CLEARWATER —The 426 acres of pasture in Odessa have served the city of Clearwater well over the decades.
After buying the land along Patterson Road in the early 1980s, the city used it first for dumping treated sludge from Clearwater's wastewater treatment plants.
From 2009 to 2014, it's where the city hauled materials dredged out of the Stevenson Creek Restoration Project, according to Real Estate Services coordinator Jim Benwell.
Now used as grazing pasture for cattle, Clearwater's vacant land in Odessa could be protected from development forever through Hillsborough County's preservation program.
The city is in negotiations to sell the 426 acres to the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. Since 1987, the program has acquired more than 61,000 acres of environmentally sensitive habitat in Hillsborough County and preserved it for recreation and wildlife.
"Their proposed future use for the property being preserve is a good cause," Benwell said.
A sale price has not yet been determined because the city and ELAPP are still waiting for results of independent appraisals. And the City Council would have to approve a sale.
But ELAPP has had its eye on the acreage since at least 2012. The property connects to the Brooker Creek Buffer Preserve, which connects to the Lake Dan and Lake Frances Preserve north of Tarpon Springs Road.
With Clearwater's acreage added to the preservation cluster, the connection would total more than 10,000 acres, according to an ELAPP analysis.
The site was nominated to ELAPP as a preservation candidate in 2011 by Keystone Civic Association president Tom Aderhold, but Clearwater was not willing to part with the property at that time, Benwell said.
When ELAPP reminded the city again in April 2016 it was still interested in acquiring the land, Benwell responded the city was ready to begin negotiations.
Aderhold said the Clearwater property was an important missing piece that will help add to a cluster of preservation land amid Keystone's equestrian park and groundwater wells that serve residents regionally through Tampa Bay Water.
"It's one more step in completing the fabric of our entire system of parks and horse activities and water preservation and supply," Aderhold said.
One uncertainty remains, however.
Earlier this year, representatives of the Silver Dollar Shooters Club asked ELAPP if it could buy a 9-acre portion of the Clearwater property, which borders its business.
The club needs the portion to come into compliance with a land development code requirement that it control 900 feet from any shooting station as a fall zone, according to ELAPP acquisition manager Kurt Gremley.
Because ELAPP can sell only its acquired land to another government agency for preservation, the shooting club would have to buy the 9 acres from Clearwater first.
Benwell said the city is willing to put the 9-acre portion to a public bid, giving Silver Dollar an opportunity to buy it. Gremley said ELAPP has no issue with conceding the 9 acres.
But residents who live around the shooting range do. Deanna Corarito, 53, who lives less than a mile from the shooting club, said "it sounds like Baghdad" some weekends, and neighbors fear an expansion will only make it worse.
Silver Dollar representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The shooting club is also in violation with Hillsborough County for adding three trap fields on an adjacent parcel, which is not approved by its zoning plan. It also had a five-stand field and two skeet fields on the property not approved by the site plan, which do not have the 900-foot required safety zone.
Hillsborough County director of Planning/Zoning Division for Development Services Joe Moreda said the business has applied for a modification to its zoning plan and is rezoning the adjacent property to come into compliance.
Corarito said no preservation land should be conceded to a business.
"I don't understand how that land gets returned to a conservancy but a slice of it gets sold to a shooting range that's polluting the environment," Corarito said. "It seems kind of like there's a lot of backroom dealing happening here."
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.