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interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file ( 93 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
West Central Florida land use oral history project
Ed Ruttencutter, retired electrical engineer and city commissioner for St. Petersburg Beach, talks about his activities on the city council and his opinions about city development. He discusses his move to St. Pete Beach, changes in the city, the city plan and sewer study, issues with previous city management, listening to the community, the cost of tourism, building heights of hotels and condos, land investors, and redevelopment. He ends by suggesting that land taxes encourage development by investors.
Interview conducted October 12, 2006, in Tampa, Fla.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
z Saint Petersburg Beach (Fla.)
x Citizen participation.
Saint Petersburg Beach (Fla.)
Saint Petersburg Beach (Fla.)
Politics and government.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Land Use Oral History Project Patel Center for Global Solutions University of South Florida Interview with: Mr. Ed Ruttencutter Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Tampa, Florida Date: October 12, 2006 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by : Wm. Mansfield Audit Edited by: Kyle Bradford Burke Audit Edit Date: February 6, 2008 WM: This is Bill Mansfield from the Patel Center for Global Solutions and the Ru ttencutter on October 12, 2006 in the kitchen of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum here in St. Pete Beach. Mr. Ruttencutter we always get people to start out by having them state their name and telling us when they were born and where they were born, so let her go. ER: My name is Edward A. Ruttencutter. I was born on August 12, 1949 in Summit County, Ohio. city of St. Pete Beach. WM: Okay. When did you come to St. Pete Beach? ER: When did I move here? WM: Um huh. ER: I arrived here, probably the first week of February, as I recall, in 1988. WM: What is it that brought you to St. Pete Beach? What about the area appeale d to you? ER: The beach. WM: The beach? ER: I was interviewing for a job with a company in St. Petersburg. I was not interested in this area at all. They put me in the Alden Resort for the night and I woke up the next
2 morning and I walked the beach and WM: Um huh. ER: And it was downhill from there. WM: So, um you really tell me more about what attracted you to this area. What was the community like when you got here ER: I had no idea (laughs). WM: Okay. You had no idea when you got here. ER: I was an outsider. I met a neighbor next door who was very nice to me. He still lives in the same house. He got me to know a little more about the city and what was go ing on and where is what and when, and who happened to rent the house that I was in prior to my renting it. in renting the other side of it, right away. I got a phon e call from the previous tenant, of the other place that I had rented. I knew so much about him I let him move in right away. re. But he lives next door the house we had each rented originally. Now so WM: But what about the St. Pete Beach community appealed to you? You mentioned the beaches but ER: The small town feel. WM: Um huh. ER: The fairly laid back atmosphere. Origi nally, I had been totally opposed to living in Pinellas County, from short stints of visiting St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. Which back then I thought was also St. Petersburg. I lumped the whole county [together] as St. Petersburg, back then, when I was visiting. I used to live in Brevard County. I lived in Brevard County for eight years. Then I had lived in Maryland for four years, between Brevard County and Pinellas County. WM: Um huh. about Pinellas County. It was crowded, it was overcrowded, congested and you know just too big a city. When
3 coming to talk to them. Like I said, they stuck me in th e Alden overnight and I discovered that this was not the Atlantic Beach. The Gulf Beach was something different and I wanted to live on the Gulf Beach. Realtors tried very hard to sell me on Treasure Island and Madeira Beach. I kept telling them [that I wa nted to live in] St. Pete Beach. Eventually we found a waterfront property that I could purchase. I owned two sailboats at the time so I needed some level of waterfront. WM: Um huh. these other towns and I liked St. Pete Beach. It was a nice, laid back [place]. They kept the city cleaner than Treasure Island or Madeira Beach did back then. Just the whole feel of the city was nicer. WM: Um huh. ER: As I said, eventually they found a home for me on the water, in the same neighborhood that I was renting in. Incidentally this property had a contract on it. The contract fell through. That day, the realtor that was working with me discovered the contract fell through [and] I had a contra ct on it the next day. We closed in seven days, to purchase that home. keep it that way. (chuckles) town feel to it and was laid back. Could you describe what you mean by that? town feel. [For] about thirteen or fourteen years I did rent out the other side of my duplex. I had a very difficult time with almost every tenant in there, convincing them to lock their doors. Because the community was so safe and free of crime. I still have trou ble reminding people to lock their car doors at night. People leave their windows open. We are a very nice community. We do need to use our locks because people in other be careful now. (chuckles) But the people in the neighborhood
4 back then I was not very outgoing, but I thought I was very much welcomed into the neighborhood. Each of the people that I talked to was friendly. At the time that I moved here the h ouse next door, which is where my first tenant now lives, that house was being rented by one of only two black families who lived in St. Pete Beach at that time. That one of two was confirmed by the 1990 census. I found out that I knew 50 percent of the bl ack families. They came over and introduced themselves. It was like there was no we were just people, you know? I liked that feel. It was just Having lived up north many, many years, I never caught that immediate openness anywhere else I had lived. So I liked that. I liked, at the time, I could walk to the grocery store. Gu lf Boulevard was a safe place to WM: When you say safe, safe from what? ER: From traffic accidents and this so rt of thing. You know except during the tourist season and so on. WM: Okay, so you were more concerned about getting run over than [getting] mugged? ize it, WM: Right but a safe street, people can interpret that in different ways. l ived, that I could access and do here in St. Pete Beach. My employment with the company in St. Petersburg lasted approximately one year. Then intention of trying to fi nd a new job outside the area. This is where I live now. WM: Okay. I just want to make sure I understand you, the small town feel is sort of the openness of the people and the convenience of amenities, like the grocery store? ER: The lack of congestion. I think things were much more laid back, than now. They um things change and all of Florida is getting more congested, of course.
