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Pridgen plan loses sponsor

Rep. Frank Farkas said he won't sponsor a bill exempting developer Grady Pridgen from local development laws after all.

Farkas, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said he did not want to proceed without the support of local governments. After talking to government leaders Thursday, he said he did not have that support.

"I've always maintained that I wouldn't go forward unless the local communities were on board with it," he said.

Farkas said he won't file the proposed bill, nor would he introduce Pridgen's plan as an amendment to another bill.

Pridgen, who is developing the last large tract of vacant land in Pinellas County, refused to comment.

"We're not talking about that today," Pridgen said, leaving a meeting with Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday afternoon. "I haven't talked to anyone."

Farkas' decision came the day his bill drew public attention in a story in the St. Petersburg Times.

The bill's primary benefit for Pridgen was an exemption from state and local traffic requirements. Under Florida law, developers must make allowances for the increased number of cars a project will bring, including a traffic study and any road improvements the state Department of Transportation deems necessary.

Exempting Pridgen from the rules would have saved him time and potentially millions of dollars for road improvements.

Pridgen said the exemption made sense because he envisions people living and working within the development, which wouldn't overload surrounding roads.

Pridgen's development, called La Entrada, is bounded by 28th Street N and Interstate 275 and 94th and 104th avenues.

It will include nearly 3,000 condominiums, 5.9-million square feet of office space, 1.3-million feet of retail space and 700,000 square feet of light industrial and manufacturing.

So far, two companies have agreed to build there: Cox Target Media, parent of ValPak; and Halkey-Roberts Inc., which makes valves used in medical equipment.

Pridgen, who donated $500 to Farkas' campaign for state Senate in September, approached Farkas in November with the proposed bill. Farkas said he supported the concept because it promotes redevelopment within the county instead of sprawl.

"The debate now is, how do we grow Florida?" Farkas asked. "Are we going to do urban infill redevelopment or are we going to continue to buy citrus groves and move further and further out?"

Farkas brought the bill before the Pinellas legislative delegation Dec. 1. The delegation voted 8-1 to support the plan. Three members weren't present.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin. In addition to Farkas, supporters were Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg; and Everett Rice, R-Treasure Island; and Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Les Miller, D-Tampa; and Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg.

Local governments - including Pinellas County, Pinellas Park and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council - were outraged and called the bill an attempt to subvert the planning process. Farkas agreed to rework the bill. A new draft was created Feb. 9 and Farkas said he told Pridgen to get community support for it.

Farkas said he also missed the filing deadline to submit a local bill. But Donna McGaughey, executive director of the Pinellas legislative delegation, said that because the delegation already had approved the previous version, Farkas had until March 7 to file the bill.

Brian Smith, Pinellas County's planning director, said he was pleased Farkas opted not to move forward. If laws need to be changed, they should be changed for everyone - not just Pridgen, he said.

"You can't do a carve-out," Smith said. "If there's something that needs to be done, it needs to be done with everyone affected in the room."

Times staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report.

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