Regionalism is bar to transportation accessibility, Forward Pinellas director says

Contrary to popular belief, Pinellas is not a “built out” county but one that has plenty of room for growth, according to one local transportation expert.

“We have a lot of capacity for redevelopment,” Whit Blanton told the audience at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Friday. Blanton is executive director of Forward Pinellas, the new name for the organization formed by the merger of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council.

Pinellas has the potential to add another 250,000 residents over the next decade or so, Blanton said. But to attract residents and companies with high-paying jobs, Pinellas needs to make sure it has an accessible transportation system that seamlessly links destinations and people.

“We build wealth through transportation accessibility,” he said.

But, right now, he said, the county has problems getting people to their destinations. Part of the blame for that, he said, lies with the county’s bus system. Right now, buses generally run only on main arteries. In addition, there can be an hour or more between buses depending on the route.

“That’s our weakness,” Blanton said. “I really firmly believe that is the one neglected aspect of our transportation system.”

Ideally, he said, buses should run on more streets and should be no more than 30 minutes apart.

One barrier to an improved transportation system is regionalism, including a lack of clarity in agency roles, missions and responsibilities. There is one region, he said, but many provider organizations.

“Everyone is at the table, but there are many tables,” Blanton said.

Petition drive to block development in Madeira Beach stalls

Residents in this barrier island community have gone to war with the Madeira Beach government over a proposal to build a seven-building hotel/condominium/parking complex at the entrance to the city.

“I haven’t heard anyone say they’re opposed to development,” said Sam Baker Jr. of Madeira Beach United, the group fighting the proposal. “What they’re opposed to is this grossly excessive development.”

Members of the group have filed suit to stop the development. And they’ve also started a petition drive to put the proposal before voters on the next available ballot.

But their efforts hit a snag this week when the city clerk refused to accept an affidavit signed by the five petition committee members. The testimony is required by the city charter to start a petition drive. In a letter to the five, Clerk Aimee Servedio said she rejected the affidavit because it’s unclear whether they were placed under oath before or after they signed the document.

Baker said he believes the language on the affidavit makes clear that they were sworn in before they signed it.

“The city has thrown up a roadblock,” Baker said. “We have a full-blown fight on our hands.”

Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno could not be reached for comment.

At issue is the redevelopment of two parcels of land located just off the Tom Stuart Causeway at the entrance to the only bridge into the city. One parcel is vacant. The other, known as the “Holton property,” is partly empty but also houses a boat storage facility with slips and marina-related commercial uses.

A developer, Holiday Isles Resort, wants to rezone the parcels to clear the way for hotels, condominiums, a restaurant, commercial development, a marina and a parking garage.

Altogether, opponents say, the proposed development is too much for such small pieces of property. That’s especially the case as the two parcels flank the entrance to the city because they would loom over traffic as it comes into the beach community.

It’s unclear where the fight will go from here. Baker said he’s consulting with other members of his group and their attorney before deciding what steps to take next.

Tarpon Springs resident sues city to prove ‘dead’ tree still alive, bearing fruit

Stravos Tsalickis thought he had seen it all.

That was, until Tarpon Springs Police Department Officer Steve Gassen, 48, informed the 79-year-old Tarpon Springs resident that a tree on his property was “dead.”

The tree in question, at 431 Grand Blvd. in Tarpon Springs, would need to be removed, Gassen said, as well as a shed, which the officer who was in “poor condition.”

One problem; the tree was not dead, according to Tsalickis.

Not willing to give up either his tree or his shed, Tsalickis, a former real estate agent, took his fight against the removal order to the city’s code enforcement board.

He lost.

Undeterred, Tsalickis filed a lawsuit, claiming the tree is alive and well — it recently bore fruit, in fact — and in his recent testimony before the board, the arborist brought in to testify on the condition (and apparent liveliness) of the tree was not allowed to testify.

Furthermore, the suit claims such code enforcements issued by Gassen and other officers are simply rubber stamped by the board as a “money generating enterprise fining citizens in arbitrary and capricious ways without competent substantial evidence,” as opposed to actually protecting homeowners.

According to the suit, “the City’s finding that the tree is ‘dead’ has no factual support” and that “police officer’s testimony that his common sense tells him it’s dead was pure speculation unworthy of belief.”

Neither Tsalickis, his attorney or the Tarpon Springs Code Enforcement Department returned requests for comment as of press time.

VoyeurDorm founders could still be on hook for $12M over 2008 strip club shooting

In 2008, construction worker Richard Campbell was struck by a bullet from a shooting happening during a fight in a strip club parking lot in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The strip club, Secrets Cabaret, shares a parking lot with a biker bar, Doghouse Bar & Grill.

