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Saturday, Aug 02, 2014

Group continues fight for Tides Golf Course, open space

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SEMINOLE — A break from the suburban sprawl that defines much of the mid-Pinellas landscape, the Tides Golf Course is wedged between scores of single-story residences to the south and east, Boca Ciega Bay to the west and Boca Ciega Millenium Park to the north.

To those who live in the neighborhood that skirts it, the 96-acre site and the wildlife dwelling within it defines the area, which is not incorporated.

That’s why, in late 2012, when they found out someone wanted to put 170 homes and 18 acres of green space on the nearly 45-year-old golf course, they fought. Among their reasons for protecting it are the wildlife that dwells there, including bald eagles, and a desire to protect what little green space is left in the county, of the most densely populated in the state.

After about a year, countless meetings, and 13,229 petition signatures, Phoenix-based developer Taylor Morrison withdrew its proposal after county land use officials sided with the residents in an extensive report.

The project’s opponents aren’t done fighting.

“Pinellas County, I believe, has reached a precipice,” said Andy Strickland, whose house overlooks the course. “We can either move forward and continue to develop the last vestiges of green space, or we can say, ‘Hey, enough development.’”

Strickland sits on the board of the Save the Tides, an organization formed to preserve the golf course’s open space.

The group is asking county planners to set the area aside by way of a community overlay, which requires the county to consider an unincorporated area’s unique characteristics before allowing any land use changes. The aim would be to preserve the land either in its current incarnation or as a county park similar to that which sits just to the north of it. In all, five unincorporated areas of Pinellas County have them: East Lake Tarpon, Lealman Ozona, Tierra Verde and a swath of rural land off Alderman Road.

In the case of Seminole, the overlay would protect the golf course and the area that surrounds it from development so the residents won’t have to fight more proposals.

“A one-size fits all approach isn’t appropriate anymore,” Strickland said.

While the group is confident its application will pass, land use rights lawyer Ron Weaver, an expert in golf course conversions, said the property owner might be getting the short end of the stick. Wells Fargo seized the land when a former owner foreclosed in 2009.

He pointed out the proposed development would have had a fraction of the density of the neighborhood surrounding the course, that a storm water treatment system would have reduced the amount of fertilizer runoff that washes into the bay – though Strickland said Save the Tides would push for sustainable practices at the course – and that the course’s owner should have greater control of what happens to the land.

“Neighbors often understandably and to their credit would like to keep a free park,” Weaver said. “If they want a free park, they should buy it or have the county condemn it.”

The application for the overlay is pending, but proponents are confident county land use officials will be on board, given their propensity toward preserving Pinellas County’s remaining open spaces.

“I don’t think it will be a big challenge,” said Ron Stephens, an opponent of the development who has lived next to the tee of the 18th hole since 1982. “It’s got a tremendous amount of wildlife and green space.”

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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