5 WM: When did you start seeing the change, that threatened the community that yo u knew? ER: (sighs) Well, threatened the community is a pretty strong term WM: Right, well, presented change? ER: The first time that I got involved paying close attention to city issues, was back in about 2001, when the city proposed formally codifyin g their land development regulations. Prior to that it had just been a collection of assorted ordinances and rules and regulations, but it had never been all put together in one compact document, as like a structured code. When this happened I started rea ding about a lot of problems with a changes being put in it and the public being told that nothing was changing; that they were writing it differently. WM: Um huh. ER: I had noticed that the city had gone through some arguments over some growth issues, little more crowded, that tourist season was lasting much longer than it used to Well not that the tourist season but the intense occupation of the resorts was becoming al most year gaps. But you know it changes the feel. Now, instead of a couple of months of heavy ly more continuous heavy intensity [of traffic]. It changes the whole feel of the community. Some of the stores and restaurants that you used to feel only put up with the crowds and the sold out inventory a couple of months of the year, now we have to w changes the feel [of the community] a little bit. Then this land development regulation change came and there were some issues in there couple of cases they had, accidentally they claimed, increased the [housing] densities in to the heights of the buildings. Other people had caught this. There were concerns about the sewer infrastructure. The city had done a study, unrelated to capacity, that pretty much defined why we do have limited capacity. That study is still being acted u pon today, to try and cure some of those ills. I told the sewer study people, this past weekend we had another presentation from the
6 eir entire original study, from back in 2001 or 2002. (bell rings as visitors enter the museum) like it was to most people. WM: (laughs) ER: I can quote parts of our that stuff and knowing how it works. So, you know. Things were changing and I was hearing and reading and people were talking about these issues. I got to know them a little bit more. I had a lways felt that there were some um advantages being given to certain developers. people talk about it and we all spread our thoughts. Back then I started paying much closer attention to what wa s going on. I had a very nice her but had not gone along with it for several years but finally in 2002 I decided to take a shot at [running for office]. WM: Before we g et to you running for office, you said that um noticed the changes, primarily more people her for longer periods of time. From that, how did you get to paying attention to [the actions of the city council?] hen I moved here, there was a section up there by Upham Beach, WM: By what beach? most part of the city but the beach stops at Blind Pass. But in the Upham Beach are a, which is a city park you can see it located on a map, between that park and what at the time was the Colonial Inn Motel, which is now called the Travel Lodge, the property was pretty much a vacant lot. It was where the old aquarium existed. The aquarium anything about it. I learned most of what I know about it from photographs here at the museum. Sands three very l arge buildings. Okay?
7 When I moved her until fairly recently, behind the Dolphin Village Shopping Center on Gulf Boulevard, there was no development at all. There had been an old motel there [but it was] torn down years earlier. Then all along 46 th Aven ue, along the waterfront, there was nothing but water views. You know, nice open space. You could park behind the home complex, I re multi million dollar homes all along 46 th Avenue in that area. known as Captiva Cay, on the north end of town, (taps the desk) on the Blind Pass Road, was an old marina. [There were] no residences there. [It was] a nice waterfront area owned, I believe by a boat builder. It would have been a nice waterfront dock area it had over a hun dred, probably, condominiums and townhouses. There are similar areas around the city that went from being no residential to very intense residential. All of this starts to change the feeling of community. When I moved here, I know we had some very large condominiums but I felt like I was [living] in a mostly single family home neighborhood. Whether that was real or just perceived (cell phone rings loudly) the city felt like single family homes. WM: Um huh. ER: So seeing all of this growth, all of this increase ah I lost my beautiful water view going to happen some day. But you see all of these changes and you sort of wonder were some construction problems and difficulties in the Mirabella project, because the city had probably not paid close enough really being careful? Or are they jus ER: The expansion of the development, the increase of the intensity. Taking a marina and but I thought was a commercial property and turning it into more condomini ums. The city being accused and actually sued at one time over improper inspections of projects and so on. ifferent argument. The filing of
