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Bezu developers, now Blue Lotus, take development battle to court

Developers say City Council caved to what was no more than “a gripe session.”

Developers are trying once again to revive plans to build a 19-story condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg on a plot of land that has remained vacant for more than a decade despite numerous plans to build on it.

This time the development group, The Driven Ziggy, is taking its battle over the controversial Blue Lotus building formerly known as Bezu, to court.

The group saw its plan squashed for at least the third time in as many years last month when the City Council, convened as the Community Redevelopment Agency, voted down the proposed development on a split vote. Approval for such projects requires a supermajority.

The developers argue that vote was based on public comment from residents in two adjoining condo developments — the Flori de Leon and Spanish Palms — they say amounted to “no more than a gripe session in which ill-informed members of the public vented their dislike of the project.” The Driven Ziggy further argues in its lawsuit that it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the development does not win approval.

City Council members Charlie Gerdes, Amy Foster, Brandi Gabbard and Ed Montanari voted in favor of the development while Steve Kornell, Gina Driscoll, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Darden Rice voted against it.

Developers argue those who rejected the project did so based on sentiment rather than law. They say the project fits within the city’s zoning ordinances and note the development, which had been scaled down from previous proposals, was recommended by city staff and was approved by the city’s Development Review Commission.

Critics appealed the DRC’s approval last September, but lost the appeal on the same split vote that ultimately bode in their favor. The appeal required a supermajority vote, which the appellants did not get. But developers also needed a supermajority vote from the CRA, which they did not get.

Now it’s up to the courts.

If it ever gets built, the Blue Lotus would include 18 residential units in a 180-foot tower at the corner of 4th Avenue North and First Street North in downtown St. Pete. The plan is scaled down from the original Bezu proposal, which would have been a 288-foot tower with 29 residential units.

Over the lengthy approval process, developers for Bezu scaled the project down from a 288-foot tower to about 180 feet and also cut out plans for nine units beyond the 20 approved.

The property was first purchased with the intent to develop it into condominiums in 2007.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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