DUNEDIN — City commissioners are united in their efforts to preserve what's called a piece of paradise — at the expense of a parking garage in a roundabout way.
They unanimously agreed Oct. 20 to help fund the possible acquisition of the 43-acre Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property at the northeast corner of Virginia Avenue and Keene Road.
Their decision stems from the property no longer being under contract for development with a private entity.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said a trustee for the estate said he is giving the city and the county 90 days to make an offer and close on the property within that time frame. City officials plan to work with county officials and the public to make an offer.
"It's a 100-acre piece of Florida paradise," Commissioner Moe Freaney said. "I'm hopeful ... that our county comrades are going to help us with this. Obviously, we worked closely with them on this. I know how much they value green space as well."
Commissioners agreed to put $2 million on the table toward a cash transaction using Penny for Pinellas funds that have been made available by city officials. That's due to a decision weeks ago not to fund a parking garage project adjacent to a new city hall.
City officials had studied the need for a garage in depth as part of the budget process. Instead, they opted for a surface parking lot.
The remaining funds for the property acquisition will need to be generated in partnership with the county and other entities. The Florida Communities Trust funds are crucial to the transaction, Bramley said.
If the fair market value of the property is determined to be $8 million to $9 million, the city would allocate $2 million and look to the county entities for the remainder of the funds and close on the property.
As discussed by city officials, the county would then submit an application to the Florida Communities Trust for a grant of up to 50 percent, about $4 million, of the purchase price.
City officials say combining the 43 acres with the neighboring Jerry Lake will result in about 100 acres of passive recreation. They plan to work with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the lake, to discuss terms of a possible management for passive recreation on the site.
Residents and other interested parties, such as James Scott, a representative of the Suncoast Sierra Club, praised city officials at the virtual meeting for striving to prevent the property from being developed.
"The harder work is ahead. We have to get creative. We have to find the dollars. We have to make a stand for conservation as a principle and as a policy and as a plan and as a budget. And we are going to have to go there, I believe, to make this happen," Scott said.
Commissioners had similar comments, noting all the efforts that have been made to protect environmentally sensitive land in the city and create parks.
"It would only be fitting if we can add to this great legacy of so many people and so many years by adding the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth preserve," Commissioner Deborah Kynes said.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she was pleased with the "forward momentum."
"More so with the voice of the public. All of the energy that has been placed out there has moved all of us and I think in the right direction," Gracy said.
Commissioner Jeff Gow spoke, as he has before, of the economic impact of the parks.
"So there's no doubt that Honeymoon Island is one of the most active state parks in the state. There's no doubt it brings economic dollars not only to the city but the county and region. To my mind, this property, the one we are discussing, has that same possibility of impact," he said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said officials have an opportunity of a lifetime to turn 44 acres into 100 acres for future generations of visitors to enjoy.
"The preservation of our environment is one of the most important things we can do. It's community partnerships that will help us get there," she said.
Once people see the area, it's easier to understand why it needs to be preserved, Bujalski said.
"Because there are so many different ecological systems out there," she said.