8 There were some other issues I had with the previous city manager, in that I would tell him [about] problems in the city and nothing would be done [about] it. One of the excellent exa mples give is that when they built the wooden beach crossovers, which now I think they have plastic decking on the bottom, but originally they were wood. The one at the end of nd Avenue, down here in Pass A Grille. I used to drive down here d uring the day, go out and look at the beach, or come down in the evening and look at the sunset. I noticed some of the nails were coming up. One of them [had backed out] almost a full inch. As the boards wiggle, as people walk on them, the nails creep out. I told the city manager that they needed to go pull the nails and [use] deck screws. They barefoot. Granted the nail was over by the railing, but when you stop on the crossover you tend to step towards the railing, if you wanted to look to the south. Somebody could possibly get hurt. It was months before somebody went down there with a hammer and pounded those nails in. I had reported it several times. There were sim ilar incidents of the city just (chuckles) because I get much better response out of our current city manager. It was issues lik e this. I would try to talk to our mayor back then. I guess he was he wanted the to listen to me. But to take public input and then argue with it, to me, is not taking public input. He and I used to get into some pretty heated discussions. Um we always look lik e now. entire family campaigns against me. WM: You talked about this place h aving a small town feel. town too. WM: Right, but I mean, access to local government is residents who request to speak to the city manager no w and if they [can work them in] they will try to accommodate them. If they want to talk to me I always try to
9 I represent between sevent een and eighteen hundred people in my district that elected me. not easy possible to respond to all of their requests, at least get them an answer. Sometimes the answer is no but at least they hear back from me. When I was not a comm issioner that was one of my complaints. I would call and talk to condition. But, once again, small town politics is small town politics. Regardless of how we try to lo WM: (chuckles) WM: Democracy is messy like that. tell me how to run your government based on keeping the cost down, when it deals with letting you be represented. (chuckles) You know there are a lot of other things we can get eeping the public involved I think every cent we spend is worth it. WM: It answers part of it. But I just want to recap what you said to make sure I understand. You talked about seeing the changes coming on and things the city not functioning and that what really inspired you to get involved in local politics? Was it the changes or the sort of dysfunction? ER: The pressures from the neighbors and the squabbles and when I started paying attention to som e of this stuff I had to agree that the elected officials [were] not being responsive to them. I knew they were not very responsive when I had tried to contact them. You know I had not been in daily contact with them. It was every once in a while. A lot ause I did things like I tried to talk to the mayor and my commissioner when they proposed the landscaped mediums in the middle of Gulf Boulevard. I discussed that they were going to be a hazard. The y were not a good idea. They were going to cause some traffic back ups. They were putting trees in them, on a forty mile an hour street. I thought that was a very bad idea.
10 them was that the Department of Transportation required them to make them smaller and to move them to be less of a problem. But today I still get complaints from some areas that the people trying to turn left backs up [traffic] because that [landscaped me dium] gets in the way. Almost immediately after they were installed, there were two trees in each one, we had five of the trees wiped out by automobiles. [This happened] within the first six ng trees in the middle of a forty What they were trying to do was duplicate what was available up in the north beach in street in that area is the eq activity that we have here. They have a lot less traffic as a result and it sort of works up there. Pl us their street was really wide. thirty five [miles an hour] but I may not be remembering that correctly. Gulf Boulevard is thirty five [miles an hour] everywhere now, except for a short stretch on Blind Pass Road there. But it was like idea and these a have these problems. You know? epartment of Transportation] hurt hitting the trees, because DOT, the Department of Transportation, required us to put a specific type of tree that does snap off. WM: A crash friendly tree? off rather quickly. St. Pete Times and it seemed like one of the issues that in the cit y council races were people who wanted to make St. Pete Beach more friendly for tourism and development and people who wanted to maintain St. Pete Beach is a good plac WM: So tell me
11 ER: If you search on my name in the St. Pete Times ssues and thinks like their other intentions, sometimes. Terminology is like a lot of things, you can say the words and make them mean a nything you want them to mean, whether they mean that or not. We have a lot of promotion for development that would be pedestrian friendly. That was a nice way of saying we want the people to be able to develop right up to the sidewalk. I call that pedes trian terrifying. Back then, when we had a forty five mile an hour street, if a car jumped the curb, the Boulevard that are built that close to the street, so that peopl e understand what they are doing something else. You can move [the sidewalk] back a little bit and landscape it and still be pedestrian friendly. issues. [Occasionally] we have some tourists that are used to jaywalking across a very busy street and occasionally one of them does get hurt. We try to address that and make it a litt le safer. But in most cases, had they been a little more cautious or had walked just a [little further] they could have crossed [the street] at a traffic light or a crosswalk. WM: Um huh. that in some respects it was a little bit self inflicted. We look like a resort community and people think [we are a] laid back, slow traffic, wander around, Key West kind of thing, [where] you can step in the street. Everybody is kind of creeping a lon g at five intense. WM: But there wer e the people who wanted to make like I said, from reading the newspaper I got the idea that there were two camps: people who wanted St. Pete Beach more tourist friendly and those who wanted to maintain the quality of life here. Is that ? mutually exclusive.
