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Activists’ attorney: Madeira Beach developments votes were invalid

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by
 Shane Crawford
Shane Crawford

The city of Madeira Beach and developers are proceeding at their “own risk” if they take any steps to start redeveloping two parcels of land, according to an attorney who represents a group opposing the projects. The reason: Last week’s votes to allow construction to proceed were invalid because activists had submitted petitions asking for a referendum on an ordinance that initially cleared the way for the proposals. The city charter requires that officials suspend action under a disputed ordinance once such petitions are received.

The reason: Last week’s votes to allow construction to proceed were invalid because activists had submitted petitions asking for a referendum on an ordinance that initially cleared the way for the proposals. The city charter requires that officials suspend action under a disputed ordinance once such petitions are received.

“In our opinion, the vote is invalid. According to the city charter, the ordinance was ‘suspended from taking effect’ upon the filing of the petitions. We can’t stop the city from acting but since the ordinance is not in effect, any vote is invalid,” attorney Ken Weiss said. Weiss is representing Madeira Beach United, which was formed in part to oppose the developments.

Weiss added, “We’re confident that at some point the ordinance will be submitted to the voters and they will decide whether to repeal the ordinance. Until then, if the developers and the city want to proceed they’re doing so at their own risk with the understanding that this issue is outstanding.”

Weiss repeated those views in an email to city attorneys late Monday. The attorneys had disallowed the petitions and allowed the vote to go forward. Weiss’ email disputed the attorneys’ conclusions but said activists will resubmit the petitions to comply with one of the attorneys’ objections.

He repeated that he and his clients believe the petitions are valid. Referring to a lawsuit they have filed, Weiss said in his email: “The city has acknowledged that the petitions have been filed. Until a judicial decision to the contrary, the petitioners’ committee expects the city to abide by the terms of its charter and consider [the ordinance] suspended from taking effect.

“Any action taken by the city subsequent to Friday, June 10, 2014, including any and all taken at its meeting on June 14, 2016, is, therefore, invalid, ineffective and void “ab initio.” Any action taken by the developers or by the city for the benefit of the developers is at the city’s and the developers’ risk until such a determination has been made.”

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford said the city’s attorneys will have to decide what to do with the resubmitted petitions once they’re delivered. As for the lawsuit, Crawford said the city plans to defend itself according to the advice of its attorneys, Tom Trask and Jay Daigneault.

It’s the lawsuit, Crawford said, that’s the real stumbling block for the developers who are very aware of the case and the risks of proceeding. But, Crawford said, that’s the strategy – delay things long enough and maybe the developers will simply go away.

The proposals to develop two parcels of land at the foot of the bridge leading from the mainland have created a controversy that’s roiled this beach community for the past several months. The city, developers and advocates for the proposals say the developments are badly needed. Opponents say the properties need developing but the proposals — a total of 11 buildings ranging as high as 11 stories, with a hotel, restaurant, condominiums and a parking garage — are too much and will bring traffic and human congestion to the island. They also question the location at the only entrance to the city from the mainland.

Opponents have filed a lawsuit and are considering the creation of a political action committee to field candidates in the March elections. They also submitted petitions with more than 1,000 signatures in an effort to bring the issue to referendum.

Crawford said city officials understand the objections to the proposals, but are not clear why the opponents targeted a 2014 ordinance.

“The ordinance they’re going after doesn’t affect anything we’ve done,” he said.

The ordinance does give the city the right to make a development agreement with developers. Such contracts govern the details of proposed developments and can cover such items as size, height, style and the amount of green space in a proposal.

“I’ve got the ability to control them and rein them in,” Crawford said. Without that control that a development agreement gives to cities, Crawford said, the developers could do almost anything they wanted.

“Talk about a blank check,” he said.

But opponents say that Crawford and the city have not reined in the developers. Instead, they say, the agreement handed them the reins to that section of the city.

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