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Preserve annexation is just a precursor

Next year the city likely will annex the Gateway Preserve, all the while keeping an eye on Feather Sound.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 27, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The city's eye flicking toward upscale Feather Sound, St. Petersburg likely will annex a next-door stepping stone early in 2003, city officials say.

Adding the Gateway Preserve will put the city limits right beside the property-rich Feather Sound development -- and it will pave the way for bringing the currently unincorporated development into St. Petersburg.

"It's been a goal in our comprehensive plan for years and years," said Dave Goodwin, the city's planning director.

Whether Feather Sound's 3,600 residents like the idea is another matter.

It is probably too early to have a definitive answer. No straw votes or official polls have been undertaken.

But there are hints residents aren't eager to become part of Pinellas County's largest city.

They would have a chance to vote yes or no before any such action could be taken.

"I don't sense any groundswell of support" for annexation, said Jack Hebert, chairman of Feather Sound's community services, or taxing, district.

Hebert, who has lived in Feather Sound since 1983, emphasized he was not speaking for the community as a whole. But he said at a recent social gathering numerous residents made a point of voicing opposition to annexation.

"We obviously have some concerns about the level of services we'd receive, in terms of the millage we'd pay to the city," Hebert said.

Feather Sound's tax district levies 1 mill ($1 per each $1,000 of taxable property value), which has paid for street lighting, recreational facilities and maintenance of community common areas, Hebert said. He estimated the county's total property assessment for Feather Sound as between $240- and $250-million.

Services come from a variety of sources. For example, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office provides police protection; water and sewer service comes through Largo; garbage collection is independently contracted; Pinellas Park Fire Station No. 36, which the county financially supports, provides first-response fire service.

Why would St. Petersburg want Feather Sound?

"Besides being a kind of natural extension, it's an area with high property values," Goodwin said. "Anywhere we can increase our property values and tax base is in the city's interest. And of course we feel like we provide outstanding services, and there would be benefits for them."

The Gateway Preserve, which Goodwin said is 1,200 acres, lies just west of I-275's entrance into the city.

It is in St. Petersburg's annexation planning area, is consistent with the city's annexation goals and will allow the city to create a more attractive front porch, Goodwin said.

The annexation would include I-275 right of way, thus allowing the city to put up its "welcome" signs in a more attractive area than where the current signs are situated -- near the county incinerator.

The state-owned preserve is a wilderness area home to typical wildlife found in marine and low-lying areas -- but there are no registered voters. So no referendum is required. The City Council can annex the tract simply by passing an ordinance, said Mark Winn, chief assistant city attorney.

Pinellas County manages the tract, as it does the Weedon Island Preserve, a few miles to the southeast.

The management plan calls for very little to happen at the Gateway Preserve, Goodwin said.

"It's to be a preserve and remain a preserve. There are a couple of places to put canoes in, but that's the limit of public access," he said.

The city has no burning desire to begin managing the tract, Goodwin said.

"If the county wants to continue to manage, just as they do Weedon Island now, the city wouldn't object to that," Goodwin said.

Annexing Feather Sound would require a referendum decided by a simple majority of Feather Sound voters, Winn said.

Developer Fred Bullard created Feather Sound in 1973, coming up with a name that suggested tranquil refuge and carving a country club subdivision from 1,135 acres he bought from the estate of land baron Ed C. Wright for about $7.5-million.

Houses, townhomes and condominiums went up.

Membership in the country club soon became a coveted item throughout the Tampa Bay region. Among the amenities subdivision boosters promoted were an 18-minute drive to Tampa, 10 to downtown St. Petersburg and less than 5 to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

Also less than 5 minutes is the work commute for Carillon executives, some of whom bought Feather Sound homes when the commercial center began to expand.

Most of the originally promoted good-life elements remain, which is why many residents like their community the way it is and why they are likely to arch an eyebrow at annexation plans.

"There's going to be a little bit of a fight," Hebert said.

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