The City of Dunedin on Tuesday took one more step towards turning 44 acres on Keene Road into a nature preserve for the community.
The City Commission unanimously approved a $10 million purchase agreement with the owners of the two parcels that were property of the late philanthropist Gladys Douglas. The vote brings the city into a 45-day due diligence period for inspections, surveys, title work and other final items before closing.
The commission also approved a funding agreement outlining that Pinellas County will wire $3.5 million at closing, adding to the $2 million provided by the city. The remaining $4.5 million for the purchase came from private donors, a feat lauded by the commissioners as they voted on this long-anticipated agreement.
“It all came together and I think that just shows that there’s nothing that cannot be done when the will of the community is so strong, and it was so strong to preserve this really gorgeous tract,” Commissioner Deborah Kynes said.
The purchase agreement requires the property to be named the Gladys E. Douglas Preserve, which city manager Jennifer Bramley said was “non negotiable on the part of the estate.”
Before she died in July 2019, Douglas had talked about selling her acreage to the city and county to be preserved as a park so proceeds could be donated to local nonprofits. Although her desire was known, a preservation requirement was not written into her will.
The city conducted an appraisal in 2018 and the county did its own in April 2020, but neither made an offer. Estate attorney Nathan Hightower turned to the private market, and the property went under contract for $14.5 million with developer Pulte Homes in July.
After the Tampa Bay Times reported the contract in August, community members rallied with protests at the property and calls to elected officials. When Pulte Homes walked away from its contract in October, the city of Dunedin began negotiations with Pinellas County to try to save the land.
Officials on Tuesday gave insight into the months of negotiations with the estate and massive fundraising efforts that led to this agreement. Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said it involved night and weekend phone calls with Bramley and city attorney Nikki Day, and “sometimes four to five phone calls a day.”
Bramley called the turnaround, from the property being under contract with a housing developer in July to the massive community fundraising effort to now the local government on the cusp of owning the property, “nothing short of stunning.”
The purchase agreement states Dunedin will own the property and will designate the majority of it recreation/open space. Pinellas County will obtain a conservation easement on 18.8 acres, an environmentally sensitive portion that includes the last rosemary bald in the county.
Officials are still waiting to hear the outcome of its application for a $2.4 million Florida Communities Trust grant. If the state awards the money, $1.5 million will be reimbursed to Pinellas County for its contribution and the rest will be reinvested into the project, according to Day. Pinellas County will still provide its $3.5 million share even if it does not receive the state grant, according to the contract.
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During the 45-day due diligence period, the city will also negotiate a contract for a caretaker to live on the property, which would have to comply with Florida Communities Trust provisions.
In its grant application, the city outlined what the preserve could include: a fishing pier, hiking trails, an observation platform and a conservation area. The city’s goal is also to connect the Gladys E. Douglas Preserve to the adjoining 55-acre lake, currently owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, to create a nearly 100-acre preserve for the public.
It would cost the city about $67,000 to prepare the preserve and about $78,000 in personnel and operating costs to run it every year. Bramley said the preserve would not be ready for the public until 2023 or 2024.