St. Pete Beach tiptoes into minefield of LDRs
By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETE BEACH -- Land development regulations, take two.
City officials, beleaguered earlier this year when their discussions of development dragged on long enough to become a campaign issue, are again studying the land development code.
The process is long and laborious. City officials had promised not to bring back the most controversial items in the code until they had approved a master plan. Today, still without a master plan, they are trying to convince residents that they won't touch hot-button items such as building heights and neighborhood density until the plan is finished.
One city commissioner isn't pleased with the idea of approving the land development rules now, equating it to "putting the cart before the horse."
"I'm still not convinced we should be going ahead like we are," Commissioner Jim Myers said, "even though we're told that density and height won't be addressed."
Still others worry that the master plan the city is paying for will not adequately cover the city. Commissioners decided to focus the plan on Blind Pass Road, Gulf Boulevard and Corey Avenue, and will not include Pass-a-Grille and other St. Pete Beach neighborhoods.
"We thought we were getting a master plan, and then we find out we're only getting three of the five parts done," said Steve Gordon, who lost a bid for mayor in this year's election.
Residents who are watching the process closely aren't sure what to believe. Just months ago one of them, Ralph Lickton, a house designer with a penchant for reading and understanding land development codes, pointed out that despite assurances from the city's senior planner, the proposed code raised building heights and increased density in various spots.
This time around, city officials are encouraging residents like Lickton to be part of the process and bring any discrepancies to their attention. Mayor Ward Friszolowski said he wants to "make sure the public understands why we have to go through this process."
Lickton said he has nearly finished his review of the code and plans to sit down with city staff to go over his concerns. He points to two areas in District 1 where both height and density are proposed to increase. In District 2, on the other hand, Lickton charges that the plan includes density and height decreases, which could devalue properties.
"There are some members of the public who are really, really good at going through things and picking it apart," Commissioner Lolly Kreider said. "I want to be educated by whomever has better information than I do."
Dennis Davis, a St. Pete Beach resident and recreational vehicle owner, was angered last year that the proposed code would have prevented him from parking an RV in his front yard. When discussion of the land development rules shut down last year amid accusations that the city planner fibbed about the height and density changes, city officials told Davis they would bring back some of the code's most important changes that everyone could feel comfortable with.
"There are a number of things in here that we feel are ... basic, common sense type issues," City Manager Mike Bonfield said.
Davis didn't think that would include the RV restrictions. This time around, the proposed rules are more liberal, but he still thinks the city went back on its word.
"You said we were going to take the controversial stuff out and bring the good stuff back," Davis said at a meeting last week, the first in a series of workshops where commissioners will study the proposed changes piece by piece. "If it seems like there's mistrust out there, that's why."
Some commissioners, meanwhile, are frustrated that the land development regulations have been stalled so long. The city began working on the new rules in 1998, Bonfield said.
"I'm a little taken aback by the reaction of some to go forward with this," Commissioner Julie Christman said. "I don't see how we can keep going, how many months and years we can go, and keep putting this off."
Land development rules cover everything from how high buildings can be constructed to how close houses can be built to each other and to the road. St. Pete Beach officials complain that their current rules are antiquated and don't offer enough protection as developers approach.
"Some of it, we couldn't even read," said Nancy Markoe, chairman of the Future of the City Committee, which reviewed the new proposed rules before handing them over to the commission. "We couldn't understand what it meant."
If you go
The next meeting on the city's land development code will begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at City Hall, 155 Corey Ave. The city is scheduled to discuss Sections 2 and 3, which are essentially housekeeping sections; Section 22 on landscaping and tree protection; Section 23 on off-street parking and loading; Section 24 on subdivisions; and Section 25 on coastal protection and conservation. At the previous meeting, commissioners were scheduled to discuss three sections and finished only one. Copies of the proposed rules are available at the city clerk's office and the St. Pete Beach Public Library.
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