SEMINOLE — A developer will drop a proposal to build up to 170 homes on the Tides golf course, according to its attorney.
Taylor Morrison's decision to withdraw comes two days before the first of several hearings on the proposal. It comes four days after Pinellas staff members issued a report urging county commissioners to turn down the proposal because of environmental concerns and the adverse impact on the surrounding neighbors and the county at large of losing a large, undeveloped parcel.
"I have informed the county attorney's office that (the proposal by developer) Taylor Morrison will be withdrawn," said Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater lawyer who represents the developer.
Armstrong declined to comment further.
"Get out. Holy cow," said Dunedin attorney William Kimpton, who represents the Save the Tides group. "I'm stunned. You have completely stunned me."
Ed Methfessel, head of Save the Tides, said, "That's outstanding. I'm thrilled they respect the will of the county … and the voice of the people."
In the report, released late Friday, staff members conceded that Taylor Morrison's proposal meets requirements to not overburden the county's infrastructure in areas such as transportation and water supply. Meeting those requirements usually clears the way for approval. But staff members said that, in this case, the adverse impact on the neighborhood and the environment of losing that much open land far outweighs the benefits of developing the property.
"In a built-out county, it is difficult to compensate for such a sizeable loss should these lands be developed," the report says. "It is not clear that the specific gain offsets the loss of, and therefore, economic value of, an irreplaceable asset in the county's open space inventory."
The staff added, "There is one fundamental point that must be interjected into the scramble to find enough land for everybody — once open spaces and natural areas begin to get nibbled away, they will inevitably be lost, plain and simple, and they will not be coming back."
Staff members agreed that the final decision on the Tides could determine the way Pinellas will in the future look at proposals to develop large open spaces, especially privately owned recreation sites like golf courses. The report shows there are about 5,318 acres in Pinellas of privately owned recreation sites. Of that, the majority, or about 5,017 acres, are golf courses and country clubs. Those are spread out across the county from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and the East Lake area.
"The consequences of the (proposal) are considered to be long-lasting and far-reaching; the impact is local and it is regional," the report says. "The (proposal) in fact affects a local community, but also the larger open space of the county and a regional environmental system. The (decision) could be precedent-setting. ... This … is as much about the precedent as it is about the specifics."
It's unclear whether the withdrawal of the plan will have the same impact.
Kimpton said the county staff's concern about the loss of green space is a foreseeable outcome of development — for Pinellas and Florida.
"This is the first built-out county," Kimpton said. "This day of reckoning … had to come sooner or later. It's here now."
Kimpton said he and his clients had a strong case.
"The Tides golf course is like the poster child case to fight on," Kimpton said, referring to the longevity of the course, the environmental sensitivity and the quality of life issues.
The 18-hole, par-72 Tides Golf Club, 11832 66th Ave. N, opened in 1969. It is on about 150 acres with its south border on Boca Ciega Bay in the unincorporated Seminole area. Its western boundary abuts Boca Ciega Millennium Park. To the north and east, it is surrounded by single-family homes. Records from the Pinellas County property appraiser show it has an assessed value of about $1.85 million.
Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, foreclosed on the Tides in 2009. The case concluded in February 2012 with about $6.8 million owed on the mortgage, and other costs. The bank has continued to operate it as a golf course. The Tides Bar and Grill is also located on the property.
More recently, Arizona developer Taylor Morrison agreed to buy the property contingent on being able to redevelop it. The proposed development would take up about 96 acres — the remainder is an island or under water and cannot be developed — and would include up to 170 single- and multifamily homes and an 18-acre nature trail.
But from the moment the plan was submitted last May, there was a major outcry from nearby residents and environmental groups.
At least two local environmental groups, the Suncoast Sierra Club and the Clearwater Audubon Society, are officially opposing the development.
Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods collected petitions with thousands of signatures, including those from tourists who come to the county to play the course. They bombarded county staff and county commission with emails pointing out the loss to the community should the land be developed. They sent pictures of the wildlife on the property including bald eagles, turtles, river otters, roseate spoonbills and American wood storks. They also worried about the effect on the next-door park's ecosystem if the golf course was eliminated.
The group had vowed to bring 400-500 people to Thursday's Local Planning Agency meeting to oppose the proposal. The LPA is a nine-member board of community members appointed by the county commission. The LPA's job includes making recommendations to the commission about development proposals. The proposal was scheduled to go before the commission in late February.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.