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Pinellas buys long-troubled golf course for green space

All 42 acres of the former Baypointe Golf Course in Seminole are slated to be turned into a recreational park and stormwater management area.

Florida’s most densely populated county could soon have a rare new amenity — 42 acres of green space spared from development.

The Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with buying the abandoned Baypointe Golf Course in Seminole and preserve it as a recreational park and a regional stormwater management area.

Assistant County Administrator Rahim Harji said the vision for the $1.2 million purchase is twofold: It is a cost-efficient method to treat contaminants and prevent runoff from flowing into Boca Ciega Bay, and it provides the densely populated region with much-desired space for trails and greenery.

“This doesn’t happen very often in the state,” Harji said. “We’re going to re-purpose the golf course to help the community where this is going to be improving the water quality and also providing a community amenity.”

If the sale closes following the roughly 90-day due diligence period, Harji said the county will begin a design process. The estimated $4.2 million redevelopment project will be paid for with revenue from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

Baypointe, which operated as a par-three, 18-hole course for decades, fell into a state of neglect following its purchase in 2015 and later closure by Weston-based Obligation Solution. Now overrun with weeds, it has since accumulated $561,433 in code violation fines, according to Blake Lyon, the county’s director of building and development review services.

Those fees could be waived in the sale through the county’s magistrate process. And although an appraisal valued the Baypointe property at $800,000, Harji said that figure included only its value as a recreational park, not the cost savings it will generate as a stormwater treatment and management operation.

Residents from the surrounding residential communities of Tamarac by the Gulf, Harbor Greens and Yacht Club Estates formed the Save Baypointe Golf Club nonprofit in 2017. The group began organizing in 2015 with the goal of preserving the property as green space and improving the unsafe conditions, said president Linda McDowell.

Members met once a month for nearly five years to advocate for the preservation of the property, made T-shirts touting their cause and waved signs on roadsides to boost their efforts.

“The county has listened to residents’ concerns and ideas,” McDowell said. “We are at a tipping point in Pinellas.”

Other Pinellas County golf courses are on track for a different fate.

The owner of the former Tides Golf Club five miles south, which closed in 2018, has completed its county application to rezone 96 acres for a 273-unit housing development. County staff is analyzing the project, which will go to the commission for a vote possibly later this year.

And the owner of the 150-acre Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club, also in Seminole, was under contract as of March to sell the property to Wheelock Communities and Gentry Land, companies that developed the sprawling Starkey Ranch in Pasco County.

RELATED: Bye-bye Bardmoor? Golf courses disappear as developers seek a new kind of green

Representatives from Wheelock Communities and current owner, Bayou Golf LLC, could not be reached for comment earlier this week.

Lyon, the county’s building director, said no rezoning application had been submitted for the Bardmoor property as of Tuesday. He said the last communication the county had with the developer was in May.

Bardmoor remains an active golf and tennis facility. Stacey Pitts, board member of the Save Bardmoor group that formed last year to oppose the redevelopment, said residents are actively monitoring developments.

"Once you pave the green space in Pinellas County, you don’t ever get that back,” Pitts said. “There are golfers who don’t want to lose their golf course, there are tennis players who don’t want to lose tennis courts but there are also people commuting that very busy Bryan Dairy Road that just don’t want the extra cars.”

The Baypointe property proved unfeasible to be turned into housing. The development rights that determined how many units could be built on the property were transferred years earlier to the Harbor Greens condo project in the middle of the golf course.

Tampa developer Ron Carpenter, who is now proposing the housing development on the former Tides golf course, said he was under contract before the county to buy Baypointe. After determining the property “had no development rights,” he then investigated building a stormwater treatment park at Baypointe for the county.

“At some point during the process, we realized that the vision of a stormwater treatment park would have a higher probability of being built for the public benefit if we stepped aside allowed the county to acquire the property directly and bring this vision to life,” Carpenter said.

Commissioner Janet Long said with rising seas and a need for continued stormwater management, the Baypointe purchase makes sense for future climate change preparation. However it is also a cultural amenity that is ever more important amid growing density and development.

“It has become part of their community and part of their culture, and for a lot of those folks, one of the main reasons why they moved there to begin with,” Long said.