The third time the city of St. Petersburg tries to annex commercial waterfront property in Tierra Verde should not be the charm. The first of two public hearings on this land grab is today, and the City Council should get another earful from Tierra Verde residents and Pinellas planning officials who oppose this effort to expand city boundaries and accommodate developers.
The battle lines are familiar. The city wants to annex nearly 28 acres, including about 10 acres of submerged land. The other 18 acres include a marinas, a vacant condominium complex and a 7-Eleven store. The city contends the situation meets state requirements that properties to be annexed must be contiguous and compact. The county disagrees and remains opposed. Look at the map; reaching across the water and the Pinellas Bayway bridge to grab a slice of Tierra Verde hardly meets the intent of the state law.
Residents of Tierra Verde have made it clear they do not want intense development in their community. And there is no doubt more leeway for larger development under St. Petersburg rules is driving this unpopular effort. In the latest twist, a key property owner and member of the politically well-connected Sembler family has offered to limit future development to eight stories tall — if no one challenges the annexation or future land use and zoning changes. If the land stays in the unincorporated area, it's unlikely a project even that tall could be built unless it were a hotel.
There also is reason to question whether this annexation is a good deal financially for St. Petersburg taxpayers. The city would have to provide police protection to this out-of-the-way pocket of land, and the department is stretched in tight budget times. The city already provides fire protection, but the cost would shift from a special fire district to the city. Renewing the push for this contorted annexation needlessly irritates the county, upsets Tierra Verde residents who are now exploring whether to establish their own city — and isn't worth the $132,000 in additional property tax revenue.