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Drive leads to property referendum March 11

Residents opposing a waste plant's move fueled the drive. Now voters will decide how Indian Rocks Beach sells property.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Voters will decide whether the city must seek their approval before selling property. The request for a change to the city's charter resulted from a petition drive by residents. It will be placed on the ballot March 11 as a referendum, thanks to a 4-1 vote Tuesday by the City Commission.

The move marks the latest shift in a tug of war over what will become of the solid waste facility and the land on which it sits. Some city officials, including Mayor Bob DiNicola, favor moving the facility off of the waterfront property at 201 Second St.

Last March, in accordance with the existing city charter, they asked voters to authorize selling the property. Eighty-one percent said no.

The ensuing months have been marked by a related question: whether to turn the land into park space and move the solid waste facility elsewhere. An economist already consulting with the city on its business district recommended the city do just that. According to City Manager Tom Brobeil, there is no other land zoned for industrial use in Indian Rocks Beach, so if the city were to move its solid waste facility, it would have to be to the mainland.

Some commissioners cried foul. James Palamara in November said that the referendum from March 2002 was not just about hanging onto the property; it was about keeping the garbage operation there too. Palamara felt strongly enough about the issue to admit turning it into a litmus test for candidates to fill the commission vacancy left by Joanna "Cookie" Kennedy, who ran a state senate seat. Kennedy, who had favored moving the waste facility to the mainland, lost her senate race and then failed to regain her old commission seat.

A sizeable contingent of residents also seems to oppose moving the facility. Edward Piniero, a retired computer engineer and former mayor, said he was distraught when commissioners on Dec. 10 tabled the creation of yet another referendum -- this time asking voters whether the city can move the waste facility outside Indian Rocks Beach.

"I was extremely upset," said Piniero, 61. "It killed any chance to get an ordinance amendment through."

Piniero and others responded by organizing a petition drive. State law allows residents to propose amendments to the city's charter, so long as they can get 10 percent of registered voters to sign a petition. Organizers collected 369 signatures between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31 -- or, as Piniero said, "a couple of days before Christmas and a couple of days after." The county Supervisor of Elections office verified the results Jan. 2.

The proposed amendment reads, "No real property shall be purchased or leased outside of the City limits without, first obtaining approval by referendum of the electors of the city." Since alternate solid waste sites have all been outside the city, the referendum would put future plans for the facility squarely in the hands of the voters.

Brobeil described Tuesday's vote as "ministerial," meaning the commission would only turn down the referendum request if the petitioners lacked enough signatures or if wording was unclear. The same state law that allows for charter amendments by petition instructs cities to place these items on the ballot as referendums.

DiNicola cast a lone vote to reject the petition, saying that plans for the property had been talked about for more than a decade and discussed in visioning workshops.

"This is not a fly-by-night idea," DiNicola said.

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