St. Pete Beach Candidates Tackle the Issues

 

This Tuesday, all St. Pete Beach residents will elect a mayor – either incumbent Mayor Steve McFarlin or challenger Maria Lowe. In addition, District One voters will choose between incumbent Lorraine Huhn and challenger (and wife of former mayor, Mike Finnerty) Terri Finnerty. Voters in District Three will have two new candidates from which to choose: Jim Anderson, who has run before and is currently suing St. Pete Beach over its implementation of its Comprehensive Plan, and Greg Premer, the former president of the Belle Vista Civic Association. Before making your decision, please read their answers (unedited except to correct spelling and grammar) to the questions we asked.

What would you, as a commissioner, do to curb the city's legal issues and expenses?

Mayoral Candidates
Steve McFarlin: After years of litigation and ongoing discussions, it appears we have finally come to a final conclusion in the implementation of our Comprehensive Plan. Many compromises were made by city leadership along with residents and their counsel that has resulted in a fair and sustainable plan going forward. The only active case left in the court’s hands is that of an appeal filed by one resident challenging the court’s previous ruling concerning procedural issues and not that of the content of the Comprehensive Plan itself. In other words it certainly appears that most are now in agreement on the redevelopment of our city. These excessive legal fees should now be a thing of the past. One of the issues that was addressed was height limitations in specific areas. The plan was amended to a reduced level of “146 “ over base flood level inclusive of parking structures eliminating the fear of 20 story monstrosities.
Maria Lowe: For a city our size, the multi-million dollar legal expenses we’ve incurred over the past several years are disastrous. We deserve better, and we can do better. While litigation related to the comprehensive plan has cost us the most, the city is frequently engaged in legal disputes on other issues such as code enforcement and zoning. The commission can develop policy that requires the city to first exhaust alternatives to litigation, such as negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. As a city, we are so much better off when we resolve conflicts between residents and the city rather than surrendering those decisions to the courts who have no vested interest in our city.

District One Candidates
Lorraine Huhn: The inability, thus far, to convince those who oppose measured redevelopment that without redevelopment the burden will fall on homeowners and small business owners to financially support delivery of city services.
Terri Finnerty: One of the skills I will bring to the commission is my background as a state-certified mediator. I will bring both sides together, forge a resolution and help us move forward. There is a feeling throughout our city that this has gone on way too long and coming to a resolution is way overdue. We now need to redirect our funds to critical issues regarding our infrastructure and revitalization of our city.

District Three Candidates
Jim Anderson: I will work to improve honesty, integrity and transparency in our city government. St Pete Beach has numerous lawsuits. To move forward the city should be exploring low cost arbitration and have a regular review of legal expenses.
Greg Premer: When elected I would immediately request an informal meeting with all those who are currently suing our city and find out what it will take to end the lawsuits. Most of these folks live here and there certainly must be a way to find common ground and move forward. The only people winning in these ongoing lawsuits are the attorneys.


The couplet: are you for it or against it, and why?

Mayoral Candidates
ML: The couplet is just one part of what must be an overall vision for redevelopment and it is essential that we engage our community more effectively in that conversation. I fully support a master plan for our city based on a vision for the future so that we know where to guide our redevelopment and infrastructure improvements. A master plan should include a best use configuration and design for our roadways. When I have asked about the couplet, the feedback varies: some like the couplet, some don’t like it, and some just don’t understand it. Traffic is an issue and even more so at this time of year! If we are to enhance our beach, we must answer the question of seasonal traffic congestion! The Michael Baker Group is scheduled to submit three options for street improvements in the Corey area to the city the week of March 4. The options will include the couplet and two alternative designs. It’s too early to say yes or no to any of the three options. My priority would be to listen to the citizens input about the proposals and seek quality communication between city hall and those impacted by the changes. Community workshops on the consultant’s plan will be held later this month. I encourage everyone to attend.
SM: Currently the entire Corey area is being studied by one of the nation’s top urban planning groups, the Baker Group. We will be reconvening in the latter part of March to review their findings and give consideration to the various options that this group proposes. In order to make any final decision on the “couplet” theory we must review their findings and consider all resident and business owner feedback. I invite all to attend the upcoming workshops.

