BELLEAIR — A dozen residents showed up at an outdoor meeting of the Town Commission to discuss the pros and cons of leasing some waterfront land to the Belleair Country Club.
The June 5 meeting was the second on-site gathering to give residents an opportunity to see firsthand the land that is involved in the discussion.
The land in question is officially called Waterfall Park, but is also known as the Nature Park and Hallett Park.
Club President Hal Bodley, just as he did at a commission meeting in early May, told the group that the country club wants the 60-foot-wide strip of land to build a par-3 hole that would have a gulf view. He said residents would still have access to the water to fish or walk dogs or just walk themselves.
He said a deal could be a win-win for both parties. The club’s proposal, outlined in the earlier meeting, included improving the seawall and providing park benches on the town’s side of the property.
“The Belleair Country Club and the town have had a partnership for a long time,” he said.
Jason Straka, the club’s architect and the man who would design the new hole if a deal is done, said having a waterfront hole provides a “fantastic opportunity.”
He said it is an appropriate development given that the Belleair Country Club is the oldest golf club in Florida, founded in 1897.
Sitting nearby was Mayor Gary Katica, who didn’t hold back how he felt about the proposal. He likes it and would like to get the property out of the town’s hands.
“This property is a liability to the town,” he said. “The seawall is constructed in such a way that it will collapse. It was built in the ’40s and now it isn’t a question of if, but when it goes down.”
Katica said a lease to the Country Club for $300,000-$400,000 for 50 years would net the town over $10,000 a year.
“This land is an absolute waste to the town,” he said.
Katica then said several residents he considers “good people” have moved away because of the activity of people who come to the area.
“There have been people filleting their fish on the hoods of cars, taking pictures from people’s property and causing traffic issues,” he said. “We don’t need people like that.”
With that, Scottie Lee, who lives across the street from the property, spoke up in agreement with Katica. He said he was fed up with what was happening in the area.
“There have been all sorts of riffraff coming here at all hours of the night,” he said.
He said he hoped the deal with the country club would go through because it would mean the overgrowth on the land would be cleared and the people who show up during the night would not be able to hide in the trees and do whatever it is they do.
“Right now, if you walk down there you will find all kinds of beer bottles, condoms and the like,” he said.
Katica said he hoped the town could restrict the area to Belleair residents, but Town Manager J.P. Murphy said that wasn’t possible because it was public land.
Resident Gail Carroll, who wants the town to keep the land, said she hopes town officials will consider what the residents want, “and not just what a few homeowners want.”
Another resident said he would gladly pay more taxes to keep the land and have it cleared.
Someone brought up the subject of liability. Murphy said to his knowledge there has never been a liability issue over the land.
Initially, the country club said it would be interested in buying the land from the town, but according to Murphy that is not possible.
He explained that the land was willed to the town by a resident who stipulated that if it were to be sold then it must be offered to family members first. Murphy said that would likely open the town to legal action, so leasing the land is the only option.
Murphy said the issue is now up to the town commission. He said he will bring the matter to a commission meeting soon, then it will be up to commissioners to give him the green light to proceed with negotiations with the club or to shut it down.
He said no formal offers have been made and no dollar figures have been exchanged.
Residents will have opportunities to have more to say on the matter at any commission meeting where the issue is brought up.