SEMINOLE — More than four years after successfully waging a battle against a developer who would have converted 96 acres of open green space into a housing development, a group of residents once again are on guard — and preparing to mobilize for another fight.
Members of Save the Tides, a coalition of homeowners who live in the neighborhood surrounding the 18-hole Tides Golf Club at 11832 66th Ave. N, became alarmed when Tides management recently posted a notice that the club was closing at the end of June.
The posting blamed the closure on residual damage from Hurricane Irma that resulted in decreased golfing activity, noting that "a golf course at this location is not a viable business."
Ron Stephens, whose home abuts the course, disputes the claim and suspects a darker motive.
"This is about a developer coming in from another county, one who could care less about our open green space," Stephens said. "All they want to do is put money in their pocket, and they don't care how they do it."
Stephens cites a 2014 effort by a previous owner of the property to lobby the Pinellas County Commission for a land use change as cause for the group's concern. Arizona-based developer Taylor Morrison wanted to build 170 homes on the property bordering Boca Ciega Bay to the south and Boca Ciega Millennium Park to the west.
The developer dropped the proposal amid backlash from Save the Tides, whose members collected thousands of signatures for a petition and bombarded county staff with emails.
The group insisted the development would devastate wildlife, including bald eagles, roseate spoonbills and American wood storks, and run counter to the county's comprehensive plan to protect what little green space is left in Florida's most densely populated county.
Current owner TTGC LLC, a Tampa-based development company that paid $3.85 million for the property in 2016, has not approached county commissioners for a land use change. But Save the Tides members say they need to be prepared for a worst-case scenario, which they believe is inevitable.
"The last developer moved very quickly," Stephens said. "We think this one is trying to do the same thing."
County Commissioner Janet Long said the group's plans to mobilize may be premature.
"There has not been one ripple of inquiry in county government," she said. "Everyone who's involved in permitting and land use and zoning changes has been put on alert to notify commissioners if anything comes in. But, right now, it's much ado about nothing because nothing has happened."
Long added that while the county has a vested interest in protecting the environment, that interest must be weighed against the interests of property owners.
"Should anyone come in and want to get a land use change or develop a property, they do have a right to do that," she said.
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Save the Tides president Ed Methfessel disagrees.
"The new owners knew how the land was zoned when they bought it," he said. "I'm not sympathetic to them at all."
He added: "This clearly comes down to the community versus the developer from across the bridge."
Methfessel, an avid golfer, said it's important for the public to know that Save the Tides is fighting for more than the golf course.
"People may think we're being selfish, that we just don't want to lose our view," he said. "But the reality is that if you lose it, you can't go backward. It will be destroyed for future generations."
Tides Golf Club manager Keith Bradshaw declined to elaborate on the closing but said the property owners likely will issue a statement. The owners did not return a call for comment.
For now, padlocked chains bar the club's two entrances. The parking lot is empty. A banner on the website reads, "Unfortunately, the club is closed."
But the Save the Tides engine is revving up.
"It was a loud battle cry a few years ago," Methfessel said. "It will be so again going forward."