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Cityhood is unlikely for Tierra Verde

(ran Beach edition)

There has been talk of cityhood on this island where it is normal to see mansions with 40-foot sailboats swinging from backyard davits.

But the buzz about Tierra Verde, an unincorporated area of Pinellas County, becoming a city or annexing to another community seems to be just talk once again.

In a vote of confidence, residents seem to be deciding to keep the non-profit Tierra Verde Community Association that governs the more than 4,000 people and 78 businesses inhabiting this waterfront gateway to Fort De Soto Park.

About 2,021 ballots were mailed (one for each residence), said association administrator Karen Northrup. Of the 35 percent returned thus far, 674 have voted in favor of the association's three proposals. Only 28 opposed.

The proposals asked residents to okay all past board actions and elections and asked for a 30 percent quorum requirement for all meetings. Presently, the number of people making up a quorum is the number of people voting.

Tierra Verde residents could mail in their ballots or can bring them to a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Howard Johnson, 3600 34th Street S, St. Petersburg.

Northrup said it looks like "by and large, all are in favor (of the association and 30 percent quorum)."

What this vote doesn't do, however, is get rid of the association's lawsuit against marina owner Ed Medley.

The association sued Medley, part-owner of the Tierra Verde Marina Development Corp., which includes a 10-acre complex that houses Fort De Soto Joe's Seafood Wharf and the Tierra Verde Resort, because of more than $14,000 in unpaid dues.

Medley told the association at its May board meeting that he was willing to pay up because the association has been willing to act on one his gripes.

That complaint was that the association make a stronger effort to obtain a 30 percent vote by mail or in person on important issues.

The islandwide ballot appears to meet Medley's demand. But Medley has yet to pay.

Northrup said the 30 percent quorum balloting "doesn't finalize the lawsuit. We're still going on with that. I would hope that he (Medley) would honor his word."

Medley said that when the vote becomes legal, "I'll be glad to pay my association dues."

He calls the association's lawsuit and threats to close his business "pretty ridiculous."

"I mean, they are suing a multimillion-dollar business (the Resort was purchased in 1989 for $3-million) to collect $14,000," Medley said. "All I ever wanted was for the association to get a 30 percent quorum so they wouldn't be spending millions of dollars without residents' okay."

Northrup said the association has spent $10,000 of members' dues on the lawsuit. No hearing date is set, she says, but depositions are scheduled for September. "We have a legal budget to handle this," she said of $15,000 earmarked for 1996 legal expenses. "But obviously this hurts to fight something this large."

As for Tierra Verde becoming a city or annexing to another, Northrup dismisses that notion. "That's been the talk for 10 years," she said. "It resurfaces every so often that people think Tierra Verde should become a city on its own."

But prominent businessman Arnold Kraag, the managing partner of Island Marina Developers and the man who built some of the first condominiums on on Tierra Verde, believes that "the little island association" way of running Tierra Verde is passe.

"With our tremendous growth, it's time to be part of a major municipality," he said. "It's counterproductive for the association to keep up with all that goes on out here."

Resident Reinhard Hack led a petition drive to form a committee to work toward "Tierra Verde _ The City." Hack's idea was that Isla Del Sol, Point Brittany, Bayway Isles and Tierra Verde join forces.

"This group of communities represents the richest tax base in Pinellas County," he wrote in a letter he handed to those at the April meeting. "Imagine these communities being the most powerful city in the county."

Hack said he won't battle beyond his letter. He would still like to see Tierra Verde become a city. He said the association doesn't provide a lot of community information and direction but that the attitude on the island is apathy. "As long as it doesn't bother me real bad, I'll let it go," he said.

In 1992, the association researched the tax benefits and police and fire services needed to become a city, Northrup said. Residents responses? "People weren't interested," she said.

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