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    County to buy 35 acres for park

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001


    One of Pinellas County's largest undeveloped gulf-front properties will remain just that: undeveloped.

    County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to pay Daniel G. McMullen Jr. $6.975-million to purchase his 35-acre property in Palm Harbor to add to Wall Springs Park.

    The money will come from the Penny for Pinellas endangered land acquisition program. Because of a lack of oversight on previous projects, county officials overspent Penny for Pinellas funds by $123-million in the first 10 years and have had to cut some Penny-funded projects planned between now and 2010. But the acquisition of the McMullen tract will not be affected by that squeeze.

    That's because the county had earmarked $5.5-million from the fund for the McMullen property this year, said Carl Barron, the county's director of general services. The county will buy the property in two phases, so that $5.5-million will be spent May 31 for the bulk of the McMullen property, while the remainder will be purchased in October using funds from the land acquisition allotment for next year.

    "This is truly an incredible piece of property," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "It's just beautiful. It is a great addition to Wall Springs Park and our inventory of land."

    The property has been on the county's wish list for more than 25 years, but McMullen only became interested in selling it about a year ago, Barron said.

    "I'm glad to see this come to fruition," said Commissioner Bob Stewart.

    Although the 35-acre McMullen property is not directly adjacent to Wall Springs Park, the two properties will be connected by a permanent easement, enough for a trail, Barron said.

    The initial phase of development of Wall Springs Park began just after the start of the year. The first phase includes a parking lot, restrooms, some picnic tables and a large concrete kiosk announcing the park's entrance. That work is expected to be completed this summer, and county park officials hope to open it to the public soon afterward.

    The first phase includes construction of two entrances to the park, one for vehicles from Brevard Street, and another for pedestrian and bike traffic from the Pinellas Trail.

    The second phase of park development, which includes a residence for a park employee and a maintenance area, may begin by the end of the year. Future phases of development, which will be spread over several years, are to include nature trails, picnic shelters, a fishing pier and an observation tower providing a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico.

    Commissioners put off any discussion of how the 35-acre McMullen property may be developed.

    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.

    Consequently, Latvala said, the best the county can hope for is to keep that land on its long-term wish list in case the development does not take place.

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

    Recent coverage

    Owner holds cards in deal for gulf land (May 21, 2000)

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