Dunedin has eye on land for park; will county foot the bill?

For $1.5-million, this 2.3-acre waterfront parcel near Mediterranean Manors could become a park in Dunedin.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

For $1.5-million, this 2.3-acre waterfront parcel near Mediterranean Manors could become a park in Dunedin.

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County paid for half of the recent purchase of the J.C. Weaver property on Bayshore Boulevard for a city park.

Now Dunedin officials have their eyes on another waterfront property at the northern entrance to the city and they hope the county will foot the entire bill this time.

The 2.3 acres of undeveloped land is just north of the Mediterranean Manors condominiums on Alt. U.S. 19. A Pinellas Trail overpass crosses the road just to the east of the lot.

Dunedin officials say the grassy site with a view of St. Joseph Sound would be an ideal place to throw a ball or a Frisbee or just relax and watch the birds and boats go by.

The city would connect the park to the nearby trail and might add low-key amenities like a canoe and kayak launch, benches, a water fountain and a bit more parking. At the shore, it has a nearly new seawall and mangroves.

"We'd try to keep it as natural as possible," said Vince Gizzi, Dunedin parks and recreation director, at the site in October.

Dunedin Commissioner Julie Scales has talked with Mediterranean Manors residents about the park idea and they support it.

"Not everything has to be built on," Scales said, adding that one of the major concerns in the city visioning process several years ago was to have open space. "It's just nice to have this open expanse."

City Manager Rob DiSpirito hopes the city can jump on the purchase.

"Increasingly in Florida, it's just hard to find big expanses of public land where you can just come out and do whatever you want," DiSpirito said.

When DiSpirito called to thank former County Administrator Fred Marquis for the county's financial support on the Weaver property a few months ago, he said Marquis asked, "How would you like to do it again?"

Marquis, who retired after 22 years as the county administrator in 2000 but returned last year for an interim stint in the job, has long been an advocate and an agent for preserving lands for the public. Marquis told him about the property, DiSpirito said, mentioning that the county still had land acquisition funds and that he would advocate for the city.

But Marquis may have left the county administrator position a little too soon for Dunedin.

There's a new county administrator and two new county commissioners. In November, Robert LaSala took over as administrator and Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield were elected to the commission as fiscal conservatives.

DiSpirito said the item hasn't made it to the agenda of County Commission meetings as quickly as he thought it would and he is starting to worry. He said the city doesn't have the money to buy it.

"The price is just outstanding at a million and a half," he said. "It's less than the appraised price."

Last year, the asking price was $2.8-million.

According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Web site, the lot is owned by Dale and Donna Bleakley of Tarpon Springs, who bought it for $616,000 in 2000. According to an official in the office, the 100 percent value that the appraiser based 2008 taxes on is $713,480.

Mike Nahat, a county real estate coordinator, said he thinks the $1.5-million asking price is too high. And connecting the property to the Pinellas Trail could be expensive, he said, though Dunedin would pay for that.

DiSpirito said price negotiations are underway and the city can work through any other issues, as they did for the Weaver property. He already has patrons to cover park maintenance at both sites for a few years.

The city manager will have a get-acquainted meeting with LaSala today and the land topic likely will come up.

"We'll see, ultimately, what the county wants to do," DiSpirito said.

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin has eye on land for park; will county foot the bill? 12/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:33pm]

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