District One Candidates
TF: I am very excited about the potential of the couplet since pedestrian safety is a priority for me. We have had 19 deaths on our roads in St. Pete Beach and need to be concerned about this issue. Also, parking will be improved for everyone, businesses and residents, however, most importantly I want to make certain that the businesses affected by this change will be more accessible and profitable as a result of its implementation.
LH: The explanation of features and benefits of the "couplet" will be forthcoming when the Baker Group continues their workshop schedule. I am open to learn the outcome of the research of this traffic control modification.

District Three Candidates
GP: I attended two meetings of the Baker Group to hear firsthand how the couplet might improve traffic flow and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment for Corey Avenue. I will make a decision on this subject after the Baker Group presents it’s findings later this month or in April.
JA: All of the small business owners I have talked to are against it. Residents have expressed skepticism as the couplet is a very expensive project costing over $3M and could require the city to use eminent domain. I’m committed to spending our tax dollars wisely and am not convinced this is the best way for our city to spend its money.

What is your vision, aesthetically, for St. Pete Beach?

Mayoral Candidates
SM: A family-friendly residential/resort community that showcases our most valuable assets including our historical areas, our quaint downtown area and an updated resort district which will increase our tax base and lessen the load on our residents. Our new comprehensive plan will accomplish this and at the same time preserve the quality of life in our residential districts.
ML: St. Pete Beach already boasts history and character that gives rise to our small town charm. The Mediterranean theme of architecture at city hall and the Don CeSar bookend our city from the bridge entries. These landmarks can inform our vision for how the city will look with redevelopment and expand to create a consistent character that is clearly our own. Creating Land Development Regulations for the character districts is an excellent way to facilitate a consistency in aesthetics. Furthermore, the city can achieve symmetry with streetscapes, benches, trolley shelters, gateways to beach access, streetlights, trash and recycling receptacles and landscaping. The Corey area, Dolphin Village and 8th Avenue in Pass-A-Grille can share island-wide character while expressing a unique identity of their own. After biking our city streets, I’m intensely aware of the safety concerns for our significant pedestrian population so creating safe paths for walking and biking is paramount beyond just aesthetics as well!

District One Candidates
LH: My aesthetic vision for St. Pete Beach includes beautification of neighborhoods – tidy, well–maintained properties; attractive, well lit safe pedestrian areas; business–friendly commercial areas and a general proud community atmosphere.
TF: I think we are great now. We need to continue to enforce our city codes and encourage landscaping for both residential and commercial properties. We need to regulate signage for our local businesses without putting them at a competitive disadvantage to nearby businesses. Our hotels are outdated and need to be allowed to redevelop while ensuring our residents that our infrastructure will support that vision.

District Three Candidates
JA: I would promote and support a city-wide architectural code to establish beach-friendly designs for businesses and resort environments. This would create a brand unique to St Pete Beach.
We need to address the rundown areas of the city by seeking grants and other means to promote improvements.
GP: I envision more green space, more beach access for the residents, wider sidewalks down Gulf Boulevard and encourage investment in the Corey Avenue/75th Street entrance to our city to reinvigorate the empty lots and buildings that “clutter” the north end of the city.


What will codes and ordinances, as a commissioner, will you modify or implement to upgrade St. Pete Beach's curb appeal?

Mayoral Candidates
ML: In many cases, we do need curb appeal upgrades. Our codes and ordinances must provide clear direction on where, what and how things can be done so that all redevelopment contributes to our community’s overall vision. We need to establish consistency between our development policies and codes or redevelopment will be an administrative nightmare for both city staff and the people who want to redevelop their property. The city also needs to review our policy on signage. Currently, city licensing and fees are prohibitive for our small business owners. Likewise, many small businesses feel restrained in terms of signage to promote their sales and special events. Utilizing allowable encroachments is an effective way of addressing resident issues as well.
SM: I believe the new comprehensive plan encompasses many new codes and ordinances which will accomplish what many have wished for such as 100” setbacks in our large hotel districts, beach accesses, reduced signage heights along with many other pedestrian-friendly amenities. Also we must maintain and enforce short term rental codes within our residential areas. Code Enforcement is now being administrated by the Sheriff’s department, which will increase compliance.

