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Yacht Club Estates a well-kept secret on Boca Ciega Bay

ST. PETERSBURG

Sixty years ago developers were doing things they could never do today.

Like dredging and filling waterways in the Tampa Bay area to make fingerlike developments: waterfront property for all.

Yacht Club Estates, on the far west side of St. Petersburg near the bridge to Treasure Island, is one of these communities. Nearly all of its 300-some properties are on Boca Ciega Bay.

After it and others like it were built in the 1950s, environmentalists convinced lawmakers that rearranging the land under waterways is not good for the environment. In 1972, the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve Act was created, putting an end to the wholesale dredging and filling that created those communities.

In 1960, you could get a house in Yacht Club Estates for $22,000 or an empty lot for $4,900. Sounds like a great deal, but at the time, according to the Census Bureau, the median price of a house in Florida was $11,800, making these Yacht Club Estates houses twice as much as houses elsewhere.

The neighborhood is upscale, but don't expect McMansions. The houses are all different, like the development itself. There is only one way in and one way out of the development: over a single bridge from South Causeway Isle.

"Crime won't want to come in here," said Jason Maniecki, an agent with the Maniecki Pro Team of Keller-Williams Realty. "There's only one way out."

There are many longtime residents in the community. Some are the original homeowners. Others, after having families of their own, have returned to the place where they grew up.

Landscape designer Jim Fine is one of those who has come back home. He has lived in Yacht Club Estates, first as a child and now as an adult, for 44 years.

"It's hard to beat this neighborhood. It's one of the safest and quietest around," Fine said.

Phyllis Eig is an original homeowner. She bought her house on Ninth Avenue S in 1964 when the rest of the "fingers" were nothing but dirt and she could see across the bay to the Bilmar resort on the gulf. She lives on the water but isn't afraid of hurricanes.

"In all these years, I've only evacuated twice, and this area never got hit. In fact, the water has never even come over the seawall," Eig said.

The Babboni family, Michael and Julie and children Kara, 15, and Enzo, 7, live in one of the most unusual and striking waterfront houses in the neighborhood. Michael Babboni, a lawyer, bought the house, then about 2,500 square feet, in 1993. Ten years and a growing family later, he added 1,100 square feet.

Yacht Club Estates has an active homeowners association that has holiday open houses and memorable Halloween parties for the kids.

"It's just a nice neighborhood filled with nice, down-to-earth people," said Denise Reilly, a resident and agent with Prudential Tropical Realty.

"I've been here since the '90s. I looked around for a long time before finding this well-kept secret tucked way back in there."

Patti Ewald can be reached at pattiewald@gulfcoastwriter.com.

Family profile

Michael and Julie Babboni, daughter Kara, 15, son Enzo, 7, and their dogs, Clemson and Chloe.

Their home today: 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, 3,675 square feet.

When they bought: 1993.

Current value (from Zillow.com): $582,200.

Unusual features: When they later remodeled, they turned the old living room into a media room with a wall-sized TV and theater seating.

Why they love it: They do a lot of water sports. Michael likes the convenient location, and Julie likes the friendly neighborhood that has a lot of activities throughout the year for the kids.

Yacht Club Estates a well-kept secret on Boca Ciega Bay 06/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 5:31am]

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