde, St. Pete Beach flirt with possibilities 12/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 11:23am]
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