12 WM: Well, I understand that, but just in reading the newspaper I got the notion that those were [the] two forces. ER: In recent times there are probably two forces. I keep trying to tell people that there is only one force out there a e to, necessarily, severely impact the quality of life. And pursing quality of life does not mean tourist unfriendly. condos. I usually try to be very diplomatic when I say things but I have gotten tired of not a choice between condos and hotels, you know non tourist and tourist. I believe y, many years and the city WM: Um huh. cost is not necessa meetings, there is a price to pay to redevelop the hotels. Once again, the price is not in e, (taps desk) how tall, how many rooms? How much traffic are they [going] to cause? What is the impact going to be on everything? In my opinion the residents feel as long as the price, in all respects, not just money, is now, that their commission did not listen to them. When all of these plans were being made, in many respects I have to agree, there were members on the commission that were not particularly friendly and receptive to public input. At least one of those is no longer on the commission.
13 I always tried, as best I could as a commissioner, to remain completely open minded. I listened that I was probably unfair to, whenever he came to speak to us. Sometime later I realized I had done this to him several times. I apologized to him at a commission meeting. I ap ologized to him publicly. I apologized to him at his neighborhood association meeting, when he was there. I [said] I was out of line and acting like the ones, like the commissioners who were not listening to public input and treating him like that. [I went apologize to them. That was not the way I should have been acting. WM: Okay. Now let me ask you a question. You said that the commission was not listening to what the p ublic said. Can you succinctly, tell me what the public was saying? ER: The public was saying they were concerned with the proposed intensity on our land development changes. They were concerned with the proposed building heights. When the original land d evelopment changes were proposed, back in February of 2005, the original plan called for hotels to be built as tall as twenty stories and condominiums, in certain areas, as tall as ten stories. The current height regulation in St. Pete Beach, for the areas [where] the tallest buildings only [are] allows the building to be fifty feet above the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Act] based flood elevation. Which usually amounts to a maximum of a six story building. One story is in the flood elevation area with eight foot ceilings, you can get five stories above that. If you want to go higher ten feet to hide your elev ator shaft and your air conditioners. You can even put non livable amenities and decorations above the building. Most of the people were okay with that. I think they all expected the proposed hotels to be a little higher. A little higher could be maybe an additional five stories, for a maximum of ten, including the parking level. When they saw twenty, in the original proposal and nobody not nobody a majority of the people, who talked to me, did not want the condominiums to be taller. niums. They see so many go up and they sit there unoccupied. They take up space, they block the view and their owners are not supporting our businesses, our stores and so on. r five years and sell it for a big profit. To the citizens, there is no point in it being there, it pays property taxes. But it comes along with other expenses and burdens and so on. So when they proposed the big height increases they also proposed a new code and proposed some large increases in the hotel room amounts that they could build. If the land codes increased um with conditions the number of condominiums you could build in a project [also increased].
14 The people saw all of this and this is not w November 7 th if a majority of them felt that way. A lot of people came to the commission To me, those commission meetings were embarrassing because certain members of the commissi and why it was important and how wonderful it was going to be if we developed it. There were some other proposals in the code where we would take an awful lot of what is now zoned [for] commercial and allow residential units to be built above the first floor of the commercial property. Basically add more condos above our commercial property. It zoned property. People were upset about that. They saw that as more condominiums. people. You got to understand what it says and not what it sounds like it says. We do not enty of places to live; plenty of congestion. [condominiums]. They are just there. Most of th e condos in the area, if you contact the The registered voter address list that I had bears that out for most of the complexes. So thirds of the condos are probably empty a large part of the year. Some of them are never occupied. That happens with single family up in Connecticut. They spent three or four weeks a year in it. [The house] sits the condos that do this, but they do it even more. d to the commission. They could argue with the they actually, sometimes, got insulted, yelled at, for opposing this wonderful land development plan that some had envisioned. You know I of support on it. The citizens then took toward informal petitions. They would walk around their neighborhoods with questions. Sometimes [the questions were not unbiased.] But, you
15 or however it was worded. WM: Um huh. signed it, out of this So the next step, the [neighbors] organized a group, a political action committee. They filed legally supportable petitions to require citizen votes on certain land development issues. They latter followed up with legally supportable petitions to overturn some of the decisions the commission had made. A lot of times it was because they felt that when they came up with the informal opinion polls, they were being picked on and laughed at [by the commission] and told that it some of the people that w because they were being ignored. So they were immediately ready to sign the official [petitions]. to eve You know it takes about 780, 790 signatures on the petitions, city wide, to put an issue on the ballot. They were, in some cases able to achieve that [number] very quickly. In sometimes it took a little longer. A lot of times, and I tried to point this out to certain WM: Um huh. group that was circulating the petitions. A lot of people thought I was a member of that friendship over something like this. As a result, I always knew, mostly, what they were doing before anyone else did, because he would tell me.