Campbell, who was in his 20s, was left paralyzed from the chest down.

At the time, both the strip club and the bar were owned by St. Petersburg internet entrepreneurs David Marshlack, 53, and Bruce Hammil, 54. Campbell filed a negligence suit against the owners, earning a $12 million judgment.

Marshlack and Hammil gained international notoriety as founders of the website VoyuerDorm.com, a subscription-based website featuring around the clock streaming video of women hired to live at 2312 West Farwell Drive in Tampa.

As reported by the St. Petersburg Times in 2000, VoyeurDorm broadcast “six college-age women [living] under the unblinking eyes of 75 video cameras.”

Using VoyeurDorm proceeds, the pair invested in Entertainment Network, made up of a series of other ventures, ranging from adult clubs to mainstream restaurants. At its peak, Entertainment Network brought in as much as $15 million annually.

Nevertheless, it all came to an end this year with the closure of the South Carolina establishments and dissolution of all companies owned by Marshlack.

In February, Marshlack lost his 4,714 square foot waterfront home on Treasure Island to foreclosure.

As for Campbell and his settlement, after the businesses closed, he filed a new suit arguing Marshlack and Hammil remain liable for the $12 million.

However, Nationwide, the insurance company defending Marshlack, says it shouldn’t be held accountable as the latest lawsuit is based on a homeowner’s policy Marshlack had on his Treasure Island home back in 2008.

In the interim, Marshlack and Hammill opened a new bar in 2010 — Doghouse Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg — which is also no longer in business.

According to a Baylawsuits report, a VIP waitress at the Bishop Tavern accused Marshlack in 2012 of forcefully dragging her into a bathroom and pressing her to have sex. Pinellas County court records also show Marshlack was arrested numerous times over several years for felony battery and disorderly intoxication.

According to Marshlack’s Facebook page, he currently resides in Daytona Beach.

Charlie Justice says he’s still endorsing Ben Diamond, but Eric Lynn has his support

Updated-

After we reported this morning that Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice had switched from endorsing Ben Diamond in the  House District 68 candidate Ben Diamond to being neutral in the race with fellow Democrat Eric Lynn, we received a call from Tom Alte, Diamond’s campaign manager, saying that Justice was still endorsing Diamond.

We went back and reviewed the statement sent to us by Justice on Thursday. In fact, Justice does that, “while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support.”

So, to get it straight – Justice endorses Diamond, and is giving his friendship and support to Lynn – and Diamond.

A number of Democrats who previously had announced their support for Diamond when he was the lone Democrat in the race, such as Charlie Crist, Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath, announced that they had back away from that stance once the race had become a competitive primary.

The Eric Lynn campaign had also sent SPB a statement recently that Justice had also changed his position to being neutral. Apparently they – and we – were incorrect.

. This was his Justice’s statement, sent via Facebook:

We were all surprised when Representative Dwight Dudley recently announced his intention not to seek re-election to the Florida House. I was not surprised and very pleased when our friend Ben Diamond announced his candidacy. I immediately responded yes to his endorsement request. We were then later surprised when our friend Eric Lynn announced that he was suspending his congressional campaign and that he too would seek the now open legislative seat. I have always encouraged Eric to seek the right elected office. It’s an embarrassment of riches to have two fine young men running for the same seat and I look forward to having the winner serve us well in Tallahassee. So while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support. Now if you live in District 68, you get to do something I don’t – you get to actually vote for one of these gentlemen. You have 166 days to get to know them and make the best decision for our community. Get to it.

Diamond and Lynn are running in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican JB Bensmihen.

Justice is facing his own reelection campaign this year. The District 3 County Commissioner is running for a second four-year term against Republican Mike Mikurak this fall.

 

 

St. Petersburg Yacht Club hopes to race to Cuba in 2017

With relations between the U.S. and Cuba improving, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club is working toward relaunching a race to Havana.

The Tampa Bay Times reports for nearly three decades, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club sponsored a boat race to Havana that brought international exposure to both cities. But the contest was cancelled following the rise of Cold War-era communism in Cuba.

The club officials are still in early talks with Cuban counterparts at the Hemingway International Yacht Club, named for legendary author Ernest Hemingway.

Yacht Club organizers hope that in March 2017, boats will be racing from the St. Petersburg Pier to the Morro Castle, an 18th century fortress guarding the mouth of Havana bay. That would be the same starting and finish line as the original competition.

