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    Pristine acres in county’s reach

    Commissioners will decide on the purchase of a coastal tract long owned by the McMullens and long coveted for a park.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


    PALM HARBOR -- After decades of coveting his gulf-front property, Pinellas County officials will have an opportunity today to purchase 35 acres from Daniel G. McMullen Jr. to add to Wall Springs Park.

    The nearly pristine land is the largest tract of undeveloped coastal property still available in Pinellas County. It has been on the county's wish list since the 1970s, and negotiations have been steady for six months. County real estate officials and McMullen recently settled on a sales price of $6.975-million.

    That is a little less than the average of two independent appraisals, and less than McMullen has been offered from private developers, said his attorney James A. Helinger Jr. But McMullen, of the famous Pinellas County pioneer family, told Helinger he preferred to see the property preserved for the public to enjoy.

    "Dan would rather see it go to the county," Helinger said. "That way, it's a park forever."

    County leaders have had their eye not only on the 35 acres owned by Dan McMullen, but also on an adjacent 85 acres to the north and east owned by the McMullen family. But that 85 acres is now under an agreement of sale to a private developer, said Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers.

    "We've had discussions off and on with the McMullens forever," said Carl Barron, director of general services for the county.

    Helinger said the county would still get the best of the 120-acre McMullen tract.

    "This piece really is the jelly of the doughnut," Helinger said.

    McMullen's property, marked on some maps as Danenman Point, is immediately north of the Wai Lani Girl Scout Camp and would be connected to the as-yet-unopened Wall Springs Park by a permanent easement.

    In a memo recommending the purchase to the county commissioners, interim county Administrator Gay Lancaster said the land has been a high priority for the county as part of its Penny for Pinellas endangered lands acquisition program.

    "It contains environmental features that are extremely rare in the county's urban built-out condition," Lancaster wrote.

    The property is nearly pristine and ecologically diverse, Stowers said, with tidal influence, marshland, sand pine ridges and sand dunes. The plan is to manage the property as a preserve with walking trails.

    "The fish and wildlife in there are unbelieveable," Helinger said.

    If approved by commissioners, the purchase would take place in two phases, with the largest portion purchased May 31 and a smaller portion, which contains McMullen's home, purchased in October.

    McMullen had once hoped to structure the sale so that he could live in his house until he died, but "that just doesn't work," Helinger said.

    McMullen could not be reached for comment, but Helinger said McMullen decided that while he could probably get a little more for the property, the allure of having the land preserved as a park closed the deal.

    "He said, "Look, I'll be comfortable and my heirs will be comfortable. You know, not everything is about getting the best dollar,' " Helinger said.

    Helinger is convinced the purchase is also a good deal for county residents.

    "We have so little land left in Pinellas, especially on the water," Helinger said. "I'm so glad the county is getting it while it can. I can't think of a more important piece of land they could buy in Pinellas County. I hope it finally comes to fruition."

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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