Pinellas County commissioners Tuesday killed a proposed ordinance that would have required a public vote before selling or transferring county parks and environmental lands.
"I would just like to see us start over," said Commissioner Calvin Harris, who objected to exceptions in the ordinance that critics saw as loopholes.
The unanimous vote came after 10 speakers urged commissioners to protect the county's green spaces - particularly environmental lands such as the Brooker Creek, Weedon Island and Shell Key preserves - to the greatest degree possible.
"This ordinance accomplishes very little to nothing in the protection of those lands," said John Miolla, representing the Crescent Oaks subdivision and the newly formed Council of North County Neighborhoods.
Opponents said exceptions in the proposed ordinance would have let commissioners take drastic steps affecting parks and environmental lands without getting the approval of voters first.
"This ordinance has been a thorn in the side of the general public for a long time now," St. Petersburg activist Lorraine Margeson told commissioners.
As proposed, the ordinance generally would have required a public referendum to approve selling or transferring most county-owned parks or environmental lands.
But there were six exceptions to the requirement for a referendum.
"If we keep on the path we are on, there won't be a future," said Dawn Ladd, a volunteer with the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve.
"Preserve lands will be gone because it will be the fruit too tempting and convenient to pick when someone decides they have an appetite or a need."
Critics said writing the safeguards into the county charter would give voters, not commissioners, control over the future of environmental lands.
A charter amendment, they said, would better protect environmental lands from the kinds of intrusions, such as horseback riding centers and ballfields, that have been recently proposed for the Brooker Creek Preserve.
"Prevent the problems of the past two years and provide real protection," said Walt Hoskins, chairman of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve.
Speakers also said that the commission should deal with parks and environmental lands in separate measures, not in the same ordinance or charter amendment.
In response, Commissioners Harris, Ken Welch and John Morroni favored passing separate charter amendments for parks and for environmental lands.
Commissioner Ronnie Duncan said a charter amendment is needed at least for environmental lands.
Commissioners Susan Latvala and Bob Stewart said they favor creating separate ordinances for parks and environmental lands. Commissioner Karen Seel was absent.
"I don't think this stew is done yet," Latvala said.
After the ordinance was voted down, Stewart made a motion to "authorize staff and the public to work together to develop two separate ordinances that may or may not include charter language."
It passed unanimously, but left unclear whether the next step will be two ordinances, two charter amendments, one of each or two of each.
"They are going to go charter amendment," predicted activist Margeson, who has urged the commission to adopt a charter amendment based on waterfront protections in St. Petersburg's charter. "They have to go charter amendment to assure protection with voter purview."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.