SEMINOLE — Bardmoor. Baypointe. Tides.
Three Seminole-area golf course properties with uncertain fates.
In many ways, their stories are similar. In Pinellas County, the most densely populated county in Florida, large swatches of open green space are hard to come by. Developers eye these properties as attractive possibilities, whether they're active golf courses or not.
Despite the similarities, each property has its own unique story.
Bardmoor and the Tides currently face potential rezoning and redevelopment, which has inspired thousands living in nearby homes to step up and speak out against these plans.
While there are no known redevelopment plans at Baypointe, the property has been neglected by its owners for years, creating safety concerns. There was a fire on the property on April 15 and liens total nearly $400,000 as the county has been forced to maintain the land.
Each golf course has also inspired its own group of vocal supporters — Save Bardmoor, Save Baypointe Golf Course, Save the Tides.
In recent months, these organizations have joined forces to create a unified voice.
"There's a bigger picture," said Jeff Harring, a member of Save Bardmoor. "We all have an interest in our back yard, in our neighborhood. But this is about more than our own back yard."
Phil Day, also with Save Bardmoor, agreed.
"This is not a Bardmoor problem,'' he said. "This is a Pinellas County problem."
Harring envisions the formation of one main group, Save Pinellas Green Space.
"Instead of assaulting one golf course at a time, forcing individuals to respond and rally in an uncoordinated way, we're going to get together as an entire compact of people who care about the land, care about stewardship, care about the county, care about our children, care about our children's children, and we're going to take care of this land," he said.
The three groups recently held a joint protest, a Green Space Rally, along Park Boulevard in front of Waterfront Park. The Facebook event page described the rally as a protest against "overdevelopment by out-of-state developers and further loss of what little open space we have left in the county." Nearly 200 protesters showed up.
Ruthann Joans of Madeira Beach said, "It's just sad that Pinellas is becoming a cement county. We need more green spaces."
Amy Kedron, a 2018 Pinellas County Commission candidate attending the rally, said she doesn't understand why the county doesn't buy the properties.
"It's the perfect opportunity for the county to do some proactive land acquisition," she said.
Ron Stephens with Save the Tides, said, "We can't have these recreational open spaces be destroyed. They're just too precious and we don't have enough of them left in our county."
Pinellas County commissioners did not respond to a request for comment.
Jewel White, county attorney, wrote in an email, "Since I anticipate the specific properties you have mentioned will be coming before the Board of County Commissioners at a quasi-judicial hearing in the future, it is not appropriate for Board members to discuss issues specific to these properties."
County Administrator Barry Burton said two issues are at play.
"With Tides and Bardmoor, you have a developer that owns a piece of land proposing it be redeveloped," he said. "By law, the commissioners are a quasi-judicial body where they need to hear the proposal. They'll make a decision after the developer makes their case."
He added, "At this point, they're not in a position to say, 'We're going to buy this land. We should protect this land.' It's like a judge. They've got to hear the case."
Baypointe, which has no pending rezoning request, is a different scenario because of the owner's failure to maintain the property, he said. The county has the ability to use Penny for Pinellas funds to purchase land and staff has been in negotiations with the owners of Baypointe about purchasing the property. He said he couldn't comment on the status of the negotiations.
He understands the frustration of all three groups, he added, especially Save the Tides and Save Bardmoor.
"I understand their concerns," he said. "I truly do. This directly impacts them. I completely appreciate them wanting to have this resolved, but there's a process we have to follow by law."