Judge to decide beach investors' lawsuit
By NICK JOHNSON, Times staff writer
Published July 29, 2007
ST. PETE BEACH - One of the lawsuits involved in the turmoil over development in St. Pete Beach is expected to be decided soon. A final hearing was held Wednesday.
The lawsuit was part of the legal battle that resulted from petitions filed by residents on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Growth. The battle led to a voter referendum that repealed a new comprehensive plan.
Since the vote, the city has been torn between two contingents: those who want a new comprehensive plan to spur development, and those who would rather keep the status quo.
The amended comprehensive plan would have made it possible for developers to build more condo or hotel units per acre of property than the previous plan.
Randy Moore of the St. Pete Partners, an investment management group that purchased property at 6300 Gulf Blvd. and adjoining properties for more than $40-million, said the group had planned to develop the property under the guidelines of the new comprehensive plan.
The Partners filed suit to invalidate the process that led the city, also named as a defendant, to revert to the previous plan that allowed a lower density of units.
Moore said the Partners intended to build a family resort hotel and argued that the current plan would prevent them from doing so.
"The only thing we can do with that property right now is develop condominiums," Moore said. "You can't financially afford to build hotel units at the current density rate."
The same argument came up in the last commission meeting, when Mayor Ward Friszolowski asked the commissioners to try to reach a consensus about whether to pursue a new plan.
Commissioner Linda Chaney, who is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Commissioner Harry Metz, argued that the current comprehensive plan, which she petitioned to save, is more than adequate for development.
"Residents seem to agree we need some type of redevelopment and sprucing up, but that does not mean that we need a new comprehensive plan," Chaney said, citing successful beach communities in Florida that allow only limited development.
But on the other side of the issue were the mayor and Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter, both of whom argued that a new plan was necessary to see any progress.
"No matter how they play this game, it's my understanding that there has to be a new comprehensive plan for there to be a new hotel built anywhere in the city," Ruttencutter said.
All parties seem to agree that the key to renewing the community is drawing tourists by providing updated hotels or resorts, but Chaney thinks putting another comprehensive plan before voters would further divide the community.
"Because we have property owners and developers in the community that are so completely committed to getting what they want with very little compromise, I believe that they would make an election on a comprehensive plan a very destructive process," she said.
Moore said that the Partners would develop the property one way or another.
Pinellas County Circuit Judge Walt Logan is expected to make a ruling in the near future.
Nick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 893-8361.
[Last modified July 28, 2007, 21:07:59]
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