16 signatures is 10 percent of the registered voters. That is not necessarily a majority, but if you have ever tried to [knock on] doors and do a campaign and get people to be home difficult thing to do, to get people out there like that. That they achieved [enough] signatures, I think, in a reasonable length of time that showed there was a lot of [support] out there for wanting to address these [issues]. If [the commission] had been more careful in the beginning none of these petitions would have existed. tell me if I correc tly understand you the council was unresponsive to the people who were concerned about ER: The height, the density, infrastructure WM: Right, sort of development issues. ER: Those are probably the big three. WM: Um huh. So you ran for office to give ER: I was already in office when this started. WM: Okay. But um so how did you use your position on the City Council to address these issues? ER: I tried to get the other commissioners to listen. I expressed strong views. I negotiated in the land deve lopment codes and got an awful lot of changes made, finally. I got, kind of, a reputation for being very technical on them. I find all of their mistakes. I point out all of their mistakes, even when they benefit the other side more than me. You know, I th ink these things when written, need to be correct. There are people who will take advantage of our mistakes. You know? And once they are written into the code, WM: You said you exp ressed strong views, could you explain that? ER: I tried, very, very hard to get the heights limits down. Because the people were telling me that was a trigger issue. When they were originally proposed I knew it was a ite a few years and I knew that height was a very they are surrounded by tall buildings. The reference they usually give is to North Sand Key.
17 I think somebody told me the tallest is like twenty two stories [tall]. There are several [that] are twenty [to] eighteen Boulevard There are some areas between here and there that are still single family homes and stuff. Th advertisements for one of the [opposition] groups; there is a photograph of North Sand Key. So, I knew height was a trigger point for a lot of the people. The Commission and the staff, when they proposed the twenty story hotels, ten story condos, they hit a trigger point and it was going to be argued. I tried to I got the ten [storied condos] down to seven. Regardless of whether anybody agrees that I did it, if you go ba ck and listen to the commission meetings at the time, I was the only one arguing to lower these heights. Eventually, with public input, [the commission lowered the proposed twenty story hotels] fifteen story [hotels]. represent the feel I get from other people. So, you know had we farther alo ng. But like I said, if you listen to some of those workshops, when we discussed these, they were pretty lively. When the public came up to speak, they were, I think, treated very unfairly. When the developer came up to express his view, he was treated with courtesy. They listened to his views. They let him talk as long as he wanted. But they would cut off the public input. There were even meetings where the public was not allowed to provide input, but they let a developer come up from the audience and express his view on some other issues and they made every change he asked for. I though that was unfair. Whether his requests were reasonable or not the way [the City Commission] was handling it was wrong. WM: Um huh.
18 ER: They should be listening to the residents, not a lawyer from Sarasota that comes here to represent somebody who is thinking about buying a piece of property here. It was just you know very frustrating, both to me and the public. I also got them to move [buildings] a little farther bac as far as I wanted. So you know I a lot of times I got them to lower some of the intensities in the way they were doing things. I could not get them to remove the residentials from commercial properties. I could get some minor concessions, but right got toward maybe being something we could live with, but still not quite what the public was going to support. WM: So you felt like t responsive to [the] portion of the public that you represented in the [city] council? ER: Yes. They were responsive to some of the public, but not the portion of the public that opposed wh at they wanted to do. The rest of the commissioners, I believe, had this idea of what they wanted to do. Anyone who opposed that they were less than courteous like that, WM: So you were representing the people who wanted to control the development and regulate growth to ER: I was representing the people that would talk to me. I was representin g people trying to come up with a view of what they would, basically, all mutually support. During the height of all of this I went through two out of three of my three campaigns, while a lot of this was going on the two that I had won. So I had spoken with an awful lot of the people and heard their views. Some members of the commission were unopposed, because no one came forward to run against them. They got on the commission without having to talk to the public, without having to hear the individual v iews. Had they heard the views [of the public] and responded the way they because if the way they treated people. That was important. When I was in the campaign and I knocked on every single door of a family home that had a registered voter in it in my district. If they were home I heard from them. If they even gave them little refrigerat or magnets with my phone number on it, so they could contact me. Some of them are still on the refrigerator [here, in the Museum kitchen]. I gave the Museum a couple.
19 My phone number has always been in the phone book. To their credit, all of the other c responsive to? ER: I would think their own interests, for one reason or a nother. One of the it for many, many years. The one commissioner that was most abusive is a land development attorney and they actually found that she had representat ion, hopefully of a minor nature, to one of the property owners. Actually [he] was a land speculator, who briefly owned a piece of property on the beach. There were a lot of accusations that she had gotten to know him too well, whether as a professional re lationship or casual. One of the commissioners owns a business down here and Then the mayor has been involved with various levels of developers, th roughout the city what his connection is with them other than a frien d, or whatever. But there are a lot of concerns, when things would be brought up. And, like I said, when I was not a commissioner and would approach him as a citizen, if I was expressing a view, other than what he was trying to achieve, he would argue wit h citizen input. We had some pretty the way to represent people by not listening to them. Back then I was probably not an influential person and he may not have thought I was wo WM: Well what do you foresee in the future for St. Pete Beach? ER: The future is going to be after November 7, 2006. The future is going to be, basically controlled, or influenced by the result of the result of the six referendum issues we have. I believe every single one of them effects development, or redevelopment, in someway. There is a lot of arguing, there are a lot of views expressed. We actually have the mayor
20 and one of the commi ssioners coming out and telling the people to vote against them all [of the referendums]. I mean they are personally saying this. They are actually spending, I believe, city money to promote voting against [all of the referendums]. They deny that the bias is there, but you can read the articles and see what you think of it. [this] to the public. Elected officials should not be telling the people how to vote. If you read Mr. Troxller in his column today basically stated that much more eloquently than I ever did and with more emphasis. Elected officials are supposed to listen to what the people want, not tell them to vote yes or vote no on issues. mn is written relative to the county charter changes, not the St. Pete Beach referendum specifically, but the sentiment still applies. St. Pete Beach is one of the cities that contributed to the campaign to oppose the charter amendments that Mr. Troxller r eferences in his article. I am the only commissioner, I believe, who voted against our financial participation. I told them I would support it if the money was spent to educate the public [about] strictly what the charter changes were and what they meant I was told the campaign was going to be to tell the people to vote no. I voted against the of the commission minutes. So I agree with Mr. Troxller. The cities t hat are participating in this one or twenty two of the twenty four cities in Pinellas County contributed to that campaign, the Vote No campaign. I T he county has contributed the number I heard was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to support a Vote Yes campaign on you to publications that basically present a biased view of how the [people of the] city should vote. This, [of WM: Okay. Are these for me? ER: You can have them.
