St. Pete Beach City commission votes 3-2 to approve half billion dollar hotel densification on the beach

In a decision that surprised virtually no one, the 80% unelected St. Pete Beach city commission last night approved an almost 70% increase in the number of hotel rooms at the site of the Sirata Beach Resort at 5300 Gulf Boulevard. The vote was 3-2 in favor of approval.

Unelected commissioners Karen Marriott, Betty Rzewnicki and Richard Lorenzen voted to approve, with elected Mayor Adrian Petrila and unelected commissioner Nick Filtz voting against.

The fact that four out five city commissioners are unelected has resulted in a lawsuit from local residents alleging the the current commission is not lawfully seated. But setting aside the lawsuit itself, the inconsistent process and the appearance that a “Favored Four” were chosen by the resigning commissioners has also caused many St. Pete Beach voters to view any decision that the city commission makes as illegitimate.

That includes last night’s decision. The legitimacy of The Sirata project approval was already being questioned long before its day of birth, midwifed by unelected city commissioners.

Fox 13 Tampa Bay reported that “several people are already planning on bringing lawsuits.” We filed our own lawsuit against the city two days ago, which alleges two violations of the Florida Public Records Law and a dozen violation of the Florida Sunshine Law (the Open Meeting Law). Our lawsuit is not related to the Sirata project, and we will let the lawsuit speak for itself.

At least one of those potential lawsuits alluded to by Fox 13 would likely deal with the Sec 35.1 of the city’s land development code, which states that “the Large Resort District is intended to primarily support and encourage full-service integrated resort redevelopment projects to promote economic balance and compatibility of land uses” [bold-facing added]. The Sirata property is located in the “Large Resort District” that the city code speaks.

Any litigation might focus intensely on the words bold-faced above because two new large hotel building would be added to the 15.5 acre property. There would be three separate hotels, which means that the project fails the “integrated resort” language. Perhaps more problematic from a legal point of view, only one of the three separate hotels would be “full service.” And what was the purpose of the word “primarily” in the above text? We look forward to hearing the legal arguments if lawsuits are filed.

The approval was arrived at after last week’s 10.5 hour meeting that ended at 2:30 AM, which continued into yesterday’s 5.5 hour meeting. Much can be learned from the meetings about the many, many considerations involved in real estate development. Much can also be learned about the prancing, preening and posturing of unelected city commissioners.

Up next is a similarly densifying redevelopment application from the Tradewinds Resort. If that project is approved with a different unelected commissioner voting no, charges of “Kabuki!” will surely be made by already riled up local residents. If it appears that a theater script with highly ritualized expression (“I hear the residents’ almost unanimous opposition, I really do, but I’m voting yes”) is being followed by “legitimacy challenged” unelected commissioners, then relations between city government and its residents could sour further.

Rather than turning a 600 word article into a 300,000 word book, we encourage those interested to watch the two meetings and consider the plan itself in arriving at their own opinion.

Is this project approval final and unvoidable by a court? Or is this just the end of the beginning in this epic “Battle of the Beach” tragicomedy odyssey?

Pardon our heavy use of Ancient Greek terms just now in describing the situation.

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.