Commission approves rezoning, but no plans yet

Some citizens are questioning the legality of Tuesday's vote that would redevelop Corey Avenue.

Published August 13, 2006

ST. PETE BEACH - Commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning ordinance aimed at bolstering development on the east end of Corey Avenue.

Commissioners stressed that Tuesday's vote did not endorse site plans, only a change to reclassify the area into a mixed use zone.

"The ordinance is approved, but the plan itself isn't," said City Manager Mike Bonfield.

"By voting on this tonight, we are not authorizing a 10-story building like we are being accused of," said Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter in reference to paid political advertisements published by Citizens for Responsible Growth in the St. Petersburg Times.

A final site plan is subject to final review of the commission, but only after residents, developers, and city officials hash out the direction of the project at upcoming workshops, scheduled for Thursday and Sept. 6.

Plans for the mixed use development currently include condominiums, parking facilities, and up to 26,000 square feet of commercial space housed within two buildings.

A public boardwalk under the Corey Causeway bridge will create nearly an acre of public waterfront.

Members for Citizens for Responsible Growth, a group opposed to the city's plans to encourage large hotels and other mixed-use development, alleges that any commission votes on rezoning are illegal.

Citizen petitions opposing the measure should have been suspended per the City Charter, said the group's attorney, Ken Weiss.

Weiss asked City Attorney Tim Driscoll in an Aug. 3 letter to provide a legal basis for the commission's decision to vote.

"I'm not claiming there is no legal authority, but the city has provided none," Weiss said.

He said he intends to file suit against the city.

"Show me some law," he said. "I'm not going to file suit if I'm wrong."

Driscoll and other city officials have maintained that votes on the measure are legal because CRG's petitions were filed after Corey Landings developers submitted their plans.

Commissioners Ruttencutter and Mike Finnerty had previously voted against the measure in a July meeting. Both changed their minds on Tuesday.

Ruttencutter said he changed his vote because the upcoming workshops can give the developer a better sense of what residents want for the city.

Finnerty hopes the commission's vote signifies a step toward progress for an area bogged down in legal and political battles.

"Hopefully, this is a real, honest-to-God opportunity for improvement for that end of Corey Avenue," Finnerty said. "But I certainly hope this doesn't lead to irresponsible growth."

Casey Cora can be reached at 727 580-1542 or ccora@sptimes.com.