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    Annexing enclaves appeals to Largo

    Thirteen small, isolated properties can be forcibly annexed if the city takes advantage of a state law. But it may upset some property owners.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


    LARGO -- Last year, city officials said they would take a pass on a new state law that allowed Largo to annex properties within its borders that were 1 acre or smaller without the property owner's consent.

    At the time, Largo officials were focused on persuading businesses on larger pieces of land, such as the 33-acre Bay Area Outlet Mall (now Crossroads Mall), to come into the city.

    A year later, the city is turning its attention to these smaller properties. At a meeting tonight, commissioners will discuss whether to forcibly annex 13 properties into the city, but a vote is not expected for a couple of months.

    City commissioners and staff recognize the potential pitfalls of such a measure.

    "Is it worth upsetting people by annexing them?" asked Community Development Director Ric Goss.

    Goss and other city officials think the answer is yes.

    These properties, called enclaves, include land that is considered unincorporated but is totally surrounded by land in a city. Such situations often are confusing, especially as law enforcement officers try to figure out whether responding to an address is the responsibility of the sheriff's office or local police department.

    "It eliminates a lot of the confusion," Mayor Bob Jackson said. "It eliminates a lot of the jurisdictional problems that we have with these areas that are isolated in the city."

    The proposed annexations must be approved by the Pinellas Planning Council and the Countywide Planning Authority. If all goes as planned, city commissioners could approve the measure in February.

    Dunedin is the only city in Pinellas County that has taken advantage of the state law, annexing 65 such properties. Clearwater officials decided to work with the property owners instead of forcing them into the city.

    Gary Harris would like a similar approach from Largo. Harris co-owns Brown's Auto Electric, a repair shop on Starkey Road, which is one of the properties the city is considering annexing. Harris said the city's letter explaining the proposed plan made him angry.

    "They don't ask you anything," Harris said of Largo. "They just do it."

    Harris is also concerned he will have to pay more in utility fees. His business neighbor, Tom Healey, told Harris about his battles with city officials when he voluntarily annexed into Largo in 1992. Eight years later, Healey, who owns Anvil Paint, says city officials misled him when they said he would pay less for garbage collection, sewer service and other fees by annexing into Largo.

    "They lied to me," said Healey, who in 1994 paid $187.10 for a newspaper ad in the Largo/Seminole section of the St. Petersburg Times looking for more disgruntled annexees.

    City officials have argued that Largo can provide high-quality services at a reasonable cost.

    Jackson said he thinks Harris and others who oppose the city's proposal eventually will see the benefits of being in Largo.

    "I think once these people find the advantages of coming into Largo, they are not going to have any problems with it," he said.

    - Information from Times files used in this report.

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