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Treasure Island voters push for land-use say

A petition wants the city charter revised to require an election when a change in regulations for height or densities is proposed.

By KATHY SAUNDERS
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002


TREASURE ISLAND -- Saying they want a voice in land use decisions, proponents of a referendum on Tuesday delivered 1,781 signed petitions to city commissioners.

"I think that's a major voice you should listen to," said Sunset Beach resident Walter Herring. The "Save Treasure Island" contingent of about 25 residents spent two months collecting voters' signatures at various locations on the island.

Herring and his supporters want the city charter amended to require an election any time there's a proposal to change height or densities in the Land Use Regulations.

They started their signature campaign when city planners suggested allowing hotels and motels up to 100 feet tall along the beach if the developers make concessions to the city such as open space, landscaping, and pedestrian access to the beach.

Another proposal called density averaging would allow developers who own multiple adjacent properties to take the total acreage to determine the number of hotel rooms or condominiums they could build on one site.

Those proposals could significantly impact the entrance to Sunset Beach where Ken Brown, the owner of two beachfront bars, has about an acre of land on both sides of the street. Brown says he has no concrete plans to build anything. But some of his neighbors don't want to take any chances.

They won a small victory earlier this month when the Planning and Zoning Board removed those two hot-button items from the proposals. The planning board plans to again discuss the land development regulations at a special meeting 2 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 120 108th Ave.

City commissioners gave the planning board until Aug. 28 to complete its review. The documents then go to the commissioners. The planning board or the city commissioners could reinsert the controversial issues at any point.

City commissioners have refused to talk publicly about their positions, saying they will wait until the LDRs are in their hands.

That's why Herring says, "We want a vote."

Deputy City Clerk Bonnie Williams sent the signed petitions to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. Under the city charter, Treasure Island has 15 days to have the petitions certified as sufficient. The proponents were required to collect approximately 1,150 signatures or 20 percent of the number of voters who qualified to vote in the most recent city election.

If the petitions are sufficient, commissioners can decide to enact an ordinance or do nothing. In the latter case, the city must conduct a special election after 60 days but within 120 days of the date the petitions are certified.

Herring doubts that either scenario will occur and is anticipating a legal challenge.

"I would expect it would end up in court somewhere," he said.

Attorney Tim Ferguson, who represents several property owners in the city, including Sid Rice whose family owns Gators Cafe & Saloon, said a legal challenge already has been discussed.

"What would be nice is if the city would just put it on (the ballot) themselves," Herring said.

Commissioner Stephanie Lavino put the suggestion on a recent workshop agenda, but she pulled the item at the last minute.

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