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County may preserve popular private beach

Negotiations are under way for 13 acres of privately-owned land on Tampa Bay.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000

OLDSMAR -- A secluded sliver of beach on Old Tampa Bay has been a popular hangout here for years.

Shaded by tall trees and mangroves, the strip on the west side of Shore Drive is a great find for locals. There's just one problem.

It is privately owned. Technically, anyone who hangs out at the tiny beach is trespassing.

But that may change.

Pinellas County and Oldsmar have joined forces to purchase the beach area near the tip of the Mobbly Bay peninsula as well as property to the east of the beach. The county is negotiating with the owners of the 13 acres of uplands and wetlands and the city is applying for a state grant to help pay for the land.

"We made the owners an offer that they are considering," said David DelMonte, the county's real estate management coordinator. "It is sometimes a lengthy negotiation."

DelMonte declined to say how much the county is offering for the land. City officials do plan to apply for a state Preservation 2000 grant of about $500,000 to cover some of the cost. The county and city would split the rest.

Plans call for the property, which is just outside the city limits, to be added to land set aside for the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, said Nick Staszko, Oldsmar's community development director.

The city combined 77 acres it recently purchased with an adjacent 125 acres already under city control to create the wilderness preserve. Plans call for boardwalk trails, a canoe launch and an environmental education center.

The 13 acres could be used as a southern entrance to the wilderness preserve, said Melodee Dinwiddie, the city's grants coordinator. The city also is discussing moving Shore Drive to the east in order to expand the beach area.

"We can do a lot with that area," said City Council member Ed Manny. "It's a very popular spot. Jet Skis, drinking, fireworks. They just do everything down there. We would be able to control it better if we owned it."

DelMonte said the county and city still need to iron out the roles each would play. The county would probably manage the preservation area of the preserve and the city would manage the recreation area.

"The county wants to focus on taking care of the preservation area because we have an environmental department that focuses on that and they have the expertise," DelMonte said.

The 13-acre property, which is owned by a family trust, has more than 900 feet of waterfront and is zoned for low-density housing. According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's office, the property is appraised for tax purposes at about $286,000, but that figure is typically lower than market value.

Mary Holmes, one of the members of the trust, said family members have spoken with the county, but talks have cooled off since then.

"For the moment, nothing seems to be happening," Holmes said. "It's just kind of gotten cold."

More than a year ago, Holmes erected For Sale signs on her property. Because the signs were visible from Shore Drive, nearby residents worried that the land would be sold to a developer.

Residents collected 250 signatures on a petition urging the preservation of the land.

"All of us would prefer that the area becomes a park," Manny said. "We definitely don't need another development there."

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