St. Petersburg sued for granting variances
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- A neighborhood group has sued the city, hoping to make officials rethink the way they make decisions about development projects -- and perhaps provide seed money to start an environmental watchdog organization.
Jungle Terrace Civic Association president Steve Plice said a court ruling in the association's favor could result in an award of several thousand dollars in legal fees.
If that happened, "We've speculated about creating ... a legal defense fund, so we would be able to say to (the city's development board), 'We're going to take you to court and we have the wherewithal to do it if you don't follow the law,' " Plice said.
He said such a group might be similar to 1,000 Friends of Florida, a statewide group that advocates growth management and fights urban sprawl.
Jungle Terrace filed its suit Monday after contemplating the move for some time. The Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) supports the suit and is discussing ways to raise money to meet about $5,000 in lawyer bills.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Development Commission approved departures from some parking and green-space rules in approving a restaurant to be built on a corner of the Sears parking at Tyrone Square Mall. Jungle Terrace's suit contests those variances to the usual development rules. In June, the City Council turned down the neighborhood group's appeal, leaving the courts as the last option.
"We're not just talking about a restaurant in a parking lot, but the process and trying to get the city to follow its own laws," Plice said.
The city's position is that proper procedures were followed and that the rules were met.
Neither the restaurant, Romano's Macaroni Grill, nor Sears is a party to the suit.
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