LARGO — The fight to save the Bardmoor golf course gained scores of volunteers Thursday night as speakers at a rally warned that much of Pinellas County's recreational green space faces the threat of development.
"All they want to do is pave over Pinellas and ride (away) with their immoral profits,'' Bardmoor resident Jeff Harring said of developers who see the county's golf courses as "the plum to be picked.''
Connecticut-based Wheelock Communities and Gentry Land of St. Cloud revealed last month they are under contract to buy the Bardmoor Golf & Tennis Club and redevelop the 150-acre course. Preliminary plans call for multi-family housing, a Village Center, a hotel and other "commercial options.''
At the same time Thursday that the developers were displaying renderings of their proposal at a nearby church, several hundred Bardmoor residents and supporters turned out for the "Save the Bardmoor'' rally at Finley's Irish Pub & Eatery. The crowd was so large — rivaling that on a St. Patrick's Day — that cars filled the parking lot of the strip shopping center on Belcher Road and much of a grassy field behind it.
Among those who came was Cathy Sanborn, who doesn't live in the Bardmoor community but has played on the course for 14 years.
"It's very much a beloved course that the public can get on,'' she said. "There's so much wildlife there — eagles, otters, a gorgeous coyote.''
Residents waited in long lines to volunteer for whatever they can do to block the course's redevelopment, which they fear would drastically lower their property values, cause more traffic congestion and eliminate much of the green space.
"I've lived 22 years in that house and bought it because of the golf course environment,'' said Judi Martin, who signed up along with her husband. "It's peaceful, it's a very nice neighborhood and I would hate to see it broken up.''
Matthew Sullivan, a real estate lawyer and Bardmoor resident, urged those in the crowd to contact county officials before Wheelock and Gentry apply for rezoning.
"This is going to be a political challenge,'' he said. "The No. 1 thing (the developers) are trying to do is measure how much opposition there is going to be. The big message is, get in touch with your county commissioners. Explain that this is the last thing you want. If the developers come to understand the difficulties, they'll go away. Now is the time to act.''
Residents already have started a "Save Bardmoor'' Facebok page with links to commissioners. Joining forces with them are members of other Pinellas golf courses, including the nearby Bayou Club and the Tides in Seminole, which closed last year.
"There are 7,000 acres of recreational space left in Pinellas, and most of it is golf courses,'' said Harring, a senior vice president at Raymond James. "We're going to organize all the golf courses in Pinellas County, all the green space in Pinellas County and protect Pinellas County.''
Kyle Parks, whose B2communications represents Wheelock and Gentry, said about 70 people attended Thursday's "information session'' at the church, far fewer than the largely hostile group at a similar meeting a few weeks ago. Parks said there also have been "productive'' meetings with smaller groups of residents.
"Certainly, a number of people will not be happy if the golf course is not there anymore, but we are hearing from many people that if the golf course goes away, there are a number of elements in the new plan they think would be appealing and they like the idea of having access to trails that they do not have currently,'' Parks said.
But at the rally, Harring told fellow Bardmoor homeowners that in any conversations they have with the developers, they should ask:
"How much are you going to compensate me for the damage to my (property) value? The answer you get will be silence.''
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.