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Flap frees plots for little parks

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

ST. PETE BEACH -- Parks and green spaces could dot the ends of avenues throughout St. Pete Beach in the future, thanks to a spirited neighborhood dispute that was officially put to rest Tuesday.

City commissioners unanimously adopted new rules that give some property owners additional development rights when they give up claims to city rights of way adjacent to their properties.

The issue was born out of the city's geography: Four miles long and skinny, but only a block and a half wide at some points, St. Pete Beach is littered with "streets to nowhere," that were plotted on maps but never paved or used as streets.

When prominent developer Paul Skipper purchased the Neville estate, three beachfront lots in Pass-a-Grille, he hoped to use the street end north of his property as an access to a home he planned to build there. His plans involved paving a portion of the grassy street end.

But neighbors had used that street end as a park for years, accessing the beach there and enjoying the green space. They printed buttons that said "Keep 23rd Avenue Green" and showed up en masse at public meetings.

"We started off with some conflict here," City Attorney Jim Devito said. "And we ended up not only resolving something but ending up with some benefits to both the city and the property owners."

Lawyers working for the city, the neighbors and Skipper managed to work out a compromise.

Both Skipper and the other property owner adjacent to the street end, Doug Hilmes, surrendered their rights to the street end, allowing the city to officially take over the area and use it as a park.

In exchange, the property owners gained something, too: the right to build 18 feet closer to their property lines than the original rules would have allowed.

The same opportunities have been extended to property owners citywide, both on the beach and the bay sides. The city is still researching some of the street ends, trying to discern whether they are indeed street ends or have other designations on original plats of the city.

Some waterfront property owners affected by the decision fear the city will begin adding park benches and creating parks in areas where they have typically enjoyed privacy.

Commissioners will consider rules for each street end individually, deciding whether to allow parking, landscaping and benches.

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