CLEARWATER —Voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a referendum to lease most of the 77-acre city-owned Landings Golf Club for a developer to build a light industrial complex.
Residents defeated the referendum with about 61 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results form Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
Development group Harrod Properties had proposed building industrial manufacturing on 57 acres of the golf course off Keene Road with 8 acres of parkland and a 12-acre driving range.
City staff estimated the project would have generated $9.7 million in net benefits over 10 years between the lease and utility revenues, and taxes and fees, minus the cost of government services. The current golf course operator pays the city $12,000 a year in rent.
Staff also estimated the complex would have produced 1,700 direct and 1,581 spin-off jobs at an average salary of $47,076.
But residents rallied en force against the potential loss of greenspace in the state’s most densely populated county. A grassroots group called Keep Keene Green sprouted to post signs around the city, knock on doors and spread the word on social media for residents to vote “no."
“The people of Clearwater have spoken and have a bigger vision for what we should become. We look forward to having an open discourse of what can be done with the Landings,” said Keep Keene Green founder Beth Davis. “It’s great to see neighborhoods all over Clearwater coming together for what we can be.”
Opponents to the referendum also included the League of Women Voters, Suncoast Sierra Club, Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition and the Clearwater Environmental Advisory Board. The referendum was backed by a political committee chaired by the developer, which received $30,000 in contributions, all from Harrod Properties.
“While we certainly were hoping for a different outcome, the result doesn’t change the fact that there is a continued need in Clearwater for new Class A light industrial and office," said Rob Webster of Harrod Properties. "As a local leader in the field, we plan to continue working to find opportunities to bring stable high-wage jobs and diverse revenue streams to Clearwater and to Pinellas County.”
With industrial now out, city officials have still not guaranteed the property will remain a golf course.
The state is requiring the property convert from a groundwater system to reclaimed water in order to continue as a golf course. Its current operator, Nick Huston, said his business could not support that cost.
Huston’s lease for operating the golf course expires in 2029, but council members have said they’d entertain an early termination if the family requests it.
The charter requires the lease of city-owned open space for a different use to be approved by voters. But no referendum would be required for the city to go through rezoning if a new use were to remain in city hands.
The city does not, however, have an immediate Plan B, according to city manager Bill Horne. Any alternative use would have to be approved by the city council.
Some, like city council member Kathleen Beckman, support converting the property into a nature park. But city officials have balked at the cost of maintaining another park.
Denise Sanderson, the city’s economic development and housing director, said city staff considered affordable housing, but a residential development would be complicated. There’s land on the property’s north side that was used as an unofficial garbage dump 50 years ago. In addition, pesticides have built up from years of golf use. Those two conditions, Sanderson said, would require extensive remediation for residential use.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton said he supports expanding the adjacent Clearwater Airpark into the Landings property, which would provide revenue to the city.
But others, like Clearwater environmentalist Elizabeth Drayer, are urging the city to convert the Landings into a preserve and plant native vegetation to revert it to its natural state.
“We need to change the widespread assumption that every acre of land must be put to human use, which has led our killing off two thirds of the world’s wildlife in the last fifty years,” Drayer told the Tampa Bay Times last month. “Without a sea change in our treatment of natural resources, including zero population growth, the future for our planet is bleak.”
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