Mitch Perry Report for 5.27.16 – Lighting strikes no more

The somewhat improbable Tampa Bay Lightning run for a second straight appearance in the Stanley Cup ended last night around 11 p.m. when they lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1. The Lightning were pretty thoroughly outplayed if you go by shots-on-goal, but the last eight minutes or so were absolutely nail-biting.

There’s a reason why the National Hockey League is considered a distant fourth when it comes to our major sports leagues in the U.S., and that is that it’s not as popular as the NFL, NBA and MLB. Need more proof? The fact that the league informed the Lightning to cancel their official “watch party” scheduled last night in front of the Amalie Arena, because the team had violated some arcane rule about how many they could host during the playoffs.

The speculation was that this had to do with concern about television ratings. Say what? No doubt the Tampa Bay area market probably had some of the highest ratings in the country, but the NHL is concerned that several thousand people wouldn’t be in front of their own TV’s, thus hurting future advertising? Talk about insecure.

When I ilved in the Bay Area, people used to say in the 90’s that the only 20,000 people in the region who cared about the San Jose Sharks were the people who attended the games. You probably can’t say that here, where there’s no NBA franchise. But yesterday’s decision by the league shows how far it still has to go to feel like it’s on a level playing field with the other major sports leagues in America.

Meanwhile, what does Marco want? There’s been a flurry of speculation over the past 24 hours about Rubio re-entering the senate race that he dropped out of a year ago. He seemed to end that yesterday in a conference call. Yet..

:Look, if the circumstances were different,” he said about possibly getting into the contest, “but they’re not. This is the fact: Carlos (Lopez-Cantera) is in the race. He’s a good friend, he’s a good candidate, he’ll be a great senator. So my answer today is no different than it was 24-48-72 hours ago. All right?”

It is legitimate to question what Rubio will do in the immediate future that theoretically makes him viable for president in 2020 or beyond. Another memoir? He just wrote one a couple of years ago, so how many tales does he have to tell? Jeb Bush was pretty rusty after nearly a decade of being out of the arena in the past year. Maybe it’s a thing of honor for Rubio not to reenter the race, but there have been far crazier things happen.

In other news..

In what can only be described as a radical move for a Florida local government, the Sarasota County Commission this week rejected offering incentives to a national roofing company to relocate their headquarters to the region. At least one group is praising them, however.

Alan Grayson is sponsoring a bill that would restore the voting rights for the nearly 6 million people around the country currently disenfranchised because of a previous felony conviction.

Kathy Castor is backing Ben Diamond over Eric Lynn in the House Democratic 68 race in Pinellas County.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports a re-vote on putting the Go Hillsborough measure on the November ballot, with one caveat: They support the tax lasting at least 20 years, not 15 years, which is the duration the BOCC is poised to vote on next month.

Mayors ask Pinellas to reconsider Sunday morning alcohol sales ban

Some Pinellas mayors want the Pinellas County Commission to relax its ban on selling alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Allowing sales earlier in the day, they say, is a matter of smart economics, a sign of a progressive region, and a tourist-friendly idea.

“In our minds, it’s just sort of a leftover law that doesn’t have any use anymore,” said R.B. Johnson, mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, of his council’s favorable stance on changing the rule. “We just felt that there was no good reason” to have that prohibition on the books anymore.

Johnson said he and his council did not see why people should have to postpone buying beer, wine or alcohol or why someone should wait to enjoy a mimosa or other drink while having breakfast or brunch at a local restaurant.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” Johnson said.

Under the current rule, sales of alcoholic beverages are banned before 11 a.m. on Sundays. That applies to grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses that sell alcoholic drinks. Under the ordinance, bars must remain closed between 3 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays.

The ban has long been a grievance for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Earlier this year, he approached County Administrator Mark Woodard about repealing the ban. Woodard suggested he take the issue before the Mayor’s Council. The council declined to act because not all mayors supported the idea and not all had broached the topic with their city councils. Instead, it was left to each city to ask individually.

Kriseman did so, making a formal request that the County Commission amend the ordinance to allow alcohol sales as early as 8 a.m. on Sundays.

County Commissioner Pat Gerard said the county had gotten two or three requests from some cities. Others, like Largo, claim to have no objection to the change.

“Neither the city commission nor the Largo police chief objected to the repeal, and, in fact, saw no significant impact of this change on the city of Largo,” Mayor Woody Brown wrote in a May 18 letter to Pinellas commission chair Charlie Justice.

It’s unclear if the request will have traction with county commissioners.

Gerard said she sees no problem with it.

