NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – Town commissioners will use a special magistrate to determine whether variances should be granted, hoping that the new process will help prevent bad feelings among neighbors.

The commission voted 3-1 on July 12, with Commissioner Gary Curtis dissenting, to approve an ordinance on final reading that provides for the magistrate to review all requests for variances. Commissioner Richard Bennett was absent.

Mayor Bill Queen read a July 12 letter from Planning Board Chairman John Creighton, who wrote that North Redington Beach is a small town and the variance process is straightforward and simple.

“Meet the five variance criteria, and the variance is granted. When a variance is granted, the town is recognized as a community, and the Planning and Zoning Board as neighbors helping neighbors,” he wrote. “When a variance is denied, there have been unintended consequences of placing a wedge between neighbors that continues to have long lasting personal relationship implications.”

The community is too small to have that happen and needs neighbors to be neighbors. The third party, the magistrate, conducting the variance review eliminates the potential for conflict while the variance process, criteria and appeal process all remain the same, Creighton wrote.

Curtis said he had some concerns about the Planning and Zoning Board losing their powers pertaining to variance reviews.

Curtis pointed out that a letter to the editor in the Beach Beacon on June 21, which was signed by seven mayors including Queen, is relevant to the discussion regarding the Planning and Zoning Board’s role.

“The best government is the government that is closest to the people,” Curtis said, quoting the letter.

He said he believes that the town has a planning and zoning board consisting of residents who are willing to make judgments no matter how hard they may be.

“We have people willing to do that. We have an influx of people coming into our community who would be willing to do that if asked. I believe that statement is correct. We keep it closest to the people,” Curtis said.

He recommended that the commission retain the board, but redefine criteria pertaining to the members’ duties.

At the commission’s June 14 meeting, Queen said that the current review process involving the Planning and Zoning Board pits neighbor against neighbor. At that meeting Town Attorney Jay Daigneault supported the change to special magistrate and said he knows of neighbors who have stopped speaking with one another for decades as a result of a variance being denied.

St. Petersburg attorney James Denhardt will serve as magistrate for the town along with an as-yet unnamed alternate. Denhardt has served as a special magistrate in Madeira Beach and attorney for Redington Shores and Treasure Island.