ST. PETE BEACH — Redevelopment, the comprehensive plan and land use regulations have long been a source of political angst in this beach city. These issues never seem to go away and, come Tuesday, voters will be asked to approve a series of changes to the city's charter and comprehensive plan.
The battle over building heights, particularly along the beach, largely ended in 2006 when voters changed the city charter to ensure they would have the final say in setting new rules governing redevelopment of the city.
Tuesday, two of the proposed charter changes will touch on such past controversial issues — building heights, density, intensity and land use regulations.
City officials insist, however, the changes do not affect the future ability of voters to decide such issues.
Voters are also being asked to approve a number of changes to the city's comprehensive plan, one to allow mixed use commercial-retail development on Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille, and the other to ensure the plan meets state requirements.
City Manager Mike Bonfield says fears expressed by some residents that the first two ballot questions could eliminate their ability to vote on development issues "is simply inaccurate."
"The City Charter will still provide that any changes in height must be voted on," Bonfield said.
The four ballot questions — and the city's rationale for asking voters to approve the changes — are:
1. Ordinance 2009-12 Amends the city charter to limit required voter approval of comprehensive plan amendments to only when they affect density or intensity of land uses, building heights or additions to or changes to land use categories.
Currently the charter requires all comprehensive plan changes to be put to voters before they can go into effect.
Since 2006, when that requirement was put into effect, voters were asked to approve five different plan changes, even though most were required by the state and did not affect height or density issues important to voters.
This charter change would eliminate the expense every year on special elections that are not "fundamental" to the voters' desire to control growth issues. Each special election costs the city about $20,000.
2. Ordinance 2009-17 Amends the city charter to require voter approval of land development regulations, or LDRs, affecting building heights only when the same changes were not been previously approved by voters through amendments to the comprehensive plan.
In addition to requiring comprehensive plan amendments affecting more than five property parcels to be approved by voters, the charter also requires voter approval of LDRs that increase building heights.
This could result, city officials say, in voters being asked twice to approve the same changes. If the outcomes of those votes differ, the city's building rules would be in conflict. Under state law, the comprehensive plan would rule, even if voters had approved different building heights in the LDRs.
3. Ordinance 2009-24 Amends the city's comprehensive plan to establish a redevelopment district for Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille.
If passed, this would set development standards for Eighth Avenue that would be more consistent with current development, according to city officials.
Under current regulations, mixed use buildings with ground floor commercial and second floor residential uses are not permitted. The proposed comprehensive plan amendment would allow mixed uses to occur, but would not change existing building height regulations.
4. Ordinance 2009-47 Amends the city's comprehensive plan to bring it into compliance with recent recommendations made by the state Department of Community Affairs.
These state-required changes involve updating city maps, clarifying the city's rules relating to impact of future development, protection of sea turtles and natural resources, as well as protection of recreation and commercial waterfronts. The changes also eliminate outdated or "unclear" policies identified by the DCA.
The need for this type of referendum would be eliminated in the future if voters approve ballot Question 1.