Council to weigh island's future

Other agencies and groups will also consider the bird-flush island's fate.

Published July 5, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The City Council will have a powerful say in the future of a Coffee Pot Bayou island that environmental activists and neighborhood leaders want to save as a rookery.

The city's proposed new development regulations and land-use map designate the spit of land known as Bird Island as a preservation area. It previously has been undesignated.

"Just white space on a map," said Rick MacAulay, city senior planner.

Several years in the making, the new land-use regulations come before the council Aug. 17. They are expected to win approval, thus granting Bird Island preservation status - at least from the city's perspective.

But more hurdles await.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Community Affairs also must sign off on the new comprehensive plan, which also will be scrutinized by the water management district, the Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies.

The County Commission eventually will deliberate the proposed changes in November, MacAulay said.

Activists including the Audubon Society have been concerned that the island will be sold. Langston Holland, who formed the company that owns the island, earlier this year granted an option to a developer.

The Audubon Society remains hopeful that "the owners will seriously consider a sale for conservation purposes," said Ann Paul, regional director of Audubon's Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries.

Aubudon has allies among adjacent neighborhoods, which include Snell Isle and Historic Old Northeast. Many residents consider the mangrove-covered island and its bird legions as part of the area's rich, environmental ambience.

The Snell Isle Property Owners Association board would like the island to remain a sanctuary, said neighborhood president Barbara Heck.

"We are all stewards of this area we call home," Heck said.

"Too many landmarks are being razed in the name of progress and development. We are losing those icons that define St. Petersburg, especially bird, marine and wildlife habitats," she said.

Audubon's 2006 bird count showed 13 species and 482 pairs of breeding birds on the island, including six species of special concern.

Earlier this month, Paul said, representatives of conservation groups noted the first confirmed sighting on the island of a nesting juvenile white ibis. The white ibis also is a species of special concern.