“I don’t see why (Sunday) shouldn’t be like any other day,” she said.

Janet Long wasn’t sure there’s general support for the change. And, she said, it’s impossible to commit to one side until a proposal is in front of the commission.

“I don’t see a terrific outpouring for it,” Long said. “I don’t see what’s wrong with (the rule) now.”

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters was the lone vote against the idea at the Mayor’s Council. Any change, she said, should be on a city by city basis. And, she said, there’s no need for it. People know what the law is and should plan accordingly by buying their alcohol the night before, or wait until 11 a.m. Waters also noted that crime is up in some areas as are substance abuse, car jackings and other related issues.

“I don’t see that repealing the blue laws would improve the quality of life for the citizens of Pinellas,” Waters said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Tampa highrise resident says guard when nuts when he used women’s bathroom

We’ve all been there.

You need the bathroom, but it’s occupied; you just go into the other one, even if it’s designated a male or female. You know it’s a single use, so what’s the harm?

You’ll be the only one in there. No harm, no foul. Besides, you need to pee.

This appears to be what happened to Mikhail Ostryakov, 26, a resident of The Element Apartments on Franklin Street in Tampa.

On March 26, 2016, Ostrayakov was using the outdoor pool, when he needed to do some “business.”

The single-occupancy men’s bathroom was occupied, so he decided to use the women’s single-occupancy bathroom.

Unfortunately, when he emerged, he was stopped by one of the building’s security guards. Michael Morales of Admiral Security took issue with Ostryakov’s decision.

Morales allegedly publically berated and physically threatened Ostryakov, calling him a “pedophile, child molester, rapist and faggot” in front of other residents.

Upset by Morales’ behavior, Ostryakov, a professional dancer, filed suit for defamation, alleging he has suffered a “tarnished reputation.”

To make matters worse, Ostryakov, who moved to the U.S. two years ago, believes his balcony suffered vandalism as a result of the altercation with Morales.

According to Ronald Denman, the attorney representing Ostryakov: “When you see the video, it’s pretty unbelievable. Ostryakov simply needed some toilet paper to blow his nose, but the way the security guard reacted, yelling and I mean literally yelling and shouting, calling him a rapist, a child molester, it’s pretty unbelievable, especially in an upscale environment like that.”

With the current climate of highly politicized scrutiny of bathroom use – particularly by transgender people – it’s easy to imagine how “on edge” people are around bathrooms.

However, was Morales alleged behavior appropriate given the single-use designation of the bathroom in question?

Morales employers, Admiral Security Services, responded to inquiries with “no comment.”

According to Denman, they have not received any response to the legal action.

Clearwater oil-spill claims firm says employee embezzled $100,000, is holding data hostage

Mark Bushee is in the oil spill claims business.

Since 2010, the 50-year-old from Clearwater Beach has served as operations manager of Stout Law Firm. Which partners with Winward Group LLC of St. Petersburg.

Together, they process oil spill claims on behalf of British Petroleum.

Winward Group and its St. Petersburg-based attorney, C. Byron Stout, 48, are alleging Bushee embezzled more than $100,000.

If that wasn’t enough, the group also claims the soon-to-be-former employee also stole a host of Stout Law’s office equipment, computers, passwords, customer databases and other critical intellectual property. It is also alleged that Bushee plans to use all this as leverage to threaten and extort money from Winward and Stout.

Not happy with this situation Winward seeks an injunction ordering Bushee to return the property, thought to be at his home; it prohibits him from contacting the firm’s clients or employees.

Allegedly, the stolen funds were used by Bushee to live the high life, which included an upgraded BMW, televisions, vacations, shows and other miscellaneous expenses.

According to Bushee’s LinkedIn profile, he is still employed at Stout Law as operations manager. The same profile also gives a glimpse into Bushee’s past, which doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

In 2014, Bushee was sued by the Florida attorney general’s office for deceptive business practices related to involvement in the foreclosure rescue business. He was fined $75,000, ordered to pay $25,000 in legal fees, and forbidden from working again in the foreclosure business.

To add insult to injury, the same year Bushee was subject to a lien from the IRS for more than $46,000 in unpaid personal income taxes.

In an intriguing twist, a January 2016 consent agreement with the Florida Bar shows Stout pleading guilty to failure to comply with certain laws regulating the mortgage modification business. However, there is no evidence that Stout or Bushee worked together in the industry.

As of press time, SaintPetersBlog could not reach Stout or Bushee, but did speak to Benjamin Hillard, the attorney representing Winward. Hillard said they have not received a response from Bushee regarding the suit as yet.

The case continues.