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Lawsuit claims Treasure Island ignored state flood requirements in creating new zoning district

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A Treasure Island resident has filed a lawsuit claiming city commissioners failed to follow state law when passing new development rules for hotels and motels.

Deborah Toth is asking the court to declare the three ordinances invalid.

Treasure Island city manager Reid Silverboard declined comment and referred questions about the lawsuit to the city attorney. Neither Mayor Robert Minning nor city attorney Jennifer Cowan could be reached for comment.

The suit arises from three votes made during a July 5 commission meeting.

In one vote, commissioners created a new zoning district, known as planned development, to cover about 25 acres of property in the city. A PD district is one in which properties are developed in accordance with agreements between the city and developers. Those agreements are specific to the site being developed. The other two votes allowed a PD district to be created. The properties involved are limited to hotel, motel, resort and other types of tourist lodgings.

As part of the votes, the Treasure Island commission also proposed increasing the height and density allowed on properties that are eligible for PD zoning. Those votes did not immediately take effect because Treasure Island requires changes in height and density rules to be approved by voters. Those proposed changes are scheduled to go on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

If the voters approve, then properties in the PD district could be built as high as 84 feet above flood level. The current height limitation is 60 feet above flood level. In one part of the PD area, there could be up to 75 hotel/motel rooms per acre. Currently, the limit is 50 such rooms per acre. In another portion of the PD district, developers could build up to 60 units per acre. The limit in those areas is currently 22 units per acre.

If the lawsuit succeeds, the referenda would not be held.

This is the second lawsuit objecting to some aspect of Treasure Island development filed within the past few weeks by attorney Ken Weiss. Weiss, a Treasure Island resident, sued the city late last month claiming that the Treasure Island Beach Resort violates setback rules.

Weiss dropped that suit Wednesday and substituted Toth’s suit in its stead.

Cities ignore the law, Weiss said, and, other than filing lawsuits, “there’s no other way to deal with these people.”

The new lawsuit alleges that, in creating the PD district, Treasure Island ignored changes made to state development law in 2015. Those changes relate to coastal areas and other flood-prone areas. They are designed to increase safety and ensure that redevelopment rules must include “principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that reduce the flood risk in coastal areas which results from high-tide events, storm surge, flash floods, stormwater runoff, and the related impacts of sea-level rise.”

The lawsuit contends the city failed to do that. The city, the suit says, also ignored a recommendation from the state Department of Economic Opportunity not to pass the zoning changes until after Pinellas County officials had finished reworking flood maps.

“The new growth management statute approved last year requires cities like [Treasure Island that are] on the Gulf, to plan for sea level rise by adopting certain development strategies,” Weiss said. “The DEO advised the city that it failed to comply with the statutory requirements … because the city had no data to support it and suggested postponing adoption.”

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