DEVELOPMENT OF ST PETE BEACH NOW IN HANDS OF VOTERS by Roxanne Escobales

11/13/06

Last week the residents of St Petersburg Beach made Florida history by voting in changes that puts future development in their hands. Those who oppose development on the beach hail the change as a victory for their infrastructure. On the other side, businesses say it will hurt the tourist industry. WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports.

Grassroots activist Harry Metz has lived in the same house on St Petersburg Beach since 1950. He served in the armed forces as military police for 23 years and whenever he came home, the landmark Don CeSar resort welcomed him.

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But the tourist industry has changed since the early 20th century when the Don CeSar was built. It’s changed over the past 56 years that Harry Metz has lived on St Pete Beach. The hotels need updating.

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Keith Overton is the vice president and general manager for the TradeWinds Island resorts.

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St Pete Beach City manager Mike Bonfield says because of limited land, that means adding height.

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But the amendments that passed will now restrict height to 50 feet, or five stories. The Tradewinds’ Keith Overton worked closely with the political action committee the Alliance for a Balanced Community. That group was founded by his boss, Tim Bogott, who led the charge against the amendments that passed last week. But the passing was very close, with only a 23-vote margin.

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The debate over land use began about three years ago, but kicked into force in February 2005 when residents heard about plans to build 20 story hotels. Harry Metz helped form Citizens for Responsible Growth, which put the amendments on the ballot. Metz says people were concerned about how large hotels and more specifically hotel-condos would affect services on the beach.

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But the Tradewinds’ Keith Overton says the effect of the amendments means that future property developers will be driven out, and the remaining hotels will have to convert to residential condos to survive.

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Those amendments to the city charter put the power in the hands of the voters in any major changes to the city’s zoning, density and height ordinances. Now a referendum will have to be passed by voters to make changes. But St Pete Beach city manager Mike Bonfield says this makes for a complicated process as many different agencies are involved in comprehensive land use plans.

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But activist and 56-year resident Harry Metz says he has a solution to this problem.

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Harry Metz plans to run for the St Pete Beach city commission next year.

Roxanne Escobales. WMNF Evening News.

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