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Border plan has residents worried

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Some people in unincorporated areas fear that a plan to designate where cities could annex property encourages the practice. The Pinellas Planning Council says that is not true.

The map is supposed to protect residents of unincorporated Pinellas from land-hungry cities eager to annex.

But some of those residents say they fear that the map, which designates how far each city may expand its borders, does just the opposite, giving municipalities permission to take in property owners who want to stay in the unincorporated part of the county.

"The map you're proposing, it's just a license to go ahead and steal property," Phyllis Kalunian told members of the Pinellas Planning Council on Wednesday morning. "If you put this map out there, it's just a license for cities to annex whenever."

Kalunian and about a half-dozen other residents of unincorporated Pinellas County told the council that the proposed map made it seem as if their property had to be annexed into a city.

The council, whose staff created the map, assured residents that the lines on the map are meant to keep cities from arguing over unincorporated territories, not force those territories to be annexed.

"It's apparent to me that confusion has become rampant," said council Chairman Bob Kersteen, a St. Petersburg City Council member. "People are jumping to conclusions and not basing their conclusions on fact. The residents in the unincorporated areas have total control. They have to vote to support annexation or it will never happen."

The council, made of elected officials from cities, the county and the School Board, agreed to hold a second public hearing at 6:30 p.m. June 21 at the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., before deciding whether to approve the annexation boundary plan.

The County Commission and voters would also need to sign off on the map before it would become part of the county charter.

Traditional maps of the county already show each city's limits. This map includes a second set of lines showing how far those cities could be expected to expand in the coming years.

If the map is approved, cities could annex property on their side of the line if the property owners wanted to come into the city and if the planning council thought the city could provide the new residents with water, sewer and other similar services.

Annexing land outside the lines is more difficult because the County Commission would have to amend its charter to shift the lines.

The council started creating the map several months ago, hoping to keep cities from fighting over unincorporated territories. Border wars between Clearwater and Largo and Pinellas Park and Largo landed all three cities in court during the last year.

Council members thought if they drew boundaries around the cities, they could end that squabbling. But the plan apparently makes some residents of unincorporated areas nervous.

"This is a scam . . . to push annexation," W.C. Snipes, who lives near Clearwater, told the council. "If this ordinance continues forward, the borders should be the existing city limits without implying the unincorporated areas are eligible for annexation. I do not want a line drawn around me. I want my right to be left alone."

Several residents accused the Pinellas Planning Council of trying to make itself more powerful without sufficient representation from unincorporated residents.

Dave Healey, the planning council's executive director, said he would spend the next month meeting with homeowners associations and other residents who have questions about the map. He hopes to get the plan on a November referendum.