'Lens' opponents question council members at workshop - FOX 13 News

'Lens' opponents question council members at workshop

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Opponents of the new St. Petersburg Pier left City Hall Thursday afternoon disappointed, but still holding the ace card: the ability to force a public referendum on the so-called "Lens."

The City Council convened a workshop, presumably to let the opponents directly ask technical questions and get direct answers.

"We were trying to get a genuine back and forth conversation," Stop The Lens leader Bud Risser said after the meeting. "We thought we would each have 20 minutes. And they took the better part of an hour."

Instead of the critics asking questions and city staff replying, the meeting started with lengthy responses to questions submitted beforehand in writing.

Anyone not privy to those questions could not determine whether they were answered, or dodged.

That did not bother elected officials.

"It was a good meeting," Mayor Bill Foster declared in closing comments.

"Clearly, staff has made a number of changes, and then there were some hard questions they asked today that we need to address," city council chairman Karl Nurse said.

Earlier, city staff conceded the project opponents have made an impact. For example, the loopy walkways are wider than originally designed, and will now satisfy building codes "...thereby addressing a big concern that the project opponents brought to our attention," public works director Mike Conners said.

The mayor also suggested the budget might stop the project. The city has $35 million set aside for construction costs, plus a $2 million for contingencies.

"If we can't deliver the new St. Petersburg Pier as designed, or as modified within budget, it won't be built," the mayor said.

The city council only had two hours for the workshop, and because city staff ran out the clock, the critics were not able to question the structure's proposed operating budget and projected city subsidies.

Chairman Nurse also intended to discuss the potential referendum. That subject also did not come up.

"I was prepared to address it if somebody wanted to ask me, but they didn't ask me," Risser said.

The Stop The Lens petition requests an ordinance that would cancel the contract with Lens architect Michael Maltzan. By city charter, if the city council does not wish to adopt the ordinance, a referendum on the proposed ordinance must be called.

"We've collected more than 20,000 petitions" Risser claimed, "And we're somewhere around 14,000 that we've vetted. So there's no question that we're easily going to get the 15,652 (certified signatures) that we need- there's no question."

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