Article Courtesy of The
Tampa Bay Times
By Tracy McManus
Published April 8, 2018
CLEARWATER — Two years ago this month, the city began working with Hillsborough
County’s preservation arm to ensure 425 acres of pasture it owns in Keystone
would be conserved forever as green space.
Instead, a multibillion dollar mobile
home park operator is now poised to buy the property after
being the only bidder during a process that ended Thursday.
Offering just over the $6.4 million appraised value, Equity
LifeStyle Properties was the lone bidder Thursday on
Clearwater’s property. The city will now draw up a sale
contract which will likely go to the City Council for
approval next month, according to purchasing manager Alyce
It was a convoluted and bureaucratic twist that brought it
Hillsborough’s Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition
and Protection Program offered $4.6 million for the land
Dec. 15 but its offer was contingent on Clearwater deeding a
portion to the neighboring Silver Dollar Shooters Club. The
club, which borders Clearwater’s land off Patterson Road and
is owned by Equity LifeStyle, had previously talked to ELAPP
about acquiring roughly 20 acres it needs to resolve several
The City Charter would have allowed Clearwater to sell to
ELAPP directly because it is a government entity. But it
required the entire 425 acres to go to a public bid if it
were to issue a deed to a private business for any portion,
according to City Attorney Pam Akin.
ELAPP acquisition manager Kurt Gremley
said the county had concerns about taking on the 20 acres
bordering the shooting range because the land might be
contaminated with lead from stray bullets. And ELAPP would
not be allowed to buy all 425 acres and then convey 20 acres
to the shooting range because the program’s rules require
land it acquires to remain under its care forever.
This aerial view shows a 425-acre tract that the City
of Clearwater had planned to sell for preservation. The vacant
pasture land sits north and east of the Silver Dollar Shooters Club,
along Patterson Road in the Odessa area. Complications are keeping
the city from selling the land to Hillsborough County, which would
preserve it for green space. Instead, the likely buyer is a
multibillion-dollar company that owns the shooters club and a
neighboring RV park.
With ELAPP’s unworkable offer, the city was unwilling
to sell ELAPP only about 400 acres because it would be left with a
land-locked portion that would be inaccessible to another buyer if Silver
Dollar changed its mind, according to Assistant Director of Economic
Development and Housing Chuck Lane.
So although Equity LifeStyle needed only roughly 20 acres, being the largest
operator of manufactured home communities in North America, it had the
resources to buy all 425.
Representatives for Equity LifeStyle did not respond to comment when
contacted through their attorney Ed Armstrong.
Gremley said ELAPP, which has acquired more than 61,000 acres of
environmentally sensitive habitat since 1987 and preserved it for recreation
and wildlife, did not bid on the property because its appraisal of the land
came in lower than the city’s. The program’s rules prohibit buying above
their appraised values.
Gremley said Thursday that he has not heard from Equity LifeStyle if the
company will turn around and sell its unneeded portion to ELAPP. As a
voluntary program, Gremley said it’s not the program’s role to pressure
landholders into selling.
"My crystal ball isn’t that good," he said.
Clearwater’s 425 acres were first nominated to ELAPP as a candidate for
preservation in 2011. 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 portion added to the preservation cluster, the connection
would total more than 10,000 acres, according to an ELAPP analysis.
After buying the land in the early 1980s, Clearwater has used the acreage
for dumping treated sludge from the city’s wastewater treatment plants and
most recently leased it out as grazing pasture for cattle. Negotiations with
ELAPP began in earnest in April 2016.
To Courtney Murphy, North Pinellas conservation team lead for the Suncoast
Sierra Club, the Equity LifeStyle bid is another threat to ever disappearing
"It might be 425 acres here in Tampa Bay, but as a state, if you look at all
these sales that go through one by one, we are slowly paving over our entire
state," Murphy said. "We are losing that biodiversity to keep our wetlands
intact and ensure future Floridians have an opportunity to experience
But the potential sale to a multibillion dollar mobile home park developer
brings further concerns for neighbors.
The shooting range is in violation with Hillsborough County for adding a
five-stand field and two skeet fields that do not have the required 900-foot
safety zone. It also added three trap fields on an adjacent parcel not
approved by its zoning plan.
The board on March 9 gave Silver Dollar 60 days to come into compliance, and
a rehearing requested by the business is scheduled for April 20.
Kim Paulson, who lives in Garden Lakes Circle nearby, said noise from the
national tournaments and daily practices are intolerable.
She worries Equity Lifestyle having control of 400 more acres will only
worsen the problem.
The company’s track record also concerns her. Last year, Equity LifeStyle
settled three lawsuits in California filed by residents. In one park,
residents claimed they were plagued by sewage backups, potholes, electrical
blackouts and random water cutoffs, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
"We are not trying to shut them down, we are trying to bring them to a level
that can coexist with the neighborhood," Paulson said, who lives in her
childhood home. "We are literally being driven from our homes to find peace