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Former City Council member wants current board to reconsider 1:30 a.m. historic designation vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Former St. Pete City Council member Jeff Danner wants the current board to re-visit changes to the local historic designation ordinance. During a meeting Thursday, Danner argued council members hurried a decision because they had been in meetings for more than 15 hours.

Last month, St. Pete City Council members were tasked with deciding whether or not to lower the threshold required for neighborhoods to kick off a historic designation process. The issue had been brewing for years with local preservationists working to gain support for an ordinance change.

Their efforts were met with staunch push-back from some St. Pete residents in neighborhoods like Snell Isle and Old Northeast. Ultimately City Council did lower the previous 75 percent vote threshold of all homeowners, even if they are absentee to 50 percent plus one. Preservationists had hoped the city would change the ordinance to a majority of only those who voted rather than ultimately considering a non-vote as a no-vote.

The previous bar, and even to an extent the one tentatively approved (the vote hinges on council approving clarifications within home improvement language in the ordinance), is considered by historic designation supporters impossibly high.

“Everything in the world was thrown up for a vote,” Danner said during public comment.

There were multiple votes before a motion was finally approved at 1:30 in the morning. Council members were visibly tired and arguably bordering on delirious. Two council members mumbled the words, “blah, blah, blah.” Some votes were repeated. Words were tangled. At one point, council chair Charlie Gerdes even boomed, “wake up, wake up!”

Leading up to the meeting council members received hundreds of emails from St. Pete residents on either side of the argument. Both supporters of historic designation changes and those opposing it mailed post cards to City Council.

Almost 100 people showed up to the meeting to speak on the issue.

Danner poses an interesting question based on this issue: should City Council vote on items when the hour has become un-Godly? By the time a vote was made reporters had gone home (SaintPetersBlog monitored the meeting until the bitter end) and so too had the concerned citizens who invested hours into the debate.

Reading the next morning that council members had made multiple motions in an effort that did indeed appear to be a “make a choice now” scenario.

“I understand the scheduling issues,” Danner said. “Reset schedules so that those issues don’t come at the end of being in the building [for so long.]”

And it’s not the first time a board in the city has made a key decision, a contentious decision, in a hurried manner. Earlier this year when Pier Selection Committee had been deliberating for hours over how to rank Pier design finalists, the group abruptly cut the conversation short and took a vote when board member Melanie Lenz received word of a family medical emergency.

City Council did not respond to Danner’s plea nor did they comment on the overarching issue.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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