An aerial view of the Tides Golf Course, located in an unincorporated Seminole.
SEMINOLE - Developer Taylor Morrison recently withdrew an application with Pinellas County to rezone the Tides Golf Course for residential development.
The property, 11832 66th Ave. N., is located in an unincorporated part of the County along Boca Ciega Bay. The homebuilder withdrew its proposal to build up to 170 single- and multi-family homes on nearly 96 acres just two days before the Jan. 9 Local Planning Agency meeting, the first of several hearings the county would have held while considering the plan. Just days earlier, a County staff report recommended that the rezoning request be denied because the proposed development was inconsistent with the Pinellas County Comprehensive Plan, particularly with the plan’s policies regarding open space.
“In a built-out county it is difficult to compensate for such a sizeable loss should these lands be developed,” staff wrote in the report. “The economic, environmental, and community (social and quality of life) consequences of conversion of open space to developed uses are at the center” of its recommendation to deny the proposed development. Taylor Morrison’s plan designated 18 acres for open space.
“Once that space is gone, it’s gone – and it’s not coming back,” said William Kimpton, the Dunedin-based attorney who represents Save the Tides, a group of citizens who were opposed to the proposed development.
Kimpton expressed his surprise that Taylor Morrison withdrew its application just days prior to when the hearings were supposed to begin.
“We prepared for a very long battle and the battle went away,” he said.
Ed Methfessel, president of Save the Tides, said that because of public opposition to the project and the staff’s recommendation, “I’m sure the homebuilder recognized it wouldn’t get approved.”
He added, “It’s really great news.” Losing the Tides would have affected quality of life in the area, he said. “They wanted to take away something that made Pinellas County great and made Seminole magical. But at the end of the day, [the County staff] stayed true to following the comprehensive plan and protecting green space.”
Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater attorney representing Taylor Morrison, declined to comment on the matter.
Save the Tides formed at the end of 2012 when Tides’ neighbors began noticing surveyors on the property. As rumors swirled, Methfessel called the County and learned that Taylor Morrison had submitted a proposal to rezone the parcel.
Tides, which still operates as a golf course, is currently bank-owned, after Wells Fargo took over ownership of the land when it purchased Wachovia and then foreclosed on the property in 2009. At the time, Wells Fargo still owed about $6.8 million on the mortgage, said Ron Stephens of Save the Tides.
The organization, opposed to the proposed zoning and land use changes, sprung to action. More than 10,000 people signed a petition circulated by the group and Methfessel said he was expecting between 400 and 500 activists to attend the Jan. 9 meeting if it were to go forward.
One of Save the Tides’ primary concerns is that the development would have increased density in an already highly populated area. Pinellas is the most densely populated – and second smallest – county in the state.
The group was also concerned about conservation. The Tides’ property makes up 20 percent of recreational open space for the County’s District 9, Kimpton said.
The parcel, which serves as a buffer to Boca Ciega Millennium Park, “is a great natural aquifer” and is also home to many different types of wildlife, Methfessel said.
“I’ve even seen bald eagles nest there occasionally,” he added.
The fight to save the Tides isn’t over. Just because Taylor Morrison has backed away from the property doesn’t mean another developer won’t step in, Kimpton said.
“That’s why we want a permanent solution for preserving this space,” he said, “so future generations don’t have to go through what we have.”
Kimpton said he’s proposing that the County create a special district for the Tides’ land. He submitted a letter outlining his proposal and plans to meet with representatives from the County soon. His hopes are that the local community will be able to purchase the property from the bank, with the help of the County government, to preserve the green space.
According to the staff report, there are 5,318 privately owned recreation sites in Pinellas; 5,017 of these acres are golf and country clubs.
As the economy ebbs and flows, these properties could eventually find themselves for sale, Kimpton said, reflecting “the different interests and needs of the people. There may be too many golf courses. Are we going to be able to preserve them all?”
He added, “The Tides is really the perfect case to have this debate. That’s why we’re going to go forward with additional steps to try to preserve this land for the future.”