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Judge cuts attempt to control growth

He rules against three proposals to curb development in St. Pete Beach. A fourth, though, will go to voters

Dec 21, 2005 | A judge has thrown out three of four referendum questions proposed by a citizens group seeking more voter control over development in this fast-growing beach community.

In his ruling, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Walt Logan said referendum questions requiring voters to approve any changes in comprehensive and community redevelopment plans, as well as height restrictions, run afoul of state law.

Logan, however, allowed a fourth question: whether to require unanimous city commission approval for any comprehensive plan or amendment affecting five or fewer parcels. City voters will decide that question in a March election.

The referendum questions were initiated by Citizens for Responsible Growth, a political committee opposed to the city's plans to encourage tall hotels and mixed-use developments. Two more petitions, which could repeal the city's comprehensive plan and community redevelopment plan, still await court decisions.

CRG and its attorney declined to comment on Tuesday's decision. City officials were still examining it for its full implications. Logan's ruling said the state law involved, Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes, already addresses how the public can give input on comprehensive and community development plans and that does not include a referendum option.

Logan also said building height is a "significant factor" when cities apply rules to implement comprehensive plans and cannot be decided by referendum either.

"The judge ruled that height is part and parcel of the land-use planning process," said City Attorney Tim Driscoll. "He said you can't just carve out part of the process and hold a referendum on it."

Logan noted, too, that aspects of the referendum questions would not be clear to voters.

The one question the judge allowed would require unanimous commission votes on smaller comprehensive plan amendments. The city's charter already requires a supermajority on other matters.

As part of his conclusion, Logan wrote:"The voters are not without redress. Municipal elections are scheduled for March 2006 when two of the five members of City Council stand for election. The electors further have the provision of Recall of the St. Pete Beach City Charter."


Here's how Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Walt Logan ruled on four referendum questions proposed for St. Pete Beach:


Any comprehensive plan or plan amendment affecting five or fewer parcels of land would have to be approved by the unanimous vote of the City Commission.


Voters would have to approve any comprehensive plan or plan amendment, with the exception of a plan or amendment affecting five or fewer parcels of land.

Voters would have to approve any community development plan before any such plan could be approved by the City Commission.

Voters would have to approve any amendment to the city's land development regulations which would increase allowable height limitations.

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