LEALMAN — A proposal in the state Legislature would force a city to annex all of this unincorporated area or none of it. And voters here would have the final say on whether the annexation took place.
The so-called all-or-nothing bill, filed by state Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, mirrors one passed last year to protect Tierra Verde. It is also similar to one Nehr submitted this year to protect the East Lake area. And state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, filed a mirror bill Tuesday in the state Senate.
"We're more than pleased this has been filed," said Ray Neri, president of the Lealman Community Association. The association and the Lealman Fire Department have both spearheaded drives against annexation.
"It's a long time in coming," Neri said. "The people of Lealman have fought hard for a long time to protect their identity and community."
The bills would ban annexation into the Lealman community until July 1, 2017, unless the annexing city agrees to take the entire area and voters there agree to be annexed.
Lealman is roughly bounded by Pinellas Park on the north, St. Petersburg on the south and east, and Seminole on the west. Kenneth City is in the center. A 2002 county study found Lealman had about 36,000 residents and covers about 7.8 square miles, which is about 5,000 acres. It is one of the poorest areas of Pinellas, but it also has some tax-rich commercial areas that nearby cities have eyed longingly for years.
It is unclear whether the proposal will go much further. There are questions about some of the language in the bill, such as the delineation of the boundaries of the Lealman community. The boundaries seem to follow an outdated 2005 map of the Lealman fire district and seem to include Kenneth City.
Those issues could be worked out in legislative debate. Harder to work out might be objections from cities that would be most affected by the proposal. Seminole and Pinellas Park have said they do not intend to fight the bill. St. Petersburg representatives could not be reached for comment.
Kenneth City Mayor Pro Tem Teresa Zemaitis said her town opposes the proposal.
"Kenneth City residents should be up in arms over this bill," Zemaitis said.
The measure, she said, would landlock Kenneth City and give it no way to grow. Pinellas Park, Seminole and St. Petersburg are next to other unincorporated areas that they can annex into. Kenneth City is surrounded by Lealman and, at 4,500 residents and with most of its services performed by contract with other cities, there is no way the town could swallow Lealman.
Not that it wants to do so, Zemaitis said.
"It would change what it means to live in Kenneth City," she said. "We are a small town. … We want to remain a small town. … No one here is looking to become huge."
Reach Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.