21 WM: Okay, great. ER: They are all p ublic record. I sent a copy of the first thing there to the clerk. All I did news paper it came from. WM: Well, briefly, if you can, tell me about the referendum. When I was driving over So, as succinctly as you can, tell me about the referendum. ER: There are six of them are city referendums. I point out to people there are some going to confuse a lot of people. The six cities ones, four of them are propo sed charter changes; two of them are referendums to repeal ordinances previously passed by the city commission. All six of them were brought about as a result of the citizen petition efforts. Whether you support the citizen petition efforts or not, they followed the rules. They got enough signatures and the signatures are verified. The city challenged the constitutionality of the issues in court. In all but one case (one had to go to an appeal) the final ruling on all but one of them, is that they needed to go to a vote before the people. paraphrasing, but roughly in line wi th whatever the District Court of Appeals ruled. And the District Court of Appeals ruled that the four before them should go to a vote. So he has the fifth one. The sixth one was authorized to be challenged in court, but the city never filed the challenge, because it was so similar to the rest of them and there was no the city would win or lose on them. If it looked like we were going to lose, there was no point in spend ing the money filing. That was the approach we took. The four charter referendums, the first one is that any comprehensive plan change proposed by the city has to first be approved by the voters, before it can be adopted by the city commission. What thi has to have a comprehensive plan that has to be approved by the state. It regulated the intensity of development throughout the city. It regulates and represents goals, object ives and policies of the city to achieve, basically, a planned future of the city. propose developing, the number of residential units, the number of transient units, the amount of commercial floor space that we will allow to be built throughout the city. The
22 plan defines how much pervious surface we will require in any area. That means how much water can actually percolate down through the ground, because it is not pav ed. It regulates things like this that deal with how the city will be developed, or how it will be redeveloped or how we will let things happen. conforms to the approve d comprehensive plan. get into that a little later. The people objected to it. They decided they wanted to have input in it, before the city could adopt it by ordina nce. Approval by the state comes before the city adopts it by ordinance. What this would do is require that after we propose it, submit it to the state. We also have to submit it to the county. Once they approve it and make changes, whatever they decide n eeds adjusting, before the city can then adopt it, to actually put it in place and use it, it People have tried to say that the city would never be able to amend a comprehensive plan if thi little bit of additional delay depending upon the state approval. If the state approval is received in time to put it on an up anyway, there is only the delay of the submission of the ballot time to the actual election. The longer that is before an election, the longer it might delay it. We normally have elections in March, and November. In September, if there is a primary. (cle ars throat) It could be scheduled into any one of those. Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. Or the city could, if the supervisor of elections could handle it, schedule a special election. People say special elections are expensive, I think in the budget of ele ctions, citywide, we put somewhere around ten thousand or less in the budget. about wh at it is going to cost. You need to decide the issue. Do you want approval process or do you want to let the commission approve. WM: It sounds like that would give the people more voice in changes.
