ST. PETERSBURG — A big chunk of habitat for rare plants and animals within Boyd Hill Nature Preserve took a step toward permanent preservation status on Tuesday.
The city's Community Planning and Preservation Commission signed off on a land-use change to further protect an area of the city recently eyed by developers.
"We have here in the city a beautiful pocket of natural Old Florida. There's not much of it left," Boyd Hill preservationist Pat Lambert said at a public hearing held by the commission.
The commission unanimously recommended the change after hearing nothing but praise from a packed room of supporters for the plan to protect habitat supporting gopher tortoises, rare plants and butterflies in the south Pinellas preserve adjacent to Lake Maggiore.
Bob Carter, the commission's chairman, said community support and participation made the decision easy.
"A great plan, well-thought out," he said.
Tuesday's approval ended more than a decade of inaction on the land. A 2002 master plan for the area recommended that it be preserved, but no action. More recently, a proposal to build townhomes nearby alarmed residents and environmentalists.
"That raised the temperature quite a bit," said Ray Wunderlich III, who has been running on the property and enjoying it since the 1960s, when it was mostly a zoo.
Tampa developer Taylor Morrison wanted to build the townhomes on 8 acres of a golf course owned by the St. Petersburg Country Club, adjacent to the preserve. The company withdrew its plan as a result of neighborhood opposition and lack of city support.
But City Council members Steve Kornell, Darden Rice and Amy Foster asked staffers to figure out additional safeguards for Boyd Hill. That led to Tuesday's action, said Rick MacAulay, a city planner who presented the plan at the hearing.
Wunderlich praised Mayor Rick Kriseman for recognizing the importance of preserving one of the largest remaining tracts of wild land in the city. City staff told the commission members that they planned to protect even more land, including a former nursery not included in the current proposal.
The preservation plan now proceeds to City Council for final approval.
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