DUNEDIN — The City Commission has endorsed a creative deal to acquire the city's last undeveloped tract of mainland waterfront without spending tax money, a pivotal move that could lead to a new public park along St. Joseph Sound.
Situated near the Pinellas Trail overpass north of Curlew Road, the 2 acres of open grassland and 400 feet of shoreline known as the Bleakley property has for years been eyed by city officials hoping to establish it as a trail stop and kayak launch.
But owner Dale Bleakley's selling price of $1.5 million, offered at less than half the land's 2008 appraisal, was seen as too expensive for the city, which was strapped by falling tax revenue and stymied in its attempts to secure outside grants.
Negotiations among officials, Bleakley and local landowner Sallie Guthrie revealed a different route to ownership. After Bleakley offered to bump the price down to $1 million, closer to an updated land appraisal in November of $1,075,000, officials found they could cover the price tag and closing fees with about $775,000 from its Land Dedication Ordinance reserves, a non-tax account funded by residential developers' construction fees.
Guthrie would donate the remaining $250,000 (which includes closing fees and other costs) in exchange for the city handing over Spring Street — a small dead-end road, surrounded by her property, that she has asked to incorporate into a compound of homes and cottages for her family.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito, who unveiled the plan to the commission Thursday night, called it a "true win-win scenario," given it would not cost city taxpayers a cent. The city orchestrated a similar effort in 2008 by purchasing the $7 million Weaver property, about 6 acres of grass and shoreline on both sides of Bayshore Boulevard, using only Penny for Pinellas funds and state grants. That park's grand opening is scheduled for late January.
Parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi suggested the city could install walking trails, shelters, landscaping, a shell parking lot and a launch for kayaks and canoes past the mangroves into the Gulf of Mexico. "The overall setting is ideal for picnicking, exploring nature or just watching a beautiful Florida sunset," Gizzi wrote in a city memo last month.
The commission will decide on final approval for the purchase agreement and vacation of Spring Street on Dec. 16. Four of the five commissioners must vote in support to buy the land.
City parks and environmental committees, a neighborhood improvement group in nearby Ozona and about 180 residents at the Mediterranean Manors condos next to the land all sent letters supporting the deal. Two residents on Thursday suggested the LDO money, which recently paid for land near the city's Community Center, should go toward flattening the unbuilt mansion on Edgewater Drive, long criticized by neighbors as an eyesore. City Attorney John Hubbard suggested the money would yield more public benefit at the Bleakley greenspace.
Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 869-6244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.