ST. PETE BEACH — At the end of his first City Commission meeting, newly elected Mayor Adrian Petrila surprised fellow commissioners when he attempted to fulfill a campaign promise to form a committee to revise the city’s Comprehensive Plan and moved to enact a moratorium to stop large-scale development.
“In the process of going through campaigning, I had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of our residents over the course of many, many months, and one thing that came through loud and clear was that our residents are concerned about the future of St. Pete Beach,” Petrila said during the “Mayor’s Comments” portion of the March 30 meeting.
“They’re concerned about the state of our traffic, they’re concerned about the state of our congestion, they’re concerned about the safety on our streets and they’re concerned about the potential for a diminished quality of life for the people that live here,” he told fellow commissioners. “To me it seems that we have a very clear mandate from our citizens that we undertake a full evaluation and update to the St Pete Beach Comprehensive Plan.”
The new mayor made a motion to conduct a full evaluation and update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including future land-use categories, density, intensity of land use and critical development standards.
The commission’s response? Not so fast.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski pointed out that the motion had not been noticed to the general public, which is the “whole reason why we have agendas that are published ahead of time.”
Friszolowski added: “I’m cautious about a moratorium, because there are all kinds of legal implications (and) property rights implications. I’d like to understand more what is trying to be accomplished.”
Commissioner Mark Grill concurred.
“I agree that we need additional information and answers to the ramifications of what was proposed,” Grill said. “And (we need to) give staff time to review it and provide their opinions to us, because there’s things that I heard that potentially could expose the city to other unintended consequences that we have to weigh out.”
He added that he thought the election results were driven by more than the idea of a development moratorium.
“I think we ought to wait,” Grill said.
Commissioner Chris Graus said he was “not comfortable at all” without getting more information.
“This is almost a surprise, and it would be way too much to make a decision on without a lot more review and a lot more discussion,” Graus said.
Petrila said his plan was to have the commission appoint a Comprehensive Plan Review Committee and have the city attorney draft a resolution establishing a moratorium on all large-scale redevelopment requests, including zoning changes and conditional use application during the comprehensive plan review.
City Attorney Andrew Dickman advised commissioners that commissioners can’t arbitrarily and unilaterally enact a moratorium.
“A moratorium is put in place to maintain a status quo, while the city solves a problem that it has identified and is trying to rectify, with legislation, planning, whatever,” Dickman said. “You really need to have a meeting to discuss what is the problem, so that your city attorney can draft an accurate ordinance to enact a moratorium that specifically targets the reason for the moratorium. You can’t just say ‘large scale development.’”
Friszolowski noted that growth and the comp plan has been a hot-button issue for 20 years. He said the current comprehensive plan was designed to attract more hoteliers than those who want to include large-scale condominiums.
Grill said that “if someone drops a lawsuit on our head” because of a moratorium or change to the comp plan, “it could bankrupt the city (and) I don’t want to expose the city to that kind of risk.”
He suggested the issue should be discussed at a joint public workshop with the city’s Planning Board. The commission has been trying to hold such a meeting for the last couple of months.
He also questioned the need for a special Comprehensive Plan Review Committee when the Planning Board, the city’s local planning agency, is tasked with doing such work.
Petrila dropped his idea for the issue to be discussed at a public meeting.
“If nothing else, it brought the issue to the forefront, so we can have a discussion about it,” the new mayor said.
The commission ultimately decided to have a joint meeting with the Planning Board at 3 p.m. on April 25 to begin discussing the city’s Comprehensive Plan.