ST. PETERSBURG — The owners of seven Placido Bayou properties had their hopes dashed Wednesday evening when the Development Review Commission denied their request to build docks accessed by boardwalks through a mangrove preserve.
The homeowners in the gated community off 47th Avenue NE had proposed constructing pathways that would rise above the mangrove roots and lead to private docks behind their homes. But commissioners, several citing environmental concerns, unanimously declined to modify two conditions in a 1983 City Council resolution that established the 80-acre preserve and permitted the Placido Bayou development to proceed.
"I think they really made the right decision," said landscape architect Phil Graham, who was among the dozens of homeowners in nearby neighborhoods who spoke against the plan.
"The stipulations were put in place in 1983 so the developer could build the project, Placido Bayou. And with the caveat that the preserve would stay intact in perpetuity. The point is that no event or circumstance has happened that would have changed that decision."
Attorney Katherine Cole, who represented the Placido Bayou residents, said they are considering an appeal to the City Council.
The commission's vote came after hours of passionate input from residents, the majority of whom were against the dock plan and had dispatched dozens of letters to city officials to bolster their position. Placido Bayou families wore green and buttons urging "Keep our Mangroves! Share the Water!"
But for Shore Acres residents who live on the other bank, plans for that body of water — also called Placido Bayou — and the mangroves along the shoreline, created a seemingly unbridgeable chasm of mistrust and rancor.
The effort against the docks was led by Bill King, who lives in a waterfront home in Shore Acres' Waterway Estates subdivision. He told the commission that granting the wishes of the seven homeowners could lead to similar requests from other Placido Bayou residents and the decimation of "over 500 mangroves."
"A deal was struck in order to build these homes" back in 1983, said Commissioner Charles Flynt, adding that he wasn't in favor of going back on it to allow "tunnels" and "windows" through the mangrove preservation area.
A staff report had recommended that the request be denied, saying that "construction of structures" and removal or alteration of the mangroves "could have a dramatic effect on the fragile ecosystem." Further, the report noted that the homeowners wanted to build docks on a "designated common open space preservation area," which the city ruled years ago must remain in its "natural state." That meant no private docks.
Cole disagreed. "My clients own private property that includes the mangrove area and reaches out to the water," she said afterward. "The plat of Placido Bayou designates other areas of this common open space easement, but my clients' property is not that area, based on the plat. But the city has always interpreted that the entirety of the mangrove stand was common open space."
Those who objected to the Placido Bayou homeowners' plans were alarmed that they wanted to trim the mangroves. The trees protect shorelines from erosion, are a nursery for marine life, provide food for sea life and are nesting areas for coastal birds.
But the Placido Bayou residents, a close-knit group of neighbors on Darlington Oak Circle NE, have said that they want to protect their mangroves. They said they have been victims of unfounded complaints about illegal mangrove trimming and have been scared of removing invasive Brazilian Pepper trees lest the sound of chain saws reaches their neighbors across the water and triggers another stream of complaints.
Wednesday's speakers included marine biologists, academics, couples and an entire family. The youngest speaker against the Placido Bayou request was 14.
This isn't the first time the issue of docks in the preservation area has come up. In 1995, developer Larson Communities tried to get permission to construct boardwalks through the mangroves for docks with multiple slips. The council denied the request. Several speakers on Wednesday suggested that the city should find a way to resolve the matter once and for all.
"Something needs to be done so my children don't have to revisit this issue 20 years from now," said Mark Chisholm, who spoke against the project.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.