Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County looks at saving money by trumping cities' building rules

Pinellas County officials say they saw the idea as a way to save money on county construction projects: exempt the county from various cities' regulations.

But St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster feared the move could open the city to an array of unexpected problems.

For starters, a proposed county ordinance could pre-empt the city's restrictions on panhandling and public sleeping along the Pinellas Trail, Foster and chief assistant city attorney Mark Winn wrote in a letter to the county this month. Then people could do both near homes and businesses.

And, even though the City Council rejected digital billboards, Foster and Winn raised the specter of such a sign flashing atop a Pinellas County-owned office building downtown.

And what of county-owned Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, they asked?

"Quite frankly, there is serious concern as to the impacts and unintended consequences that this ordinance may create for all municipalities," the letter said.

St. Petersburg officials weren't the only ones bothered. Largo and Pinellas Park leaders, among others, recoiled at how the county wanted to trump city rules.

But county officials say the measure only details powers that Pinellas already has, such as pre-empting cities from regulating county solid waste sites. The county charter gives Pinellas authority over parks, emergency services, courts, public safety and animal services, among others.

This summer, the county figured it could save money on an $81 million public safety complex in Largo by using the county's own building regulations and permit fees, not Largo's more expensive fees. Unable to negotiate lower fees, County Administrator Bob LaSala came up with the broader ordinance in August.

The County Commission will decide whether to approve the proposal at public hearings Tuesday and Oct. 11.

Top county officials said Foster's fears don't hold up, although they changed the proposed ordinance Thursday to make it clearer. The measure is meant to regulate construction, not every regulation, managing assistant county attorney Jewel White said. The latest version applies only to development and only if county and city regulations differ.

Besides, nothing on the county's books conflicts with St. Petersburg's limits on panhandling and public sleeping on the Pinellas Trail, White said.

The county allows digital billboards to go up only near major highways, such as interstates and U.S. 19. The county office building at 501 First Ave. N doesn't appear to qualify (nor would they actually want a billboard there, White said).

Tropicana Field also isn't among properties affected by the measure, White said.

Foster said Friday he still wants to review the latest proposal. The eye-opening examples in his letter led to more debate, as he said he sought.

"I wouldn't call them exaggerations, but these were examples of the what-if's. I think it served its purpose to get their attention so that they more narrowly construe what they want to do," Foster said.

Still, he said the county took a "very liberal interpretation" of its power under the charter.

A county advisory board, the Local Planning Agency, voted 5-2 for the measure Sept. 8.

The board chairman, former St. Petersburg Mayor Randy Wedding, voted no because he said the county had pushed it too fast, and a one-size-fits-all approaches "fits no one."

But the county certainly has the powers in the charter, and Foster's examples of trouble aren't realistic, Wedding said.

"I think some of those things were deliberately used as exaggerated examples to show what's being done," Wedding said. "I don't look at any of them being likely to happen."

David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at

Pinellas County looks at saving money by trumping cities' building rules 09/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 12:07am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker


    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.

  2. Roosevelt Blvd closed at I-275 after truck hauling crane hits overpass


    ST. PETERSBURG — A truck transporting a construction crane hit the Interstate 275 overpass at Roosevelt Boulevard Tuesday.

  3. Pasco students, 12 and 15, faces weapons, threat charges


    Two Pasco County students from different schools were arrested Tuesday after one brought weapons onto campus and the other threatened a shooting, according to sheriff's deputies.

  4. It's official: Hillsborough high schools move to 8:30 a.m. start time, elementary schools to go earlier


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County high schools will start an hour later next year, beginning the day at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 3:25 p.m., the School Board decided Tuesday in a 6-0 vote.

    The Hillsborough County School Board has decided to end a compressed bus schedule that caused an estimated 12,000 children to get to school late every day. Under the new schedule, high schools will start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools will start at 7:40 a.m. and middle schools at 9:25 a.m. [Times files]