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Truce over Treasure Island development fails

A compromise plan dissolves and the contentious issue is left for a new commission to resolve.

By KATHY SAUNDERS
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003


TREASURE ISLAND -- It was a short marriage. The union between the LDR camps fell apart Tuesday almost as quickly as it was formed.

Half of the men who signed an agreement designed to end months of fighting about beachfront development abandoned the compromise at the last minute. It appears the future of island development will fall next month to a new city commission.

A coalition of six men, some supporters and some opponents of the city's land development regulations, proposed that city commissioners schedule another election so voters could overturn a referendum that requires a majority of the city's registered voters to decide height and density increases.

In addition, the coalition asked commissioners to rescind the LDRs hurriedly adopted in October before the voters could take away the commission's power. The city currently is under a judge's temporary order not enact the new regulations.

Bill Edwards, who financed the "vote no" campaign last year, said he put the coalition together in his office a couple of weeks ago in an effort to "heal the wounds" in the community. Edwards said his primary reason for wanting to stop the referendum last fall was because of its wording.

"I led the 'no' vote because, as a former Marine and Vietnam vet, I take my constitutional rights very seriously," Edwards told commissioners. "Requiring 51 percent of registered voters to support every referendum makes it practically impossible to achieve a lawful vote, thereby depriving myself and other citizens of our constitutional rights."

After a week of negotiating, "We thought we had an agreement," Edwards said Tuesday night. "But, I am sorry to say, we do not."

The proposal was dropped, he said, because of "disparaging remarks" that others in the group had made about the city's elected officials. The quotes appeared in a Weekly Planet article called "Endangered Incumbents" that was published Feb. 12.

"It's one thing to disagree with someone's position, but it is another thing entirely to publicly assassinate that person's character," Edwards said.

Another factor contributing to the divorce is an effort to recall Commissioner Barbara Blush for her role in adopting the LDRs. Blush represents Sunset Beach where the "vote yes" campaign to stop taller buildings originated.

"Expressing disagreement and dissent is everyone's constitutional right. It's the American way," Edwards said. "What I'm concerned about is that we have gone way beyond dissent, and that even with good intentions, a well-organized group focusing on one issue can overlook many other equally important issues -- and we will all suffer in the end if our city is not effectively governed."

Businessmen Ken Brown and Harry Black sided with Edwards, removing their signatures from the agreement.

Ray Green and Mike Daughtry, supporters of the recall petition, hoped the coalition would convince the commission to rescind the LDRs, for which they would drop their lawsuit against the city.

Green said his offer was still on the table Thursday despite the broken peace.

It's doubtful commissioners would have adopted the group's proposal anyway.

Mayor Leon Atkinson said he was "astounded" that Edwards, Brown and Black "bought into" the agreement. He was especially opposed to the suggestion by the group that it be part of an advisory committee to make changes in the LDRs.

"We have a paid staff that does that for a living," Atkinson said. "Why do we need a citizens advisory group?"

Atkinson is not seeking re-election. On March 4, the city will have a new mayor and two new commissioners -- and a new majority on the commission.

Maloof is leaving her seat to run for mayor. Commissioner Stephanie Lavino, who along with Maloof supported the citizen initiative on the LDRs, dropped her candidacy after being hospitalized for pneumonia.

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