St Pete City Council votes against its own proposal to adopt new land-use plan

09/17/10 Matthew Cimitile
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After months of contentious debate and uproar, the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously voted against their own proposal to adopt a new Comprehensive Land Management Plan. They may reconsider it after voters weigh in on Amendment 4.

The proposed Comprehensive Land Plan would have reduced the city’s 22 land use categories down to 5 broad zones. Many critics, editorial boards and local and state agencies viewed it as undermining voters and illegal. That backlash led the mayor and city council to abandon the plan last night. Rick Macaulay is the city’s manager of Planning and Economic Development.

“Given the present mix support for the proposal - the Chamber of Commerce is supporting this proposal, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is not objecting, the Department of Community Affairs is raising concerns, CONA is asking that the city not move forward, the angst surrounding Amendment 4, and the likelihood that the department of Community Affairs will challenge the city’s ordinance if it is adopted, city administration respectfully request that ordinance 988-G addressing the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan not be adopted at this time.”

The proposal of a new land-use plan was seen as a way to undermine the potential passage of Amendment 4, also called Hometown Democracy. If it gets 60 percent of the vote in November, that amendment would allow voters to veto or approve of major land-use changes passed by city government. Critics, like Will Michaels of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), said that council’s plan was not developed in a collaborative way and city officials should wait until after the Amendment 4 vote before moving forward.

“CONA recommendation is to further study this proposal with the aim of achieving a better proposal supported by a greater part of the community than what is now on the table. We also recommend that the new proposal be deferred until after the election. If Amendment 4 does not pass, there may be no need for any such proposal; if Amendment 4 does pass then a change of this type needs to have the assurance of the widest possible participation from the community.”

The council still held severe doubts about Amendment 4, citing how it would lead to more elections and litigation over land-use decisions and subsequently cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Council member Jim Kennedy and others unanimously concurred that for now the best thing to do was to shelve the idea.

“I think this is an example of the pendulum being pushed a little too far this way and a little too far this way and we get the pendulum really going out to the ends. Whenever the pendulum starts swinging too far one way or the other, it counterbalances back. The farther we go out probably the worst decisions that get made. I think basically the overall concept of this plan, of simplifying the map, of doing things along those lines makes a lot of sense in the long-range planning. But I would support the administration point of view and make a motion to table this item at this time.”

Many saw the new map as an attempt to negate the Amendment 4 initiative thereby leaving the people without a voice on major land-use changes. Supporters hope passage of the initiative will stop the urban sprawl characterizing Tampa Bay. Outside City Hall before the decision, a handful of protesters voiced their displeasure over what the City Council was attempting to do. Mitch Kates is the Campaign Manager for Florida Hometown Democracy.

“We don’t appreciate the fact that they are not waiting for the electoral process to happen, which is only a few weeks away in November, to let the voters decide on whether or not they support Amendment 4. Some of us are scratching our heads as to why this is happening. The Community of Neighborhood Association, CONA, said a few weeks ago please don’t do this. Let voters have their say in November. The state of Florida said you can’t do this but they are still stubbornly moving forward with this.”

Along with discussions over Amendment 4, the council also passed a resolution to bring high speed rail to St. Petersburg. Mayor Bill Foster said that ending the rail system in Tampa makes no sense, since many tourists and visitors to Tampa Bay end up at beaches and attractions in Pinellas County.

“Tampa to Orlando makes no sense at all. They need Pinellas County to be a critical link to this. They need it for their success. That is a message I will continue to harp on.”

The city plans to go after federal funds to pay for the rail system to continue through Tampa and into Pinellas County. TBARTA and other transportation groups say light rail makes more sense to connect Pinellas to Tampa.

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