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St. Petersburg moves to protect Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

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

The $1.1 million purchase is meant to ensure development---like a controversial town home plan a few years ago---won't threaten the sanctity of the preserve or the character of the neighborhood.

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

Since the money will come from the Weeki-Wachee Fund, a pot of cash meant to enhance recreation and environmental activities, the City Council will have to approve the 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 topic came up a few months ago that they didn't want to spend more than $1 million on the purchase.

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

Mayor Rick 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 evironmental 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 located at 1101 Country Club Way South.