ST. PETERSBURG — First it was the Friends of Boyd Hill. Now some Lakewood Estates residents have come out against the 115 townhomes proposed for a swath of land near the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
About 60 Lakewood homeowners attended a recent meeting with officials from St. Petersburg Country Club, which owns the land, and the homebuilder who hopes to buy it and build the townhome project. They took many heated questions and complaints for more than 90 minutes.
Residents are worried about traffic, property values, ruined views, maintenance, a lack of demand for the new and existing homes and the impact on Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
The plan calls for the townhouses to go on 8 acres along the first three holes of the golf course facing the nature preserve.
Josh Gregoire bought his house on Fairway Avenue a year ago because it looked over the golf course to the preserve.
"I paid for that view. Now I'm going to have to look at the backs of these houses. I'm not going to benefit from this," he said.
Longtime resident Paul Lambert doesn't live adjacent to the proposed homes, but he is worried about living near a construction zone.
"Isn't our view going to be degraded? I'm going to see this mess coming down the road for five to six years. I don't see how that's going to improve our property values, or our view or the environment," he said.
St. Petersburg Country Club president Mike Kiernan started the meeting by saying the club didn't want to sell land but needed to for financial reasons.
When he signed on as president three years ago, he said, he learned the club wasn't able to meet payroll for its 65 full- and part-time employees. It's also behind on property tax payments. Restructuring debt with its banks and hiring a golf club management company has helped, he said.
"The short-term situation has stabilized. But we've got a ton of capital improvements we need to take care of, starting with the roof," Kiernan said. "We don't see any alternative to" selling land.
Several residents voiced understanding that if the club goes downhill it will impact them much worse than the townhomes would. Others said they understand this development needs to happen but wondered why the developer, Taylor Morrison, couldn't build fewer, bigger single family homes or at least have the townhouses face existing homes.
Devin Rushnell, a Taylor Morrison vice president, said the lots are too shallow to build larger homes priced at $400,000 or more. The proposed homes would be around 1,800 square feet and start at $200,000
"I believe we'll start at that base and go up. Our company is betting millions of dollars this is going to be successful," he said. He assured residents there is strong demand for new homes on a golf course in Pinellas County, which has so little vacant land.
The townhouses would be governed by a homeowners association that would collect dues for landscaping and all other exterior upkeep, he added.
The club board will have input on what the homes look like, Kiernan said.
"We don't have any plans to go anywhere. Whatever happens here we have to live with it, too," he said.
"Do the residents get to decide what they want to look at?" asked Celeste Nesbitt, 44, who has lived in Lakewood Estates since she was a child. Her home will face the back of the townhomes. "I'm getting the feeling the residents can like it or lump it."
At an earlier meeting with the Friends of Boyd Hill, the group unanimously voted against the development. Environmental consultant George Heinrich said the increased traffic and noise will hurt three already vulnerable inhabitants of the preserve: the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake and fox squirrel.
Before any construction can happen, the city must vacate a right of way it controls for a road that was never built. Rushnell estimated City Council would vote on that in November.
Kiernan stressed the club and developer will do all they can to minimize impact on nature's residents and Lakewood Estates homeowners. There will be more meetings to gather input.
"We simply have no choice but to do this," he said. "This will help us sustain our long-term needs."