St. Petersburg voters give big thumbs up to referendum questions

Voters made decisions affecting park preservation grants, what date elected city officials will be sworn in and the St. Petersburg Sailing Center’s lease.
The St. Petersburg skyline looking west from the waterfront in June 2018.
The St. Petersburg skyline looking west from the waterfront in June 2018. [ Chris Zuppa ]
Published Nov. 6, 2019|Updated Nov. 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — All three referendum questions on Tuesday’s ballot passed by wide margins.

Two were charter amendments. One will allow the city to accept grants for parkland preservation, something the charter prevented from happening. That passed with nearly 79 percent support.

The second charter amendment, largely procedural, deals with the day newly elected city officials assume office. That question passed with 84 percent support.

A third referendum question relates to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club’s operation of the city’s sailing center. Voters also approved that question with 84 percent support.

ELECTION RESULTS: Find all of Election Night’s winners and losers at The Buzz.

RELATED: From parks to swearing-ins, St. Petersburg voters will have to decide these issues in November

The most consequential of the questions was the one about park land.

It was conceived to fix an unintended consequence of the charter’s heavy protection of park and waterfront land. The charter says no park or waterfront land can be “sold, donated or leased without specific authorization by a majority vote” in a city referendum.

The city wanted to accept a $900,000 preservation grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for a portion of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. But the water management district wanted a “conservation easement” on that portion of Boyd Hill, guaranteeing it remains preservation land forever, thereby protecting its investment.

That guarantee is what puts the grant in conflict with the charter, even though it strengthens the protection of the preservation land.

The charter defines a sale as “the sale, donation or any other permanent disposition” of property. Basically, a conservation easement couldn’t be placed on preservation land without a referendum because that is a permanent disposition.

With voters electing to amend the charter, the city will be able to accept grants like that in the future.

The procedural charter referendum about newly elected officials deals with when they are sworn into office. In the past, newly elected council members and mayors have taken office on Jan. 2, irrespective of the day of the week.

That was leading to swearing-in ceremonies on the weekend occasionally, or a day or two before a regularly-scheduled City Council meeting, city officials wrote in an ordinance approving the referendum.

Now, the day newly elected city officials take over will correspond with City Council meetings. That means either the first Thursday in January — or, if that day is New Year’s Day, then the second Thursday of the month.

The third question related to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club’s operation of the sailing center, which is owned by the city. The current agreement between the city and yacht club is set to expire on Nov. 30, 2021. Voters approved an extension of that lease through 2040.

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Since the sailing center is on Demens Landing, which is a waterfront park, any lease longer than five years requires voter approval.

Continued control of the sailing center won’t come free for the yacht club. Per the referendum, it promised to spend at least $800,000 on new projects over the 20-year lease extension. A preliminary list of projects from the yacht club to the city indicates it could spend $155,000 on projects within the first four years, including renovating the bathrooms, putting up new fencing and installing new floating ramps.

Projects in years five through nine could include dredging, parking lot resurfacing and hoist replacing, for a total of $360,000. Long-term projects include installing new floating docks and a shaded deck and adding storage for small boats. Those projects could cost $285,000.


DISTRICT 1: Robert Blackmon handily wins St. Pete City Council District 1 race

DISTRICT 3: St. Pete council member Ed Montanari holds off District 3 challenger

DISTRICT 5: Deborah Figgs-Sanders takes razor-thin win in St. Pete’s District 5 council election

DISTRICT 7: Lisa Wheeler-Bowman easily wins re-election in St. Pete’s District 7 council race