Voters won't get say on new Pier - FOX 13 News

Voters won't get say on new Pier

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ST. PETERSBURG (AP) -

The St. Petersburg City Council rejected a petition Thursday that was signed by more than 23,000 registered voters, calling for a vote on saving the downtown Pier. 

Petition organizers immediately promised to challenge the council decision in circuit court. 

"We're going to be filing a complaint formally in the very near future" Voteonthepier.com's Tom Lambdon said. "I don't know the exact date but it's already being drafted." 

His comments came after the city council voted 6 to 2 to not place any vote on the Pier on the November ballot. 

More than four dozen citizens spoke at a public hearing, many of them expressing displeasure with a proposed replacement pier known as "The Lens."  

"There is no business plan for the Lens project," local businessman Bud Risser told the council, one of nine deficiencies with the Lens project he ticked off in under three minutes.

"Who would possibly start a multi million dollar enterprise without a business plan?"

"Those 20,000 petitions are just the start," Erica  Fulton pointed out. "If you push this on people, the people are going to push back." 

But others spoke in favor of the Lens, which is a product of several years of planning. 

"If we continue to debate this, the process is not going to move forward," one of them said. "It's going to delay and possibly derail the pier project completely." 

Another commented "I absolutely love the Lens since the design was released in December. 

Several Lens supporters represented the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. 

"This casts a pall of uncertainty over our business community," said Joel Giles. "We don't know how we're going to proceed. We can't afford five, maybe six  years of indecision and uncertainty over what our waterfront is going to look like."

Some council members cited the differing motivations of petitioners as justification for rejecting the ballot question language outright.  

"The reason the petition got to the threshhold was because there was a commonality of interests among several disparate groups to stop where we were headed," councilman Charles Gerdes observed. 

"Clearly we have a lot of people in our community who are uncomfortable with where we are," Councilman Karl Nurse pointed out.

City attorneys told council members the petition could be ignored because the proposed ballot language does not comply with requirements of the city charter.

Most of the petition signatures were acquired in recent weeks through a direct mailing to registered voters.  According to campaign finance reports, Risser contributed heavily to that effort. 

After the meeting, Risser said he is not behind the court challenge, and he would not commit to another petition with different language. 

"If this group has the ability to go back and admit that the Lens is so divisive in terms of the people that don't like it, and they come up with a real project that people will like, then I think you'll see people rally together," Risser told FOX 13 News. "And if we don't do that, it's too bad."

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