23 ER: It would give them Yes, because, I argue the commiss ion should not and hopefully would not, submit a comprehensive plan change to the state unless they were pretty sure that the people were going to approve it. WM: Okay. od things The second item has to do with small comprehensive plan changes, five parcels or less. This is a statement in the city or in the state laws statute concerning comprehensive plans. It sp ecifically states that any plan change affecting five or fewer parcels cannot be put to a public referendum. larger than five parcels. So what the referendum says is that if the city is proposing a small comprehensive plan change with five parcels or less, [takes a drink of water and clears throat] would normally WM: Um huh. ER: Th e commission would have to have unanimous approval of the ordinance adopting that small plan change. This would be after the county approves and after the state approves it. The small plan changes are kind of they are sort of like a high speed way to adjus t your comprehensive plan. They have minimum impact on the overall um the small versus the large. that benefit that the commissioner representing that particular district, if his d If somebody over here wanted to rezone five parcels to build a chicken farm okay? It onl but you know? Theoretically, if the state would approve it we could do it, you know? WM: Um huh. e
24 The same respect, maybe the people in that district do er from it. you got to decide for yourself. Those are the only exa that issue. Third charter referendum change has to do with community redevelopment plans. A community redevelopment agency can be established by a government organization (cell phone rings loudly) If I hit the button it shuts it off to redevelop a certain area of the city that is declared as blighted, or needs redevelopment. There are several of these [areas] in St. Petersburg. There are several in Clearwater. There are a couple of them I think three in Largo, four or Pete Beach. We have proposed in our large resort district and commercial area to institute a community red evelopment plan. Why would you do this? The biggest benefit is if you get an area declared as part of a community redevelopment area you can then apply to the county, that as a result of any redevelopment that increases the property tax value of the proper ty that is redeveloped within that area (taps on table), you can get the county to kick back to you part of their increased property tax collection. Because the appraisal of ck to the city. The city then has to spend it within that redevelopment area to ah add to the improvement of that area. Petersburg is a huge city, the biggest la have. If we have another one its going to be an awful long time before we have one. But it gives the people the right to decide whether or not we want to have one there. A lot of the concern was imminent domain related. A community redevelopment area gives the city buy property, a la Kelo v. New Haven 1 S ell it back to the developer. The state took that away from us that issue is gone. I keep pointing out to people that issue is again on the ballot as a state constitutional ust because you think the state took it away from us. This was step two, but you know an aside. 1 The case Mr. Ruttencutter refers to is usually referred to as Kelo v. New London.
25 at terminology. If they owned though properties in that area met all of the definition of [a blighted area]. There are certain definitions, the condition of the proper ty, the number of police calls that come blighted]. So because the people did not like some of things that came with this, they wanted to have a voice in it. Ah it can be a good thing, could be a bad thing. But This is petition, this charter change was to WM: Um huh. redevelopment area that I can think of. So we can wait until the next general election, or redevelop. The fourth charter change has to do with the heights of the buildings, this is the one that heights of buildings in any part of the city. That change to the zoning code has to be approved by a public referendum. So this says th at if we want to take, for example, Pass A buildings on 8 th Okay, maybe give them 40 feet. The peo ple would have to vote on that. If we wanted to give them 100 feet, the people would have to vote on that. Ah changed the whole time that I w as here. Somebody pointed out to me that there was a three foot change to the code made down here in Pass A Grille some years ago, that I had forgotten about. will cha nge it. Probably with the new redevelopment plan, if we go forward with it, if the
26 A Grille, because of the 8 th Avenue issue. Whether or not the people support eithe have the right to vote on them. Height was a trigger issue in the opposition to the comp plan changes. The lot of misi nformation spread saying that the people will have to vote on every site plan that came to the city. [That] no building could be built above fifty feet, which is the is says! This says (thumping the table for emphasis) if you change the zoning regulations the let them vote on site plans. You know? Other things that have been mprehensive plan changes. the state reviews should not take very long, becau se they are mostly worried about increases in intensity. The people seem to be worried that you know they want to get less intense, so the state is probably going to, very quickly, give us a response. If the charter change happens, where we have to put i t to a vote, I would like to think that if we worked fast enough and the differences between what the people want in the comp We can work out the differences, re submit the [it] to the state, get approved [and] have the thing on the ballot by March, if the charter change requiring approval passes. The adjust the comp plan. We st voter approval. you know so th e plan would then go forward. true.
27 his one a little more and we may or may not put it to a vote. people who are for it? no people. WM: All right. ER: Like I said, those are the ones ER: The sixth one is another ordinance repe al and that is ah shortly after the petition stopped the movement of the comprehensive plan. The one that I just discussed. The petition that stopped implementing it, by challenging the ordinance that implementing it. The city turned around and proposed wh PDD or some cities call it PUD, Plan Unit Development. and wants to do something out of the ordinary that do zoning but does fit in with the current comprehensive plan. And it has enough advantages to the community, you know, in the city and so on, and we can take in a or redefine that area as a special zoning district ah and say let you develop within the limits of the comprehensive plan, but beyond the limits of the The compreh allow underneath that maximum. You know, up to but not exceeding the maximum. In allow some things th at the comprehensive plan allows. So this was proposed shortly after the comp plan petition was approved by the supervisor of elections. It stopped the implement of the comprehensive plan. So, immediately it looks like a backdoor to get around what the s topping of the comp plan change did. Okay. And I will not express whether or not that was the intent of the city. I opposed this, not because it was not a good ah category. I opposed it because the communit y was not ready for it yet, and they were going to respond negatively to it, at this time, because they saw it as ignoring their
