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Pro-development group files its petitions for ballot

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


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ST. PETE BEACH - The political action committee Save Our Little Village has taken the next step in putting pro-development ballot items before voters early next year.

Last week the group delivered more than 800 signed petitions to the city clerk. That's enough to put six items, including a comprehensive plan amendment that would increase building height and density, on the January ballot.

"We met our 10 percent, plus a nice cushion, in 18 days," Lorraine Huhn, SOLV's chairperson said. "We had no idea the momentum would take us this close to the goal in this amount of time."

"The feedback from the people and the robust attention to the issue tells us people are ready for some change," Huhn said. The issue in question being redevelopment.

The petitions and the proposed comprehensive plan amendment are a result of the ongoing debate over what's best for the city.

The hoteliers and residents who make up SOLV claim that higher density and building heights will promote development, more hotels will allow for more tourism, and the local economy will thrive.

On the other side of the argument, the political action committee Citizens for Responsible Growth argues that business owners and residents don't need the taller buildings and higher densities, or the increased traffic and infrastructure demands that would come with them.

Some have taken yet another standpoint, saying that a political action committee has no business drafting a comprehensive plan.

Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter has been vocal in his disapproval of the petition items.

"It was written by lawyers, it was not written by city planners," Ruttencutter said. "There are a lot of things in there that don't appear to be legal. There are a lot of things that contradict themselves."

He was referring to a number of ambiguous statements in the proposed comprehensive plan that could provide for potential legal loopholes.

Huhn said that the documents had been drafted by a group of lawyers, Deborah Martohue, a land use attorney and former city commissioner being the primary source.

Ken Weiss, the attorney who represented CRG after they successfully repealed a similar comprehensive plan amendment, said he didn't think SOLV's plans would stand up in court.

"I don't think they would be valid. I don't think any court would deem them to be permissible under the Florida Growth Management Act," Weiss said.

The Florida Growth Management Act is the state statute that mandates and regulates municipalities comprehensive plans.

Patricia Anderson, an attorney who also helped collect signatures for the SOLV petitions, said that while a comprehensive plan proposed by residents would break new ground, that wouldn't make it invalid.

"I cannot imagine what argument would be made that just because a citizen drafted this, it was invalid," Anderson said.

Another question raised is whether residents will understand the implications of what they're voting on.

The six ballot items and their supporting documents add up to more than 500 pages, much of which is detailed planning jargon.

Huhn admitted that the average person might not comprehend all the documents but should understand the ballot explanations.

"We're going to ask people to make a decision in regards to their understanding of what the ballot language says."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Fast Facts:

By the numbers

6 The number of ballot items being proposed by SOLV.

832 The approximate number of signatures collected.

522 The total combined pages between the six ordinances and the supporting documents.

1 paragraph The ballot explanation for the comprehensive plan amendment.

115 The number of pages in the comprehensive plan amendment.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 22:02:06]


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