ST. PETERSBURG — Within the city limits, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is as remote as it gets. The 245-acre city park is home to osprey, gopher tortoises and, in the park’s wetter areas, otters. It’s situated in the heart of the city’s south side between the southern shore of Lake Maggiore and the Lakewood Estates neighborhood.
“Boyd Hill is unique,” said Gabriel Vargas, a member of Friends of Boyd Hill, which provides volunteer and financial support for environmental education and advocacy at the park. “It’s highly unusual to have this much green space in the middle of a city.”
That’s why so many people put up a fight any time someone wants to build houses near the park.
Developer Taylor Morrison recently proposed building a 100-unit gated condominium complex near the 13th hole of St. Petersburg Country Club golf course, which buffers the Lakewood Estates neighborhood and curves around the western edge of the park. The Arizona-based developer wants to build on 10 acres of the financially troubled golf course, which runs right up to a dense stand of pine scrub within Boyd Hill.
A coalition of activists has vowed to fight the developer at every step of the its application process, even the earliest ones.
When Taylor Morrison asked the city to vacate a property once slated for a road that was never built, opponents showed up in full force.
“It was pretty much panned by the people in attendance there,” said Timothy Martin, an organizer with Awake Pinellas, a community networking organization that works for progressive causes. “I think we’re all for smart growth and targeted development, but why should we sit back and let a developer chip away at the last natural preserve?”
The proposed development has drawn attention. A Facebook page called Save Boyd Hill, created Aug. 27 to provide updates efforts to block the proposed development, already has more than 2,200 likes.
Representatives for Taylor Morrison did not return calls to talk for this story.
Not everyone opposes the projects. Some Lakewood Estate residents say it could be good for the neighborhood.
“It’s not unknown that golf courses all over the country are shutting down like crazy,” said Judy Ellis, president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association. “If the country club cannot sustain itself, what’s going to happen to this land? This land is prime pickins’ for developers.”
The impacted land isn’t being used right now, and there’s no evidence of gopher tortoise habitats — or any other environmentally significant lands — in that area, she said.
Those against the development say that, at the very least, the area is vital because it serves as a vital aquifer recharge zone and that, without it, park officials would not be able to perform prescribed burns in Boyd Hill’s southwest quadrant.
“Housing right up to the fenceline of Boyd Hill would complicate our prescribed burning regimen,” said Jim House, who is on the board of directors of Friends of Boyd Hill. “Should burn schedules be hindered in any way, or stopped completely, wildfire becomes an issue.”
The city’s planning and zoning department rejected the initial Taylor Martin proposal in July but gave the developer until Sept. 30 to present a development concept with a smaller impact.