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Push to fix codes loses its starch

Pinellas County commissioners held off Tuesday moving along a plan to toughen the county's code enforcement policy.

Instead, they agreed to meet with the North Pinellas residents who would be most affected by the changes.

Commissioner Susan Latvala asked to hold a public meeting in Palm Harbor this month to address a divide between those who say the growing number of recreational vehicles and boats in residential neighborhoods is an eyesore, and those who say that's part of living in unincorporated Pinellas.

"It's a real challenge, and I think the public is very divided," Latvala said. "I don't want to do something that is going to come back and bite us."

Sweeping amendments to the code have been in the works for more than a year. If enacted, they would bring the county's policies for unincorporated areas more in line with the stricter codes enforced in many Pinellas cities.

Major proposed changes include new rules for where people can park boats and RVs, limiting the size of RVs on residential property to a maximum of 38 feet and restricting lawn parking to one space parallel to the driveway.

Latvala, who represents a district that includes Palm Harbor, Ozona and Crystal Beach, said many people in those communities choose to live outside the cities and deed-restricted communities because they want fewer rules.

In an older residential area of Palm Harbor near the historic downtown, Adrian Cummings said many of the houses were built in the 1950s as small seasonal homes for winter residents. Some lack garages, carports, even driveways, she said. The streets are narrow enough that people have to park on their yards so that firetrucks can pass by.

"What they're proposing really kind of makes it a hardship here," said Ms. Cummings, 46, who lives on Wisconsin Avenue.

"We all choose to live in this neighborhood as opposed to a deed-restricted community," she said. "It kind of felt like we were having deed restrictions shoved down our throat."

Once a supporter of the changes, Latvala said she has made a "complete 180" after talking to people in her community this weekend. Several told her that residents were walking door to door, distributing the proposed changes and asking people to oppose them.

"It's a different attitude up there," Latvala said. "They want less government. . . . I just want to make sure they are heard."

Other commissioners agreed.

Commission Chairman John Morroni said the new restrictions "went a little too far" and Commissioner Karen Seel wondered whether they might draw up changes that were more "middle of the road."

But Commissioner Ken Welch noted that a task force of residents from all over the county recommended the changes. And Commissioner Calvin Harris reminded his colleagues that commissioners asked staff to draft the proposed changes to the code.

"I hope we are not changing our views," Harris said.

Ultimately, the commission agreed to shelve the changes to accommodate Latvala's request for a public meeting.

Latvala has directed the county's communications staff to schedule the meeting in the coming weeks. The date and location had yet to be determined.

After that, the proposed changes would likely go back to the commission in February or March.

Ms. Cummings said residents welcome the chance to make their opinions known.

"I think everybody needs to be heard up here," she said. "It'll create a hardship. If there's a way to do it without creating a hardship that would be great. . . . We kind of feel like nobody asked."

_ Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.