Tranquil bayou weathers its bumps
Housing prices have soared since Placido Bayou survived preservationist protests and a default in the 1980s.
By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Near the gated entrance to Placido Bayou are homes that face a lake, where children can chase butterflies and water creatures. The majority of homes are single-family and owned by young families.
A uniformed guard sits in a small building at the end of 47th Avenue NE. Visitors must pass by him and then through an electronic gate to enter the neighborhood known as Placido Bayou.
It is one of the few gated, deed-restricted communities in St. Petersburg city limits, and those who live there say they cherish the privacy and sense of security it offers.
Its name is taken from the Italian word meaning tranquil, and for centuries Placido Bayou, the protected body of water that laps the shores of northeastern St. Petersburg, was a peaceful habitat for marine life and host to natural areas of mangroves, pines, oaks and wildlife that grew up on its sandy beaches. Residential development in the area, nestled between Shore Acres and Snell Isle, was slow and spotty.
That changed in the early 1980s when three businessmen unveiled plans to develop the last major tract of privately owned waterfront land in St. Petersburg.
Robert Crisp, whose family had developed residential and commercial projects since the 1920s, partnered with home builder Lloyd Williams and businessman John Kearney to develop 300 acres owned by the Crisp family. They named it Placido Bayou. Response to the high-density plan was anything but placid.
Preservationists protested, plans were modified and a splashy grand opening in September 1984 touted "The Neighborhood of the Century." Offered were four kinds of housing, from multifamily to single-family dwellings, priced from about $50,000 to $114,000.
When the partnership defaulted on bank loans, developer Walter Larson bought the unfinished development for $13.5-million in April 1986.
Now, 15 years later, Placido Bayou is an upscale neighborhood of 636 "doors" opening onto a variety of housing. The majority are single-family houses, said Jeff Larson, vice president of his father's company, Larson Communities, "and three-quarters of the people who live here are young families," he said.
"It's a fantastic place to raise kids," said Steven Coates, president of the Placido Bayou Community Association, which oversees 11 neighborhood associations within the community.
Coates, an insurance executive, moved to Placido Bayou with his wife and two young children seven years ago. He said they rarely venture outside the northeast quadrant.
"You can find almost everything here," he said.
Bill and Gwen Clark moved into a house there 11 years ago after he retired from a career in the Air Force.
"We like the idea of a gated community. It's very quiet," Mrs. Clark said. "And we like the idea of restrictions, having our lawns done and our houses taken care of."
Occasionally residents chafe under those restrictions, such as an incident in 1996 when the neighborhood association cracked down on portable basketball hoops, suing one homeowner who refused to remove his hoop from the street.
But Larson said those incidents are rare.
"Restrictions are not a big deal," he said. "Things like overnight parking in the street. Additions or changes to the exterior must be reviewed by the neighborhood association."
The fragile relationship between development and conservation in Placido Bayou became a public debate in 1991 when Walter Larson sought permission to build walkways and docks along protected mangrove areas. He abandoned the idea in 1995 after the City Council voted against it.
Like most property in the northeastern part of St. Petersburg, values remain strong. Figures supplied by Lambrecht and Associates Realtors show listings for resales of Placido Bayou houses ranging from $110,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium to almost $700,000 for a four-bedroom, three-bath house.
The Larsons are building houses on the last two available lots in Placido Bayou and "they will be priced in the high $600,000s," Larson said.
Communities of St. Petersburg