District One Candidates
TF: I will encourage more residential and commercial landscaping. We need to find a creative solution for the empty lots and lots used for parking on Gulf Boulevard, which detract from the beauty of our main road leading in and out of the city. I would rather see something other than parked cars and port-a-potties as I drive down Gulf Boulevard. Again, I will bring us together and find common sense solutions.
LH: Codes will be supportive of the city's overall business plan.

District Three Candidates
GP: Fix and repave the roads, especially parts of Belle Vista, sections of Gulf Boulevard and, most importantly, Pass-A-Grille Way. Strengthen the “put some real teeth” into our code enforcement laws and clean up our many foreclosed and neglected properties. I would like to look into what Belleair Beach is doing with their code enforcement laws, including the possibility of demolition of those properties that warrant condemnation. Landscaping of public areas of the city, especially Corey Avenue and including “uplighting” the palm trees along Gulf Boulevard and Blind Pass.
JA: The problem isn’t with our codes and ordinances. The problem is they are not being enforced. I will work to make the city and commission more accountable to the residents.

What will your service as commissioner do for the resident who does not own a business or work on St. Pete Beach?

Mayoral Candidates
SM: My 50 years in the area gives me complete understanding of what the residents desire and demand. Understanding the dynamics of our residential/resort community is paramount in even considering serving as mayor. I know both sides and I know them well. I support business but at the same time I have put tremendous effort in protecting our neighborhoods and maintaining that dividing line between commercial and residential. That knowledge can only be derived from long term residency, there is no substitution for real life experience here.
ML: I know from talking with hundreds of residents from one end of the island to the other that neighborhood preservation, code enforcement, traffic, rebuilding our sewer, potable and reclaimed water systems, repaving streets and improving our business districts are all matters of serious concern. We need to protect our neighborhoods by dealing fairly and effectively with problem property owners and by putting a clear plan of action in place to rebuild infrastructure. We also need to expand our property tax base through redevelopment and to reduce the residents’ share of taxes by securing alternative sources of revenue and funding from the county, state and public-private partnerships.

District One Candidates
LH: As Commissioner I have concentrated on balance between residential and commercial interests. I expect to focus on maintaining balance in the future.
TF: I will work to ensure we live in a safe vital community. I will make sure taxes are kept as low as possible while providing the services we need and desire. I will get in front of the flood insurance issue and work with every level of government to help alleviate this concern for citizens. I am excited about Gulf Beaches Elementary School reopening this fall and would like to see us work on getting a senior transportation program in St. Pete Beach, similar to our neighbor Gulfport, for our aging population.


District Three Candidates
JA: During the campaign I have talked with hundreds of residents. Their top three concerns are roads, sewers and code enforcement. I will bring a positive new energy to District Three to have these concerns addressed. I will work to fast-track road improvements, start sewer system upgrades, and review code violations and demand code enforcement take place with monthly reviews.
GP: I think this question applies to the majority of people living in District Three, including my family. My priority is to work with the city to provide a clean, safe and appealing environment for all residents to enjoy while at the same time provide the support for our number one industry on the island, our tourist industry. I strongly believe the Comprehensive Plan that was approved by the majority of residents should be implemented immediately. It is a balanced plan that protects our residents and will generate the revenues needed to upgrade our aging infrastructure without increasing taxes on our families.

 

Describe the average beach resident.

Mayoral Candidates
ML: My experience is that SPB residents are really above average. From those who were born and have stayed here to those who chose to make this their home, we have such a wonderful variety of people from all over the country and world. We are fortunate to have residents who are rich in life experiences, who come from a broad range of backgrounds and professions, and who care about our city. I got into this race because I was asked to, but I’m working everyday to win because I’m inspired by the people I’ve met along the way.
SM: NO such person... Again, during my long term residency here I have cultivated many relationships with all demographics. I have raised three children here on the beach, which gives me an additional perspective of many of our younger families. I have served many of our residents in my professional years which includes many of our local retirees and seasonal residents. There is no average person and fortunately I have had the privilege of sharing life and experience with every class of person on this island. I understand them and feel I can better serve them because I am one of them.

