Island to remain natural rookery

A group buys an island in Coffee Pot Bayou to save it from development.
Published Jan. 11, 2007|Updated Jan. 11, 2007

Environmentalists and residents who live near tiny Bird Island are relieved and ecstatic that a newly formed corporation bought the property to use as a nature preserve.

Bird Island LLC paid $60,000 in December to acquire the land from Island Development Co., according to Pinellas County records.

"This is just a benevolent effort to protect and preserve an important piece of St. Petersburg history," said Martin Rice, a lawyer for the limited liability corporation.

St. Petersburg's Holland family had owned the island for years and had granted Clearwater developer Chris Scherer an option to buy it. Although land use maps prohibited development of the island, the city received a drawing in August that showed four wooden solar-powered stilt houses on the property, each with a dock and space for two boats.

In putting together its comprehensive plan, the City Council gave the island preservation-land status in October.

"We are thrilled that Bird Island will now be kept in perpetuity for us, our children, our grandchildren and everyone beyond," said Barbara Heck, a St. Petersburg native and president of the Snell Isle Property Owners Association.

The 2.8-acre mangrove-filled island in Coffee Pot Bayou is between Snell Isle and the Historic Old Northeast neighborhoods.

Its sale, Heck said, was one of the highlights of the past year.

"We have a shoreline that is unprecedented in many of the states. All you have to do is sit on a public seawall or a public bench. There is no fee, and you can sit there as long as you want."

Heck listed numerous species including manatees, dolphins and various waterfowl that are visible from the waterfront.

"We were so concerned when we thought it might possibly be developed," she said of Bird Island. "I really appreciate somebody taking the time to spend the money. It ended up being a huge win for everyone, but the biggest one is for the city and its inhabitants, forever and forever."

Bird Island, also known as Coffee Pot Island and the Coffee Pot bird colony, is home to about 500 breeding pairs of birds. The Audubon Society's 2006 count noted 482 breeding pairs, including 13 species.

Six - roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, tricolored herons, little blue herons, snowy egrets and brown pelicans - are listed as species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist, called it "probably the most unique colonial nesting island in the state of Florida, this little teeny-tiny parcel right in the midst of a heavily urbanized area."

"It's just stunning when you look at the size of that place. This was really on a lot of people's minds."

Although city officials have urged some protection in the land use plan that is going forward, the island doesn't have the designation yet, she said.

"With our generous and wonderful new owner, whom I call St. Pete's Santa Claus, they took care of the worry of anything possibly happening to the island,'' she said. "All of a sudden the clouds cleared, the sun came out and the sky opened up.''