1. Archive

Publix's friends, foes won't speak at forum

(ran Beach, West, Seminole editions)

Two political action groups - one for and one against the construction of a Publix grocery store here - will not be able to formally speak to residents at a candidates forum Thursday.

Wendy Carmody, wife of Commissioner Jeremiah Carmody and an officer of the Indian Rocks Beach Homeowners Association, confirmed Tuesday that the forum will be open only to candidates for commission and mayor.

"We are providing a table where the issue groups can put their literature. They can speak to residents outside, but the forum is just for candidates," Carmody said. "Our rules do not allow issue representatives to stand up and talk. This is about the candidates and their views."

Thursday's forum, which will be held in the City Hall Auditorium at 1507 Bay Palm Blvd., is cosponsored by the homeowners association and the League of Women Voters. Residents will have an opportunity to meet informally with candidates beginning at 6:30 p.m. The formal part of the program starts at 7 p.m. and could last for hours, given the number of candidates.

Four people are running for mayor: Joanne "Cookie" Kennedy, incumbentBill Ockunzzi, Larry Sandefer and Victor Wood.

Another seven people are vying for three slots on the commission: Jose Coppen, incumbent R.B. Johnson, Patti Muneio, David Pearson, Ed Piniero, incumbent Jean Scott and Dale L. Voss. The top two vote-getters will serve two-year terms, while the third highest vote-getter will serve a one-year term.

The Publix issue is on the ballot, as well.

Voters will be asked whether or not they "approve the rezoning of the city block between Gulf Boulevard, First Street, 25th Avenue, and 26th Avenue to a planned unit development and granting variances and other approvals necessary to construct a multiuse, three-story building consisting of no more than a street level grocery of 30,065 square feet with 29 ground level parking spaces and loading zone, second level parking for 119 vehicles, and 24 condominium units on the third level."

One of the political action groups, organized by developer AG Armstrong, gathered petitions to put the issue before the voters.

The other group, formed by resident Rick Alvarez, had earlier filed a lawsuit to block the project, arguing that it violates the city's zoning and land use codes. That action has been halted by the courts pending the outcome of the developer-sponsored referendum.

Bob McGarrity, senior vice president of development for AG Armstrong, says he is "incensed" that residents will not be able to hear directly about the project.

"This is Gestapolike tactics," said McGarrity. "The people have the right to know about what they will be voting on."

A consultant hired by the developer to help spread the word about the project contacted Wendy Carmody last week and asked for three to five minutes to talk and answer questions.

"This issue is very important to the residents of IRB, and they should be given the opportunity to ask questions," said Colleen Mackin, adding, "It is either everyone has the chance to participate or nothing should be said about the initiative. Period."

Several mailers sent to residents by the developer urge residents to vote "yes" on the referendum.

In one mailer, the developers argue the project will be "properly planned and beautifully designed" - and even will include an electric car as a "Free Taxi Service" for residents unable to visit the store on their own.

In another, the developers argue that the city needs a grocery store to maintain its quality of life, as well as "enhance the community's appeal and property values."

Residents are split, however, with some favoring a beach grocery store and others arguing the proposed structure would be too massive and generate unwanted traffic.

Unknown opponents have defaced signs supporting the project, says McGarrity, who reported the vandalism to law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the city has filed a lawsuit seeking a judgment either to remove the referendum from the ballot or to bar the start of construction because, the city says, the referendum usurps the city's powers and violates the city's charter, as well as land use and zoning regulations.

AG Armstrong's attorneys argue such a move would deny citizens their "constitutionally protected right to vote" and would deny the voting rights of the 579 residents who signed the referendum petition.

If the referendum language is upheld by the courts and voters approve the project, McGarrity said AG Armstrong plans to build a reduced-size project offered earlier to the City Commission.