James Anderson, represented by Kenneth Weiss, initially filed the lawsuit in February 2011 against the city of St. Pete Beach that prompted open discussion of the comprehensive plan. After an unfavorable judgment by Circuit Court Judge David Demers, Anderson appealed and the case persisted through October 2014, when the Second District Court of Appeal ruled in Anderson’s favor that (1) City Commissioners violated the Sunshine Law by discussing and strategizing amending the city charter and the comprehensive plan during seven shade meetings; and (2) that St. Pete Beach failed to publish notice for such amendment as required by law, rendering the amendment invalid.
The history of the St. Pete Beach residents’ challenging the comprehensive plan dates to 2005, when Citizens for Responsible Growth, a political action group Anderson says he helped organize, formed to oppose the changes to the development regulations instigated by former Mayor Ward Friszolowski, former City Manager Mike Bonfield and city commission at the time.
The reason Anderson and like-minded residents continue to oppose the city’s comprehensive plan, according to Anderson, is its incompliance with the Growth Management Act. The proposed plan increases the height and density of the allowable development in the interest of high-rise resorts, while, Anderson argues and multiple incident observations support, the current infrastructure is inadequate – the sewer system cannot handle the present capacity.
“Inflow and infiltration doubles the amount of sewage on St. Pete Beach,” Anderson says, “and it overwhelms the capacity of the system if it rains or the tide is up.”
For the comprehensive plan to meet the statutory sanitary and safety requirements of the community, Anderson says, studies have to be conducted on the sewer capacity, storm water, density, traffic, levels of service (police/fire) and evacuation.
No recent studies were performed for the city’s proposed comprehensive plan, Anderson says.
The first City Commission Workshop on the Comprehensive Plan took place November 18, and overviewed the terms and procedures to meet the statutory requirements.
Among the requirements, the commission did discuss the importance of conducting studies and data analysis. Mayor Maria Lowe voiced concern over the costs of such studies, estimating the inflow and infiltration study alone to be $750,000.
“I do think that it’s important that we not just throw the salt shaker of studies out broadly,” Mayor Lowe said, “but we really define what it is that we want as an outcome of a study, because without the parameters […] you are not necessarily going to reach the informative element that you need in regards to decisions of this nature.”
In December, the workshop continued “to maintain an open dialogue,” Mayor Lowe stated, “for the commission to listen and to hear the same thing that the public is hearing,” and to ensure the comprehensive plan “adheres to the Growth Management Act.”
St. Pete Beach residents attending the workshops were given a chance to share their visions of the community. Among them were proponents and opponents of increased development parameters.
CEO of TradeWinds Resort Tim Bogott talked about development’s economic benefits, saying disregarding them is “inappropriate” and “irresponsible” toward the community.
“I can say to you that there is not a person in Pinellas County that doesn’t benefit economically from the industry of tourism,” he said.
Anderson says he hopes the workshops expedite St. Pete Beach performing “legitimate development studies” including the inflow and infiltration, sewer capacity, hurricane evacuation and density studies.
“I believe we are finally being listened to,” he said. “St. Pete Beach’s only other option is years of litigation.”