St. Pete’s remarkably high level of civic engagement was on full display Tuesday in City Hall, as citizens packed the Community Planning and Preservation Committee public hearing to voice their support for a city staff-initiated application to permanently preserve 157 of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve’s 245 acres in south St. Pete.
The pristine property is home to several endangered species of plants, butterflies and animals (including gopher tortoises and fox squirrels). According to Pat Lambert, a Boyd Hill supporter, it's “a beautiful pocket of natural Old Florida.” Ray Wunderlich III, who manages a community garden at the park, told the commission that the prospect of condo development on the property “raised the temperature [among area residents] quite a bit."
In the fall of 2013, Tampa developer Taylor Morrison sought, but did not receive, city support to build condos on 8 acres of the preserve along the St. Petersburg Country Club golf course. Environmentalists rose up in opposition, including former city council candidate Lorraine Margeson, who revived a 2002 initiative to permanently preserve the land.
“The city dropped the ball in 2002,” said Margeson, who praises the current administration for its support. Jim House, a Friends of Boyd Hill board member, said, “We have to think in terms of forever, and this code change will give us forever.”
Despite nearly unanimous support for the plan, several citizens (including Wunderlich and Boyd Hill wildlife biologist George Heinrich, who has been studying reptiles and amphibian communities on the preserve for more than 20 years) urged the commission to extend the plan to include fingers of land and the nursery area on the banks of Lake Maggiore. They believe preservation of that area of shoreline is important for continuity and for wildlife corridors.
Asked why the nursery was not included in this current application, city planner Rick MacAulay replied that the site is already developed, but said preservation of that acreage could be pursued in the future.
MacAulay then deferred to Parks and Recreation Director Mike Jeffries, who assured the Commission that there would be no changes and that the land would be kept wild and natural.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the land use change which will now go to City Council for a final vote, which is expected to pass easily.