"Many times in Florida and sometimes throughout the country, we use Dunedin as the poster child for what trails, parks and open spaces can do for a community. Literally, this community has been transformed."
— Greg Chelius, Florida director, the Trust for Public Land
Dunedin is going to save an open 5-acre swath of its waterfront known as "the Weaver property" from development and — surprise! — may get an unexpected opportunity to own and preserve another piece of waterfront property on the north end of the city.
It is exciting to see a community so revved up about land preservation. After the City Commission voted unanimously Thursday to execute the documents required for the Weaver land purchase, commissioners and residents in the meeting room applauded themselves and broke into big smiles.
The icing on the cake was an announcement at the same meeting that the owners of 2.3 acres of undeveloped waterfront just north of Mediterranean Manors on Alt. U.S. 19 may be interested in selling their property to the city. The land, which Commissioner Deborah Kynes described as "beautiful," could be used for a canoe/kayak launch and picnicking.
For years Dunedin has been known as a city that has created a successful, walkable downtown centered around the amenity of the Pinellas Trail, which cuts through the city. In the future, the city also may be known as a place that, like St. Petersburg to the south, had the foresight to preserve beautiful portions of its waterfront and convert them to parkland.
One of the most scenic drives in the county is along Bayshore Boulevard in Dunedin, where a linear park with a great view of the Intracoastal Waterway and Caladesi Island attracts walkers and sunset watchers. With the purchase of the Weaver land on both sides of Bayshore Boulevard north of Main Street, the public will enjoy more waterfront access in perpetuity. Then there is the Dunedin Causeway, and beyond that, the new possibility of another waterfront park immediately north of Mediterranean Manors, where the Pinellas Trail crosses over Alt. U.S. 19.
When the city first began exploring the Weaver land purchase, Mayor Bob Hackworth, whose idea it was, could look behind him and see few followers. Not only were there few who shared his vision of that property as parkland, but he took heat from some residents who said Dunedin already had enough parks.
Fortunately, Hackworth's enthusiasm didn't flag, and the Trust for Public Land, the Florida Communities Trust, the county and local businesses were recruited by Hackworth and City Manager Rob DiSpirito to partner with the city.
The Weaver property will cost $7-million, but the city will not have to pay it. The Florida Communities Trust awarded the city a grant to cover 50 percent of the cost, and Pinellas County will provide matching funds.
Pinellas County's budget for buying land, especially land that provides waterfront access to the public, may be the gift that keeps on giving to Dunedin. Pinellas is considering providing the funds to buy the land north of Mediterranean Manors.
That property, which is owned by a Tarpon Springs family, is zoned for residential development, but the owners have previously considered asking for a change to mixed-use commercial zoning. In public ownership, the land would be left as open space. The current asking price is $1.5-million — down from $2.8-million in 2005.
On Thursday city commissioners gave the city staff permission to get an appraisal and gather more information about the parcel, which has 400 feet of waterfront. DiSpirito said the property could be land banked, if necessary, until money was available to provide parking and the canoe launch. Beyond that, the city might want to create a tie-in to the Pinellas Trail on the north edge of the parcel and perhaps erect a picnic shelter, DiSpirito said.
"This is a second gift coming to us" from the county, said Commissioner Dave Eggers, adding that the property would provide a nice northern gateway to the city.
Commissioners were so eager to give the city staff permission to look deeper at the property that they talked over each other in making the motion.
So much is possible when people with ideas and enthusiasm work together.