tampabay.com

Our gems of parks required foresight

By BOB HACKWORTH Guest columnist
Published May 28, 2007


Dunedin has an opportunity to preserve for public use one of the last undeveloped parcels of waterfront and trailside land in the city.

If the city can secure a grant from the Florida Forever program, it can pursue a plan to acquire the property on both sides of Alt. U.S. 19 just north of downtown for 30 percent of its determined fair market value.

The property, adjacent to the Pinellas Trail with sweeping vistas of St. Joseph Sound and Caladesi Island, would become a city park offering Pinellas Trail-to-bayside access, including a 700-foot fishing pier, to all of our citizens. I believe we must pursue this opportunity.

Not too many years ago, Pinellas County, like much of Florida, looked a lot different than it does now. When I was growing up here in the 1960s and '70s, there were citrus groves and pasture where now there are shopping centers and parking lots; woodlands and open space surrounding the municipalities of Largo, Clearwater and Dunedin; and whole stretches of beaches still in their pristine natural conditions.

Sand Key then was a vacant barrier island with nothing on it but sand and scrub and pine trees. One of my most vivid boyhood memories is waving a green-and-white "Save Sand Key" sign along with my family during a political demonstration in Clearwater.

Clearwater had the opportunity to purchase the entire key, yet didn't do it -- something about the purchase price being too high and economic uncertainties facing the city's budget, something about a beneficial increased tax base from new condos.

Fast-forward a few years to heated discussions in Dunedin about Florida pursuing the purchases of Caladesi and Honeymoon islands to protect them from the same kind of high-rise condominium development that quickly took root on Sand Key. I remember much opposition to that plan - something about the price being too high and economic uncertainties facing the state and local budgets.

I can imagine also the discussions that must have ensued when the Dunedin City Commission proposed its purchase of about 80 acres that would become our cherished Hammock Park -- probably something about the price being too high and economic uncertainties making for a tight budget.

Fast-forward a few more years. Have you ever heard anyone say that Dunedin or Florida overpaid for those parkland purchases and that Clearwater made the wise decision? Did economic calamity ensue because of responsible actions taken in Dunedin to buy the rare but expensive waterfront parks and green spaces that we now enjoy?

Fast-forward to the present. The kid who waved the "Save Sand Key" sign all those years ago now has two young children of his own and has come to truly appreciate the wisdom and the courage demonstrated by those city leaders of years gone by. They helped to preserve and protect for the public what open spaces and waterfront access they could, in the face of economic uncertainties and the pressures of their time.

Where would the money come from to purchase the acreage along Alt. U.S. 19 north of downtown? Fifty percent of the purchase price would come from a Florida Community Trust's Florida Forever grant. Twenty percent of the purchase price would be a donation to the city from the land seller, Dunedin resident J.C. Weaver.

The remaining 30 percent would come from revenues generated from the city's Land Dedication Ordinance, or LDO, fund. This is a fund composed of impact fees collected from condominium developers for the express purpose of funding new parkland purchases for the benefit of Dunedin's current and future residents. No property tax revenues would be used to fund the parkland purchase nor would any general fund reserves be used. LDO funds cannot be used for any other purpose than the acquisition of new city parkland.

We have a chance to secure more of the precious green space that makes Dunedin the special place it is to all of us who live here. We have a chance to keep one last small stretch of Florida waterfront pristine.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this important decision. E-mail me at bhackworth@dunedinfl.net or call me at 727 298-3006.

Bob Hackworth is mayor of Dunedin. Although the city has sent in its application for grant funding, the City Commission has not yet decided to purchase the property, for which owner J.C. Weaver is asking $18-million.