Wed Dec 5, 2012, 01:36 PM
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Judge orders mediation in St. Petersburg Pier lawsuit (win for the people!)
Judge orders mediation in St. Petersburg Pier lawsuit
By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
Waveney Ann MooreTampa Bay Times Posted: Dec 05, 2012 01:02 PM
ST. PETERSBURG — A judge has ordered mediation in the lawsuit filed by former council member Kathleen Ford against the city in connection with the city's plans to demolish the current Pier and build a replacement.
For Ford and supporters, the decision was a positive one.
"In general, we are pleased that the judge seems to have taken an even-handed point of view," said Joe Reed, a volunteer with the group voteonethepier.com.
He called Ford the group's hero.
"The court would like us to come together to come up with ballot language to get this matter resolved and we want to get this done," Ford said afterwards.
Joseph Patner, head of litigation for the city, had argued for dismissal of the case on procedural grounds. Circuit Judge Amy Williams granted his request and gave Ford until Dec. 12 to file a new suit.
"In every mediation, we go in good faith to try to resolve the dispute and if and when the plaintiffs file a new lawsuit in this case, we will set up a mediation to attempt to see what we can do as the judge has ordered," Patner said.
Ford filed the suit in August on behalf of 15,652 petitioners who sought to save the 1973 inverted pyramid that is the city's Pier.
The suit sought a referendum on the structure and asked for a temporary injunction to stop its demolition pending the court's ruling and the outcome of the vote. The suit claimed that mandatory referendum language must be placed on the ballot as required by the city charter regarding disposition of waterfront park property. It also claimed that the city "may not be able to obtain an environmental permit to build anything other than replacement structures in the exact footprint because Tampa Bay is an aquatic preserve protected under state and federal law" and that a "significant city asset" would be lost as a result.
In its response, the city said that 15,652 petitioners did not form a legal entity and could not sue or be sued, nor could the City Council or the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. The city also contested the premise of the suit, saying that the word disposition in the municipal charter refers to selling, donating or relinquishing property.
The suit had its genesis in the effort of voteonthepier.com, a group which collected more than 20,000 signatures to save the Pier — 15,652 certified by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. The group failed to get a Pier question on the Nov. 6 ballot when the City Council denied its request.
The council voted to demolish the five-story Pier in 2010. Officials cited an engineering report that said the foundations for the approach to the structure and the area surrounding it are crumbling. Additionally, they said that the Pier building itself is deteriorating and maintenance is costly. An operational subsidy averaging about $1.4 million annually has also been cited in a need to rethink the Pier.
Voteonthepier.com offered its own plan to restore the inverted pyramid and said that could be accomplished for less than the $50 million the city is spending to build a new, controversial Pier called the Lens.
Council members will meet Thursday to determine whether to proceed with the $50 million replacement plan. The council will decide whether to approve $5.4 million to allow Maltzan to finish the design and Skanska USA Builders to continue preconstruction services.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.
St. Petersburg Copyright 2012 Tampa Bay Times
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