Brooker group shapes strategy
The Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve wants to win perpetual protection for the preserve and plans to ask commissioners for zoning and land use designation changes.
By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published August 15, 2006
EAST LAKE - Martin Schachter remembers a board meeting of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve about six months ago when the topic was a proposal to place a therapeutic horse facility in the preserve
The East Lake resident said he listened as Bruce Rinker, Pinellas County's environmental lands director, listed environmental problems that come with a horse facility.
But at the next month's board meeting, when a county commissioner was in attendance, Schachter said Rinker's misgivings about the project had vanished like the morning mist.
"He told the group that he thought it was a good idea," Schachter said. "I thought very highly of Bruce until then."
Schachter and other members began to feel that the job of protecting the area must fall more heavily on their shoulders.
The group began to gather information on each parcel of the preserve, the flora and fauna, the zoning, the land use designation, limitations on the land from grants used to buy it - anything that could be important to preserving its 8,300 or so acres.
On Thursday, at another board meeting, the group agreed to ask county commissioners to take the steps needed to protect the preserve forever.
Members plan to send a letter to commissioners with their suggested plan attached. And they will seek support - for protecting the preserve in perpetuity - from the community and other like-minded groups, possibly with a petition drive.
The group's plan involves changing zoning and land use categories for parcels in the preserve to categories that will ensure more protection.
Currently, land use designations in the preserve are mostly "preservation" for the wetlands areas and "preservation/resource management" for the rest. The problem the group has with the second designation is that it allows for things such as a water-blending plant.
The group wants the entire area changed to "preservation."
"I look at it as one step of many that we're going to have to take if we are going to get the preserve protected forever," said Steve Poling of East Lake, a Friends board member.
During the group's meeting Thursday, Will Davis, the county director of environmental management, said the plan will meet obstacles. The preservation land use designation, he said, would not allow for prescribed burns or removing exotic plants. And he said the county utilities department might say that the preserve lands bought with bonds from utilities customers can't just be turned over to county ownership.
"It won't work, but you will have made your point," Davis said.
While the group is submitting its plan, the county is working on its own.
County Administrator Steve Spratt said the county is working on updating the management plan for the preserve, attempting to make it clear which uses are allowed where in the preserve so there will be no more surprises.
And Commissioner Susan Latvala said her initiative to find a way to protect more of the preserve in perpetuity is nearing completion. She said lawyers are looking into whether utility land that the bond debt had been paid on can be transferred to county ownership. Once that is decided, a portion of the preserve could be set aside for utilities needs and the rest protected.
One problem that might stall that initiative, she said, was if lawyers decide the county would have to pay utilities for the land. But she hopes that won't be the case.
She said her proposal would cover not only the Brooker Creek Preserve, but also all county park and preservation property "so that no future commission could change the use of it or sell it without a referendum."
- Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve Web site: www.friendsofbrooker creekpreserve.org/
- Pinellas County Environmental Science Forum: www.pinellascounty.org/ scienceforum/
[Last modified August 14, 2006, 23:08:47]
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