Don't let St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker annex Tierra Verde
Paul P. Murray, guest columnist
Published Friday, February 6, 2009
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's opinion piece (Annexation explanation, Jan. 15) ignores reality for the residents of Tierra Verde. We should not be surprised that politicians see the world differently than we do. Confronted with a politician's spin, who are we to attempt to respond? Anyway, this is how we see it.
For several decades, folks have been moving to Tierra Verde to enjoy life in a more laid-back island atmosphere. Almost the entire island was developed for residential use, and the few commercial properties served the needs of residents and visitors. Because the vast majority of residents like Tierra Verde the way it is, in 2007 they voted in support of Pinellas County adopting a Comprehensive Overlay Plan to maintain the current sense of place and quality of life that, among other things, limits the density and intensity of development.
Unfortunately, at the peak of the real estate market, two developers bought commercial properties at the gateway to Tierra Verde. They decided they needed to intensely redevelop these properties in order to maximize their profits. But intense development is not part of Tierra Verde's past or present and is not consistent with the Tierra Verde community's vision for the island's future or the state-approved Community Overlay Plan. The developers were unable to get the county to allow them to build what they wanted, so they turned to the city, which has more liberal rules and, of course, was eager to attain a foothold on the island.
Historically, the purpose of annexation was to allow a municipality to extend services like water, sewer treatment, or police and fire protection to an unincorporated area that did not have such services in return for an increased tax base. That is not the case in Tierra Verde, for we have all of these services, and the residents have demonstrated their satisfaction with being part of unincorporated Pinellas County at the ballot box.
Mayor Baker said that the city is not annexing, is not attempting to annex and, during his term has never planned to annex the homes of the residents of Tierra Verde. How does he explain the land-use section of St. Petersburg's Comprehensive Plan that states the city's goal is annexation of all of Tierra Verde for its tax base? The city filed three times last year for the annexation of our island, and the final application filing excised the docks from the Tierra Verde Resort and left them in unincorporated Tierra Verde. Why? Could it be that the people who live aboard their boats would force a vote of the residents for approval?
Mayor Baker doesn't have the right to spread his tax burden to us in Tierra Verde. We might have a lower millage rate, but that is more than offset by our highly appraised values.
In this budget-challenged environment in which we find ourselves, we hope the residents of St. Petersburg will track closely the hundreds of thousands of dollars the mayor plans to spend on litigating his annexation dream.
Paul P. Murray is president of the Tierra Verde Community Association.