CLEARWATER — In the densely populated landscape along U.S. 19 in north Pinellas County, Lake Chautauqua Park is a 45-acre oasis of nature and serenity.
Today the city will likely spend $3.6-million to buy another 27 acres of woodland to add onto this park.
Clearwater has been on a bit of a spending spree recently, buying the historic Royalty Theatre downtown as well as the clubhouse at the Clearwater Country Club.
However, city officials say a state grant will pay for 40 percent of this land purchase, and the rest of the money will come from a portion of city impact fees that have been set aside for the preservation of green space. Those fees are paid to the city whenever someone develops or redevelops a property.
"This is money that cannot be used for anything else," said Kevin Dunbar, the city's director of parks and recreation. "Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in the state, and Clearwater is the most densely populated city in the county. So these things are important."
The City Council is to vote on the purchase at its meeting tonight. Council members will likely approve it because they have already accepted a $1.47-million state land-acquisition grant for this purpose.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said he's okay with the purchase, as long as it won't make the park more costly to operate.
City staffers say it won't. With the additional land, they intend to carve out some horseback riding trails south of the existing park, opening up more of this isolated, wooded area to the public.
Lake Chautauqua is south of Enterprise Road and between U.S. 19 and McMullen-Booth Road. The existing park, on the lake's eastern shore, features a fishing pier, picnic tables and biking and walking trails, all accessible by a paved road leading through woods. Although it officially opened nine years ago, it had been used informally as a park for years before that.
The land that Clearwater intends to buy is south of the park and east of Camp Soule, a Boy Scout camp along the lake shore that has been in use for decades.
The property in question is currently owned by the Pinellas County School District.
Originally, the city and the schools were planning to swap parcels of land. Clearwater was going to get these 27 acres in exchange for handing over 20 acres off State Road 580 near McMullen-Booth where the district was going to put a school bus maintenance compound. But the district killed off that controversial project, so Clearwater is buying its land outright.
As for Camp Soule, the Boy Scouts rejected an offer from the city to buy the camp in 1999. Under that deal, the Scouts would have kept managing the camp, but the public would have been allowed access to it.
Dunbar said the city just wants to make sure the Boy Scout camp is never sold to a developer: "We have let them know that if they were ever going to sell, we would hope they would come to us first."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.