In a move calculated to stop a proposed development in its tracks, activists handed over petitions with 1,025 signatures to Madeira Beach officials Friday morning.
The delivery — which activists videotaped — was the latest installment in a battle raging in this beach community over a proposal to develop two parcels of land at the foot of the only bridge linking Madeira Beach directly with the mainland — the main entrance to the city. The proposals would see 11 buildings with a hotel, condominiums, a restaurant, a marina and a parking garage built on the parcels. The buildings would be no higher than 11 stories.
Opponents say the proposal is too much for the sites and would bring in more people and traffic to an already congested area. Proponents say the design will not overpower the sites or the entrance to the city and is sorely needed on long dormant sites.
The petitions demand that the proposals be placed on the ballot to let voters decide whether the developments can be built. Madeira Beach’s charter says that filing of the petitions by handing them to City Clerk Aimee Servedio will bring all progress on the development to a standstill, at least temporarily, said Joe Jorgensen of Madeira Beach United, which was formed in part to fight the development proposal.
Most immediately, Jorgensen and the others said, the petitions should prevent final votes on the proposals being made at Tuesday’s commission meeting.
The city will take the petitions to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark‘s office. She will determine if the signatures are valid and if there are enough of them to get the referendum on a ballot. About 800, or 25 percent of the registered voters in Madeira Beach are needed.
But even if there are enough valid signatures, the city isn’t sure the petitioners accomplished what they set out to do.
Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford said Jorgensen and the other activists may not be correct in their reading of the legalities. Crawford said the city attorney will be working over the weekend to decide, among other things, if the activists did the petitions correctly and if the petitions actually refer to the topics of Tuesday’s vote and not some tangential issue.
“We accepted the signatures, but we did not confirm they were valid,” Crawford said. “We’ll probably know Monday or early Tuesday” whether attorney Tom Trask thinks the final decision can be made at Tuesday’s meeting. “If they did it correctly, kudos to them.”
If Trask decides the vote can go forward and the proposals are approved, developers will be able to move forward with their plans. Crawford conceded that a recently filed lawsuit could hold up development while legal issues are resolved but said the suit could be disposed of in 60 to 90 days.
“As far as the City Commission is concerned, if they move forward Tuesday night, that’s it,” Crawford said.
The wrangling over the proposed developments has been boiling the past few months. In addition to the lawsuit, multiple complaints have been filed with the state Ethics Commission claiming the mayor, council members and Crawford should be penalized. Other complaints have been filed with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board against a contractor who worked on the vice mayor’s house. Complaints against Crawford have been lodged with the International City/County Management Association.
The latest complaints to the ICMA and the ethics board, were filed by former city volunteer Ronnie Blackwood. The ethics complaint was against Mayor Travis Palladeno. Blackwood complained to the ICMA about Crawford.
Both complaints arose out of the same set of facts. Blackwood, who spent 35 years in law enforcement in Chicago, said she pulled into the parking lot at the Gulf Beaches Library on May 28 where she saw a man waving his arms as he spoke to two women who were asking people to sign the petitions.
“I took this as a threatening gesture,” Blackwood said. So she called the Pinellas County Sheriff, who provides law enforcement services to Madeira Beach, and took a picture with her cellphone.
Deputies arrived and found nothing wrong and Palladeno left shortly after. He passed Blackwood, who said she was waiting in her car, and “as he’s backing up, he flips me the bird. I return saluted my superior. Probably not my best moment.”
When Blackwood went to her volunteer job at City Hall on Tuesday, no one said a word. But, on Wednesday, she was called by the city’s volunteer coordinator who told her she was, as Blackwood described it, “fired.” Blackwood said the volunteer coordinator had gotten her marching orders from Crawford, who had also called in two deputies.
“I was banned from City Hall per the mayor because I made a gesture to him,” Blackwood said.
Palladeno could not be reached for comment.
Crawford agrees he “asked her not to return as a volunteer.” But, he denies that he banned her from City Hall.
Blackwood, he said, worked at the front desk and, as such, was the face of Madeira Beach City Hall.
“I’m not going to have a volunteer who doesn’t live in the town flipping off my mayor,” Crawford said.
As for other complaints that have been filed with various agencies, Crawford said, they’re “completely political. There’s no validity to any of them.”