MADEIRA BEACH — The City Commission has decided to remove the restriction on building height from a new ordinance that regulates the planned development projects proposed in the city.

The PDs allow developers greater flexibility in areas such as height and density in exchange for adding amenities, such as more open space and green areas.

The ordinance was brought before commissioners on the advice of land use attorney Julia Mandell, who said a “glitch” in the current PD regulations needs to be corrected so that currently in-process projects can move forward.

During first reading of the ordinance in September, there was discussion by the commission about adding building height limits to the ordinance.

Building height has become a concern in recent developments, such as the Madeira Beach Town Center on Madeira Way and 150th Avenue, where the developer made concessions to reduce planned hotels and condo buildings in the project from heights of up to 10 stories to six stories or less. That project is currently under construction with the lowered building heights.

The commission has been divided over the building height requirement. Commissioners Doug Andrews and Nancy Hodges have opposed building height restrictions, while Mayor Maggi Black and commissioners John Douthirt and Deby Weinstein have generally favored lower buildings.

The issue had been seen as a key factor in the election of the present commission majority, which has strongly favored maintaining the city’s “small town” character and opposed tall, massive buildings.

“We don’t want another Clearwater Beach” has been commonly heard in discussions of PD developments.

The commission did not come to agreement on the height restriction issue during the first reading of the new PD ordinance, but followed Andrews’ advice to “pass it on first reading with the intent to bring it up at the September workshop.”

On second reading Oct. 8, the ordinance had been revised by Mandell to say that the maximum building height for future Planned Developments would be four stories. She said that was based on discussion at the September workshop.

Andrews opposed the idea of putting height restrictions in the proposed ordinance.

“The reason we have this ordinance is to correct the language, not to get into a debate over (heights). We can do another ordinance and have a town hall where we talk about heights.”

The commission voted 4 to 1 in favor of Andrews’ motion to approve the ordinance with height restrictions taken out altogether. Douthirt was opposed.

Adoption of the PD ordinance allows three current planned development projects to move forward.

Prior to the vote that removed the height limits, resident Robert Preston told the commission that larger buildings meant more tax dollars for the city, which is facing a millage rate increase needed to pay for road and flood control projects.

Andrews cited Preston’s comments when he made his motion to eliminate the section on building height from the PD requirements.

City resident and Realtor Jeff Beggins said the Planned Development concept allows developers the flexibility to come up with creative projects.

“If you don’t like it, don’t vote for it,” he said. “A four-story height limit cripples future projects,” Beggins said.

Attorney’s contract extended, in close vote

City Attorney Ralf Brookes’ contract with the city was extended for two years, despite a passionate argument by Andrews that the city needs to look at alternatives for legal services. A motion by Andrews to put the city attorney position out for bids failed in a 2-to-3 vote, with only Commissioner Nancy Hodges joining Andrews in favor.

Mayor Black and commissioners Douthirt and Weinstein voted to keep Brookes.

Andrews said going out for bids was “an easy choice.”

He said Brookes’ contract with the city was 67% higher than that of former City Attorney Thomas Trask. Trask’s law firm has attorneys with multiple specialties in municipal law, while Brookes is an individual lawyer, he said. Brookes has hired separate attorneys for legal advice without consulting the commission, Andrews said.

“It is fiscally irresponsible not to go out for a (request for proposals)” for the city attorney position, Andrews said.

Douthirt questioned Andrews’ fee comparisons of Brookes and Trask. He said Trask’s fee had increased by $20,000 in 2016, a year later than the 2015 amount cited by Andrews.

But Andrews said Brookes’ fee was still higher.

“There is no way to look at this contract and say (renewing Brookes’ contract) is the right thing to do for the city,” he said.

Preston also said the commission should “be good stewards of the city’s money and go for an RFP.”

With no discussion from other commissioners, a motion by Andrews to put the city attorney position out for bids failed, which means Brookes’ contract will automatically renew in December.