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Dredging up a pool of dissent

As bird and fish sanctuaries go, the tide pool near Meres Boulevard is relatively modest.

It lies at the end of one of the man-made canals that come off the southern end of Whitcomb Bayou. It is shallow, perhaps 6 feet deep at its deepest spot at high tide. And it is ringed largely by nuisance plants such as Brazilian pepper trees.

But to the residents at the neighboring Marina at Tarpon Springs condominiums, it is pretty, full of life and worth preserving. They oppose a developer's plan to fill in the pool to create enough dry land for new stores at the northwest corner of Meres Boulevard and Alt. U.S. 19 N.

"We're opposed to this, because, you know, enough is enough," condo association president Carol Petropoulos said last week.

Belleair Development Group of Largo has a contract to buy the 5 acres at the corner from Helen C. Arfaras, Harriet G. Arfaras and Mary G. Fajardo, whose ownership of the property goes back to the late 1940s.

As proposed, the company would fill in the pool, which covers 0.99 of an acre, to create enough land for a 15,000-square-foot retail project. The area to be filled in measures about 225 by 192 feet and would be shored up by a seawall.

To compensate for that loss, the developer would dredge the banks of a canal immediately to the west of the tide pool, creating a new marsh. Each bank is now more than 100 yards long and is from 65 to 110 feet wide.

Currently, the canal's banks, like the land around the tide pool, are overgrown with Brazilian peppers, Australian pines and other nonnative plants. Those would be cut down, although a few islands of native trees would remain.

The banks themselves would be lowered several feet to the level of the canal. The resulting marsh and shallow open-water areas would cover about 1.5 acres and would be planted with plants such as cordgrass, knotgrass and needlerush.

"They told us it would be more like a park atmosphere," Petropoulos said. "Well, it's not the same. . . . There's no reason to even disturb the area."

Neither the city of Tarpon Springs nor Pinellas County environmental officials have objected to the plan.

"It adds diversity; that's something that we looked for when we looked at this," said David L. Walker Jr., environmental program manager for the county's department of environmental management. In addition, he said, the new marsh would include "a couple of little open water areas, which the birds like."

The Pinellas County Commission is scheduled to consider the application at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the fifth floor of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

Last week, however, the developer asked the county to postpone the discussion until Sept. 10 so the company could meet with opponents. The issue will remain on the agenda for commissioners, who will decide Tuesday whether to grant the continuance or consider it then.

Representatives of the company did not return calls for comment Thursday and Friday.

Condo owners, however, said they do not want to lose a spot where, at high tide, dolphins and manatees swim.

It doesn't matter that the site was once the location of a railroad yard nor that virtually the whole area was disturbed when the canal was dug in the 1950s or 1960s. What has grown up there since is dear to them.

"The habitat itself has become quite a pristine environment for the osprey, the white heron, the snowy ibis _ geez, they're all back there," said Bill "Tuna" O'Brien, 50, who lives in the condominiums.

"The problem is, we don't need more retail space at this end of town. They're going to destroy this land so that in two years we're going to have a strip center that's half-occupied."

_ Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or