The final reading and public hearing amending the St. Pete Beach Land Development Code regarding outdoor drinking and dining within certain zoning districts passed with a 3-2 vote by the St. Pete Beach Commission on September 22, ending a three-year battle between the commission, residents and business owners.
Mayor Maria Lowe, who had voted for the ordinance just weeks ago resulting in a unanimous vote by the commission, voiced new concerns about ADA compliance, the need for adequate parking, building on-street parklets and widening the sidewalks, saying she didn’t feel the ordinance was “appropriate at this time.”
“I am not comfortable with my vote,” Lowe said. “I’ll be changing my vote tonight.”
Vice Major Terri Finnerty, who represents District 1, the Corey Avenue area, disagreed with Lowe’s position and delivered an impassioned statement about the effect not passing the ordinance could have on local businesses, particularly in her district.
“There is more than enough space on Corey Avenue. It’s not an issue at all. I have no doubt in my mind that the sidewalks are wide enough,” Finnerty said.
Finnerty used Gulfport as an example in her argument for passing the ordinance, and quoted Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson when she approached him to ask how the city of Gulfport was able to pass the outdoor dining and drinking measure. According to Finnerty, Henderson told her the hardest thing was to “’fight the unfounded fears people had about what the measure would do to the city.’” The upside of passing the ordinance for Gulfport, said Finnerty, was that, according to Henderson, it is now “widely embraced by the residents.”
Finnerty was joined in her support of the ordinance by District 2 Commissioner Rick Falkenstein and Dsitrict 3 Commissioner Gregory Premer.
District 4 Commissioner Melinda Pletcher also dissented. The measure passed, but not without caveats – businesses must apply to the commission for a conditional use permit.
After the measure passed, Lowe said, “We will all support what the majority says.”