MADEIRA BEACH — Two large and controversial redevelopment projects valued at nearly $200 million were approved by the City Commission on Tuesday despite a petition signed by more than 1,000 residents seeking to block the action.
After voting for the first project, Vice Mayor Pat Shontz unexpectedly resigned from the commission, citing the actions of "vicious, nasty, disrespectful people."
Shontz, as well as the mayor, the city manager and other officials, have been targeted in a series of ethics complaints filed by individuals opposed to the projects. The complaints were for alleged actions that were unrelated to those projects.
She said a group of about 20 people are "trying to destroy our city manager, our employees, (and are) degrading the commissioners and our mayor over two developers trying to build developments they have every right to do."
Shontz, 83, served as either the city's mayor or as a commissioner for some 40 of the 54 years she has lived in the city.
"Tonight I am ending that career," she said. "I am way too old to be thinking about this nasty stuff."
By the time Shontz handed in her resignation, most of the opponents to the projects had left the commission chambers.
Earlier, the standing-room-only crowd appeared about evenly split on whether the new hotels, condominiums, retail stores, restaurants and marinas proposed for the city's downtown core would be a good thing for the city, its residents and business owners.
Many of the opponents said they had signed the petition in order to block tall buildings they said would add too many tourists to the city and would destroy the city's "small-town" atmosphere.
"It doesn't seem to be in the city's best interest to obstruct the petition," said resident James Scarborough.
City Attorney Tom Trask and the city's planning consultant, Dave Healey, had explained earlier why the city rejected the petition.
They also stressed that even if the petition had been successful in suspending the 2014 zoning ordinance, "it didn't matter" since the planned development zoning category was created in 2008 and would still be in effect.
Resident Paul Tilka warned the commission that they would "face the voters" if they approved the projects.
Many other residents spoke in favor of the projects, arguing that the economic boost to the city would help keep property taxes low and benefit local businesses.
"Other cities where groups like this have stopped developments are dying," said Bob Lyons, a developer involved in the Courtyard Marriott, another planned development project approved by the city in 2012.
Opponents are not giving up, however.
One lawsuit challenging the process the city followed in creating one of its zoning ordinances is still in court. Other challenges are also being considered.
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Petition organizer Sam Baker also indicated he will continue to press for a citywide referendum to allow a citizen vote on planned development projects.
Meanwhile, James Holton, owner of one of the project properties, said he will now focus on developing final building plans for the two hotels, condominiums and retail/restaurant space planned for the site at the southwest side of the Madeira Causeway bridge.
When completed, the Holiday Isle Marina will include two hotels, three condominium buildings, a restaurant with retail space and a marina. The building heights will range up to 93 feet or about nine stories over parking.
The other project, the Madeira Beach Town Center, is being developed by Treasure Island resident Bill Karns.
It includes property between 150th Avenue and Madeira Way, as well as other property along the north side of Madeira Way and 150th Avenue.
The 50-year-old buildings now on the site will be torn down to allow construction of two hotels, one of which will be about 11 stories tall, as well as two condominium buildings and a marina.
The two projects total about 10 acres and must still secure county and state permitting.
Meanwhile, Mayor Travis Palladeno said the commission must appoint a replacement for Shontz within the next 30 days. An election to fill her seat would be held at the next regular city election in March.