28 ke it happen anyway. The commission passed it. It was four to one. I voted against it. I made it very clear that I voted against it because the public was not supporting this right now. I think if we had waited a couple of months and explained it better w e could have gotten the public support of it. But this was a slap in the face of the people that signed the petition. So it went forward. We had one project apply for it while the petitions were being signed. It got the application got turned in before t project going forward under this planned development district, but no other projects can go forward now because of the petitions to repeal the ordinance, which made it happen. I comprehensive plan ordinance and the first reading, every ordinance requires two readings. Because I thought, and still do, think the comprehensive plan changes can be worke d with. Okay? I voted against the second reading of the comprehensive plan because the first set of there. So, one vote yes, one vote no, on the comprehensive pla n. When the ordinances to do the plan development district came forward I voted against it both times because it was not the time to do this, given the backlash we were going to get out of the citizens. I still think if we had waited several months, expl ained what we were doing and why and not made it look like the backdoor that it appears to have been, we could have gotten enough support where it would not have been challenged. Some of these projects would have been able to go forward. The controls wit hin the plan development zoning category are so wonderful that, whether or not we let this developer do this. We do not take away his development rights. He still has all the not we give him these additional possibilities. probably six months of changes and adjustments a WM: Um huh. an easement for a park, on the waterfront down there, in exchange for apparently in exchange for vacating a street that will pretty much go now where after his development [is complete]. It does
29 affect one property owner and there is some contention over concessions to accommodate this one property owner. WM: Ac WM: You were speaking facetiously? WM: Okay. I heard you um say that [after the election] the ordinances, voting no will reduce citizen input in controlling development. ave it the way it is right now. WM: Okay, right. But voting yes will increase it? ER: Increase it, yes. WM: Okay, so if you can, succinctly, tell me briefly tell me, what will happen what do you see [in] the future of St. Pete Beach? You can say what yo u see happening if they vote yes. You can say what you see happening if they vote no. ER: Um a lot of it depends on the commission that we have once this is all over with. If the commission reacts to a no vote, meaning they have approval to do everything they are If the commission accepts a no vote as authorization to go forward, but we really need to be a little bit more careful and make some changes to our implementation, t hen I think we respond to them and not just the hotel developers. WM: Um huh.
30 Until we get the kinks worked out, getting approval via the state and then determine whether or not we need an approval by the voters, based on the one referendum Ah and add that additional delay. But it will still happen. It has to happen. We have to do some changes to let the hotels redevelop. Economically everybody knows s per acre in quite awhile. If we raise that density and the question is how muc h we hopefully can get some of the hotels, the older ones that have not been properly cared for to be torn down and rebuilt. r. So we know something has to happen there. Both sides, the yes and the no, support the hotels. They just support it in different fashions. Ah so, you know, it changes a little of the rules. forward under it. Hopefully once we change the comprehensive plan to something agreeable to t he people and adjust the implementation to be agreeable, these same areas that Division 43 wants to work under, can still redevelop. Division 43 was patterned, quite a bit, after what was proposed for the new zoning regulations anyway. So ah it turns out they can get less under Division 43 in some areas. They can get more under Division 43 in some areas. So to the actual property owners, they win if they get the comp win if they get Division 43 not repealed. A no works for them in either direction. A yes just slows it down a little bit. Eventually we have to change the comprehensive plan. We know that. I think all parties agree to it. The disagreement is how we change it and to what levels. The height thing ah a lot of the people for many, many years, never wanted the fifty foot over base flood to change in fi ve story buildings. You know? So it is an issue of who would support what. The people will feel they have a little more control, and they will [actually] have, more control over how vertical the community becomes.
31 e over a one line right now, which is a good thing. You still got to walk out to the beach to see it. But what is the general feel of the comm unity? I can drive up through some of the beach below something as you drive the street. You drive up to some of the northern communities that have the really tall buildings an you know in a city. WM: Um huh. downtown St. Petersburg is coming to. Ah of their ci If you look at their codes, their height codes are as strict or stricter than ours, for the rest a majority of us. neralization of the opinion that the residents of this city have had for years. I told you back in 2001 one of the things in the proposed land They bumped [the exist ing height code] from fifty to (I think) seventy five feet, in some of the areas. ive or six years somebody would mumble [about] raising the height limit and the commission to the opposition of raising the height limits. Does that mean they think the opposition is as strong now? neighborhood, say you know y want, or let them be ll of but not as much as we promised.
32 Ah could put the parking in, could put on those properties that they are promisin table) is in the comprehensive plan, by the way. So new businesses and some because property owners buy up these properties and sit on them for the land y think the city is a share of stock. perhaps the state should lower the ta the city as far as services for a vacant lot. to clear major parts of have the tax incentive losing money, to encourage you to put that land to work. You know? tried several proposals on them and none of them have you know WM: Well that sound s like a good place to conclude. ER: Okay. ER: No. This was your show. (chuckles) WM: Okay I want to thank you for taking the time ER: I did want to chuckle, when you asked for brief answers.
33 that this information will be deposited in the Special collections of the University of South Florida to be available for future research. ER: Okay. WM: And in order for us to have access in order for people to have access to this interview I need to ge t you to sign a release form. necessarily the views and opinions of the city government, or the other commissioners. If this were an official capacity we would have done this at city hall. WM: Right. ER: So keep in mind I am not speaking in behalf of any other commissioner or even any other person. Okay? at I understand. We wanted to talk to Ed Ruttencutter and hear what Ed Ruttencutter has to say. it. Sometimes I forget a side, but there are no simple answers when yo u see when you try to see the pros and cons of everything. WM: Okay. Well, let me shut this thing off. end of interview