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Tarpon: Don't change annexation

If Pinellas County commissioners decide to change the criteria for voluntary annexations, city officials say they are prepared to sue.

In a letter to the County Commission, Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris wrote that the city is "vehemently opposed" to county plans to add a new dimension to the way officials consider proposed annexations.

The county proposal specifies the amount of land that must touch adjoining city property for a municipality to annex. The proposed criteria state that in order to be annexed, at least 18 percent of the perimeter of a piece of unincorporated land must touch property within a city.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposed criteria today at 9:30 a.m. in the County Commission Assembly Room, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

"We were not establishing new criteria," said county planning director Brian Smith. "All we're trying to do is develop some numbers connected to (the existing criteria) to make it more rational and avoid being arbitrary."

But last week Tarpon Springs city commissioners agreed that Billiris should send a strongly worded letter opposing the county's plan.

"The city of Tarpon Springs questions the authority of Pinellas County to amend these definitions in the absence of a countywide referendum," she wrote. She added that the City Commission has asked the city attorney "to join other cities in litigation if the County goes forward with the proposed amendments."

The city's response comes at a time of growing opposition to the county's proposal. Last month, Pinellas Park officials said their city would sue if the county refused to drop the proposed changes.

And the Pinellas Planning Council, an advisory board that addresses countywide land use issues, voted 12-1 to reject the proposed changes, saying that the proposed new criteria constitute a nearsighted approach to a complex problem. County Commissioner Susan Latvala was the only planning council member to vote in favor of the proposal.

"It looks at each individual parcel and how it connects to the city rather than looking at the bigger picture," Pinellas Planning Council executive director David Healey said.

Healey said that evaluating broader issues such as delivery of services is more important than establishing numerical guidelines for annexation.

But Smith said the proposed criteria are not intended to expand the county's power, but rather to help the County Commission make decisions.

At last week's meeting, Billiris told fellow Tarpon Springs commissioners that the proposed changes could have major implications for the city.

"This will limit us greatly on any annexation we will do in the future," she said. "We need to be very careful and stand up and object to this."

Director of Planning and Zoning Renea Vincent said they would "really hurt" the city north of the Anclote River.

The north bank of the river is already the scene of one proposed annexation that has neighbors upset.

Tarpon Springs restauranteur Michael Tsalickis has applied to the city to have 2.2 acres he owns on Anclote Road annexed into the city. The property sits north of the Anclote River in unincorporated Pinellas County.

In May, Pinellas County commissioners denied Tsalickis' proposal to build a fish camp at the marina. That led him to ask Tarpon Springs to annex his property.

The Planning and Zoning Board will discuss the annexation proposal at a Jan. 24 meeting. City staff have recommended approving the annexation.

In November, the County Commission decided not to oppose his annexation request. But county officials have said the proposal doesn't fit their idea of a good annexation. The marina sits 1,100 feet away from city land on the south bank of the river and 2,300 feet from the city's nearest boundary to the east.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichetsptimes.com or (727) 771-4307.

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