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Where the St. Petersburg mayoral candidates stand on the Tierra Verde annexation

In November, St. Petersburg reached into the island community of Tierra Verde and annexed 18 acres owned by two developers, at their request, over the objection of the surrounding residents.

After the annexation, the City Council approved new rules to allow the two developers to build more densely than they could have in the county.

To accomplish this feat, St. Petersburg ran a contrived "snorkel" across the map, underwater, taking in a 10-acre finger of state land so it could then claim that Tierra Verde was "contiguous."

A legal challenge to the annexation is pending.

Of the 10 candidates to be St. Petersburg's next mayor, only one, James Bennett, was on the City Council at the time of the vote. He voted yes, saying he wanted to expand the city's tax base. Presiding over a public hearing in City Council chambers, Bennett threatened to have the room cleared of noisy opponents.

In a recent interview with the St. Petersburg Times' editorial board, Bennett added that the city's long-term, comprehensive plan calls for annexing Tierra Verde. He explained he could not "go against the comp plan."

All the other candidates for mayor I spoke with disagree with the annexation. Some went as far as to say they would drop the legal defense, or at least would not appeal if the city loses in court.

• Paul Congemi said: "I don't think we should force ourselves on them to become part of the city."

• Richard Eldridge said via e-mail: "I realize that it's not like we're annexing Austria. And it certainly doesn't compare to the raw deal that the Native Americans received. But it's still wrong, especially when the motivation is nothing more than making more money."

• Kathleen Ford called the annexation disingenuous. She supports changing the city's long-term plan to remove the goal of annexing the rest of Tierra Verde and, to the city's north, Feather Sound. She would be guided by the City Council on whether to continue the court case or drop any appeal.

Bill Foster calls the city's legal position weak and would not have supported the annexation for that reason. Pursuing an appeal if the city loses, he said, would be "throwing good money after bad." He regrets that the city has alienated the rest of Tierra Verde's residents: "You need more friends than enemies."

• I was unable to catch Deveron Gibbons directly, but a spokesman told me he thinks the city overreached in the annexation. Such things would be better done with community approval, he said.

• Scott Wagman said: "I never would have supported it. … Candidly, I would have taken five years and tried to attract all of Tierra Verde into coming in voluntarily." Now, he said, it will take more time to "mend fences."

• John Warren disagreed with the city's policy of trying to "bully our way" through relations with neighbors, and said it should be part of a more considered planning process. He said he could not declare categorically, in advance, how he would deal with the legal issue.

• Larry Williams said he would "call off the legal beagles," adding, "I would not go forward with the annexation of Tierra Verde unless the people of Tierra Verde said they wanted to be annexed. … I don't believe in annexation by the gun-to-the-head theory."

I was not able to speak with the remaining candidate, Ed Helm.

Where the St. Petersburg mayoral candidates stand on the Tierra Verde annexation 08/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 7:45am]
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