INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A firestorm of controversy broke out at the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission meeting February 28 over the issue of the development of the 2500 block of Gulf Boulevard and heated up the political pot as the city hurtled toward next Tuesday's election.
Popularly called the "Publix project," the question was put on the March 14 ballot as a citizens initiative petition.
In its language that petition calls for approval to rezone the east side of the 2500 block of Gulf Boulevard to a planned unit development and grant variances and other approvals "necessary to construct a multi-use, three story building consisting of no more than a street level grocery . . . second level parking . . . and 24 condominium units on the third level."
The city has filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief to block any effect of the initiative should it pass.
In its suit filed in the Pinellas County Circuit Court, the city claims that the petition violates city ordinances, the comprehensive plan and Florida statutes among others and asks the court to enjoin the developer from proceeding should the initiative pass.
The heat got turned on February 28 when one of the members of the political action committee, "IRB Citizens for Managed Growth," one of the defendants in the action, expressed outrage for being named.
Also named as defendants are Armstrong Village at Indian Rocks Beach Development, LLC, and six IRB residents, all listed as members of the PAC.
Helen E. Ludlow is the person who set off the fireworks said she took the fact that she was listed as a defendant "personally."
"Why am I being sued?" she asked. "This is still a free country. Are you suing me because you can?"
Other defendants listed by name are Robert McGarrity, Ralph Frizzle, Thomas Slaughter, Corinne Schlising and Michael Truby.
The legal action is not the kind that places liability for damages on any of the defendants. It merely ask the court to agree with the city that the petition is flawed and to stop it.
Obviously, a lawsuit must, of necessity, name people. In this kind of action the persons named as defendants wouldn't even have to necessarily seek legal counsel, according to one source knowledgeable about legal matters.
Also becoming part of the uproar at the meeting was the lawsuit against the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District in which some city officials and candidates in Tuesday's election are plaintiffs.
Those people, who include Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, Commissioner Jim Palamara and candidates Pattie Muneio and Ed Piniero, are requesting the city to indemnify them against any loss.
What apparently has been forgotten is that the suit arose out of the dissatisfaction with the PSF&R fees and a meeting of officials from Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the county (representing the mainland) who received advice from Paul Marino, the Belleair Beach city lawyer to the effect that the cities had no standing against the fire district, but officials could have standing representing the citizens of their cities.
That is when the plaintiffs stepped forward on behalf of their fellow citizens.
The Indian Rocks Beach City Commission took the lead on the issue and IRB's city lawyer, Andy Salzman, said a suit could be filed but that he could not be counsel. Instead, Tom Trask was engaged as the lawyer.
While the waters were muddied with all the half-baked talk on these legal actions, candidates in next Tuesday's polling were walking the streets and knocking on doors, seeking support.
Ockunzzi is being challenged by two former commissioners, Cookie Kennedy and Larry Sandefer, and Victor Wood.
There are seven candidates for the commission. Jean Scott and R.B. Johnson are seeking re-election while Jose Coppen, Muneio, Piniero, David Pearson and Dale Voss are contending for three seats.
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