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Neighbors, environmentalists applaud deal to buy land near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

St. Petersburg City Council District Five member Steve Kornell.
Published Sep. 3, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The hawk screeching and fluttering on the arm of a handler was the only one who wasn't seemingly thrilled recently as city officials, environmental activists and Lakewood Estates residents cheered the news that the city has reached an agreement to buy nearly 35 acres along the southern edge of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

But some council members greeted the mayor's announcement with less acclaim then the crowd that cheered Kriseman at the preserve last week. At a council meeting a day after Kriseman's Aug. 26 announcement, several council members, most vocally Jim Kennedy, questioned whether the thin strip of land is even able to be developed.

The $1.1 million purchase is meant to protect the sanctity of the preserve and the character of the neighborhood from development — like a controversial town home plan a few years ago.

"It's a happy ending," said St. Petersburg Country Club president Mike Kiernan. "It means the golf course can't be developed — ever."

Because the money will come from the Weeki Wachee Fund, a reserve meant to enhance recreation and environmental activities, the City Council will have to approve the purchase.

The council will likely meet in a special meeting to vet the proposed purchase.

Council member Steve Kornell has pushed for an equitable solution for the financially strapped country club, which had planned to sell part of its golf course to a developer, and the neighborhood and environmental activists who had opposed development near the 245-acre park.

The townhome development fell apart in 2013, but raw feelings among neighbors lingered.

"We can put the yard signs down, war is averted," Kornell said at a news conference announcing the proposed deal. "Boyd Hill is the Central Park of St. Pete, and we're expanding it in the middle of built-out Pinellas County."

Kornell said other council members had indicated when the purchase came up a few months ago that they didn't want to spend more than $1 million.

"We got in that range," Kornell told the Times. The country club had agreed to a $3.2 million deal with homebuilder Taylor Morrison.

Kriseman, who had urged his staff to strike a deal with the country club, said he hoped the council would quickly approve the sale.

"We do not intend to move at the speed of a gopher tortoise to get this done," he said, referring to one of the imperiled denizens of the preserve.

Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist who led the fight to protect Boyd Hill, said it had been a pitched political battle.

The initial victory came earlier this year when the council designated Boyd Hill as a preserve, giving it an added layer of protection. Council member Amy Foster had helped in that effort, Margeson said.

Margeson kept pushing for more permanent protection and found an ally in Kornell.

"I fought with everything I have," she said.

Boyd Hill Nature preserve is at 1101 Country Club Way S.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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