District One Candidates
TF: We are a diverse community, but we are fun loving, accepting, caring, willing to help others and enjoy our special slice of paradise. I will work to bring us closer together and celebrate our differences.
LH: There is no "average beach resident"! We come in all sizes, ages and backgrounds. What we have in common is the appreciation and love of St. Pete Beach for its potential.

District Three Candidates
GP: This is an impossible task due to the incredible diversity of our District Three residents. While there are many retired folks (full-time a part-time) there are also hundreds of families like mine (my wife Melisa and my three daughters) and commuters to St. Pete, Tampa and Bradenton who all have one thing in common: we were all lucky enough to find a great little town with an idyllic climate that’s close to, but still removed from, the advantages of living in a larger city. And during this campaign, speaking with hundreds of our residents, the feeling is nearly universal that it’s time to end the lawsuits and move forward to keep improving our way of life in the years to come.
JA: The best part of St. Pete Beach is there is no average resident. What unites us is that we have all chosen to live in St Pete Beach with its unique small town character and beautiful beaches.

What are the three largest issues facing St. Pete Beach?

Mayoral Candidates
SM: It is certainly a given that our 50-plus-year infrastructure will be our constant focus going forward. This is our top priority and vast improvements have been funded and installation of new state of the art equipment is slated for later this year.
Flood insurance. This is an issue that affects every property owner on this island. We are putting every effort forth in combining our strengths with other local communities in taking our concerns to the Federal level.
Securing a CRA in order to incentivize investment in our “areas of concern”. This will not only increase our tax base lessening the load on residents, it will improve our quality of life from a safety standpoint and an increase in enjoyable amenities for all.
ML: In the recent mayoral debate, I answered this question with “Poop, Potholes, and Polarization.” While that may sound funny, these are the most serious issues that face the city.
Our infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate to the point that we are now in emergency mode to rebuild lift stations and pumps as sewage bubbles up on our streets. It didn’t have to be this way. A plan to maintain, replace and improve the system should have been in place a long time ago. As mayor, I will insure this doesn’t happen again and that we move forward in a more thoughtful way.
Our streets are a patchwork of temporary fixes and potholes. As we redesign our streets, we must take into consideration stormwater management to reduce flooding and to treat polluted water before it is released into our bay and the Gulf. Plumbing for potable and reclaimed water often run under our streets, so replacement of these systems too must be considered as we rebuild. At the same time, streets must be designed for safety and efficiency. I have worked with these systems in a variety of settings, some quite extreme and at times dangerous. I have the experience to lead the way to solve these problems and get things done correctly.
We need fresh leadership to move beyond the stalemate on the Comprehensive Plan. Differences of opinion can be respected and agreements to move forward are possible, but we have to do something different than what has been done in the past. I believe open government, effective community engagement, and a willingness to do the hard work of negotiation and compromise will get us to common ground and put an end to polarization.

District One Candidates
LH: Three of the large issues are: focus on maintenance and repair of infrastructure, public safety and inspired/measured redevelopment that will enhance the tax base and draw visitors to St. Pete Beach as a desirable destination again.
TF: 1– Flood insurance, we need to work with every level of government to fix this problem. 2– Ensure our aging infrastructure will support our vision of redevelopment. 3 – Promote the renaissance of Corey Avenue since this is our jewel and it needs to be polished.

District Three Candidates
JA: Sewers, traffic studies, and improving community communications.
Our 50+ year old sewers need to be fixed now! The traffic management and other studies need to be done so our city can get the development it needs. Finally, the only way to unite our city is to dramatically increase information flow so everyone can have a voice.
GP: 1. Upgrading and improving our infrastructure: upgrading the sewer system, paving roads where needed and maintaining our storm water runoff system. 2. Code Enforcement – We have far too many neglected homes in District Three that, month by month, become even greater eyesores and potentially dangerous places in our neighborhoods. Let’s strengthen and enforce our laws to force the owners of these properties to clean them up or demolish them. 3. END THE LAWSUITS AND IMPLEMENT THE VOTER-APPROVED COMPREHENSIVE PLAN! By encouraging investment in our large hotel area and Corey Avenue we will generate the revenue needed, through increased commercial taxes and impact fees, to pay for our new infrastructure while increasing everyone’s property values without raising taxes on our residents!

You can contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

 
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