Florida lawmakers have toughened the "all or nothing" bill in an attempt to void St. Petersburg's annexation of a sliver of Tierra Verde.
The bill, proposed after St. Petersburg's 28-acre annexation last year, originally required municipalities to take all of the island instead of a slice, and put any annexation up for a referendum. St. Petersburg interpreted the proposal as applying only to future annexations, and pressed ahead with plans.
So Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, persuaded a House panel not just to pass the measure, but to amend the bill to make it retroactive.
"That was the intention all along," said Frishe, the bill's author, adding the city's actions "didn't pass the smell test."
The House's Military and Local Affairs Committee voted 14-0 for the stricter bill. Two more committees are due to hear the bill before the full House and then Senate take it up. Frishe promises the Legislature will approve the measure, which applies only to Tierra Verde.
St. Petersburg officials are crying foul, saying the bill creates an unfair exemption for Tierra Verde. "The whole bill is the Legislature meddling," St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Jeff Danner said. "The rules were set up by the county, and we followed them. It was piecemeal, but we followed the rules."
Pinellas County contends the city failed to follow state law because it annexed 10 acres of submerged land to extend its boundary to the desired 18 acres.
Tierra Verde residents relished lawmakers' action. They fear more development in their community and allege the city failed to follow the proper procedures to justify adding the land.
"It is good news," said Paul Murray, president of the Tierra Verde Community Association.
Commercial property owners in the annexed areas approached St. Petersburg about joining the city, which has more flexible development rules than the county. The county expects to file a lawsuit today challenging the annexation. Mediation between the city and Pinellas failed.