Tell board to back charter question
On Tuesday, the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners will hear a proposal for a charter amendment regarding environmental lands. If approved, this November you will see a ballot question pertaining to the sale of environmental lands in Pinellas County.
Environmental lands are those deemed precious for their value to wildlife; many are even off-limits to people. There are 19 of these lands scattered throughout the county, ranging in size from as small as 3 acres for a site near Lake Tarpon to the 8,000-acre Brooker Creek Preserve.
This potential ballot question asks the citizens to vote for or against an amendment to the county charter. In summary, the amendment says the county shall not sell or transfer any fee simple interest in county-owned environmental lands or lease or license any interest in county-owned environmental lands for a period longer than 10 years unless authorized by a majority vote of the electorate of Pinellas County.
County staff, environmental groups and concerned citizens have pushed hard for this amendment. It is the best way to protect our lands forever.
As it stands, the charter amendment is good, but it is not perfect. The Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve, fearing future attempts at using environmental lands for nonenvironmental purposes (ballfields, for example), requested that county staff add language to the charter amendment that would restrict all leases of environmental lands with exceptions for those obligatory for conservation, education, plant and wildlife management, and education center activities, and those that are already in effect.
However, in a recent meeting with county staff, the Friends group was promised that, after spending hours and putting forth their very best efforts, the legal, administrative and environmental staff could not accomplish a satisfactorily inclusive list of exceptions.
County staff objected to a blanket inclusion of leases and licenses, as this would require expensive referendums for minor actions such as copier repair contracts and computer leases. They did agree to add the language to include (a referendum requirement for) leases of 10 years or more. This essentially would eliminate major "dirt-turning" projects requiring significant bank loans.
County staff is certain that further protection of our environmental lands will be provided by the associated management plans and land use and zoning, which all deal with the use of the land. If a less-than-10-year lease were granted for some nonenvironmental project, say a ballfield, for example, the lessee would have to change the land use and zoning via a multiyear, multistep public process. The public has specific opportunities to comment on such changes, including amendments to the county's comprehensive plan.
So, does this charter amendment provide enough protection of our beloved environmental lands? Our county staff says yes. We have their sworn word. It is the best they can do.
This charter amendment will prohibit the sale and lease/license (greater than 10 years) of any environmental lands without voter approval. However, to prevent any adverse future change in use, we all must remain vigilant in monitoring the activities, needs and projects affecting the county's environmental lands and reviewing any proposed change in land use or zoning for these areas.
To ensure that the proposed charter amendment gets slated for the Nov. 4 ballot, please attend Tuesday's County Commission public hearing (9:30 a.m., in the fifth floor assembly room, 315 Court St., Clearwater) or voice your concerns and opinions directly to the commissioners and interim County Administrator Fred Marquis.
Let them know that the areas set aside as environmental lands need the utmost protection for our future Pinellas generations. Significant changes to these lands need significant scrutiny by our citizens. A charter amendment that includes long-term leases and licenses is an important step toward achieving this goal.
Allyn Childress, chair, Cathie Foster, vice chair, Barbara Hoffman, vice chair, Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve Inc.
Re: Criss Angel stunt
The real trick was navigating traffic
As a longtime resident of Clearwater, I was very excited about the idea of a worldwide name performing an act that would be televised live virtually worldwide. What a great time in Clearwater's gradual maturity to the big leagues. We all know that with the development of Clearwater Beach we are trying to be a major tourism mecca in Florida, and there's no reason we can't make it. We have the location, the resources and the focus.
With that being said, how did the planning committee or whoever is in charge miss that traffic hell that everyone sat through for two-plus hours? There were no police officers on north beach helping direct traffic. Fights ensued due to the lack of police presence. When we finally got to the roundabout, the police were there but all of north beach was a parking lot for two hours.
It's a learning process, yes. Getting people to park on Island Estates was a great idea, but in my mind they stumbled on getting everyone off the islands quickly and safely.
Turner Arbour Sr., Clearwater
Re: Criss Angel
Hype-laden stunt was beneath us
Why in the world would the beautiful city of Clearwater want publicity like this? Really now, do the officials think for one minute that people watching this fiasco will say to themselves, "Wow! That Clearwater Beach sure has a lot of fun. Let's pack our bags and go for two weeks"? More like, "Good grief! How dumb do they think visitors are?" It's a bit unbelievable that the city would even consider a stunt like this.
Criss Angel, who likens himself to Harry Houdini, comes off more like Hoboken Hood. I was delighted to see that he promised his mother he wouldn't try this again. It spares us a rerun.
Troy Robinson, Largo