The Sierra Club and the Pinellas Community Foundation are launching a public appeal to raise about $2 million to close a funding gap and purchase the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth Preserve in Dunedin for $10 million.
The organizations are working with Pinellas County and the city of Dunedin to buy the 44 acres of undeveloped land at the intersection of Keene Road and Virginia Avenue and preserve it so it cannot be developed.
“This is a true community effort, both public and private, to acquire the property, all 44 acres,” Jennifer Bramley, Dunedin city manager, said during an online press conference Wednesday morning.
The property is part of the estate of the late Gladys Douglas-Hackworth. Although she reportedly wanted to see it preserved, it was under contract to Pulte Homes for $14.5 million, according to Nichole Mattheus, an ecologist who heads a Facebook group organized to preserve the property. Pulte dropped out of the deal in October amid reduced density restrictions and public pressure for conservation, Mattheus wrote in a column in the Tampa Bay Times.
Since then, Pinellas County and Dunedin officials have been negotiating to purchase the land, which recently was appraised for $5.5 million. There’s enough public funding to cover the appraised value, said Barry Burton, Pinellas County administrator.
The city of Dunedin has committed $2 million. The county committed $3.5 million subject to approval by the county commission and with an expected $1.5 million reimbursement by the Florida Communities Trust. There’s also a $2 million donation from a donor whom Bramley identified only as Rebecca. UPDATE: Rebecca Sjouwerman and her husband, Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of Clearwater cybersecurity training company KnowBe4, confirm that they are the $2 million donors.
But the Douglas-Hackworth estate said on Tuesday that it would not sell the property for less than $10 million, Bramley said. The estate has set a soft deadline of the end of January for raising the money, she said.
“We’ve worked closely with the Sierra Club, closely with the Facebook group Preserve the Douglas Hackworth Property, and very closely with Pinellas Community Foundation to acquire this property. They feel confident that a funding campaign would be successful to bridge this gap, and that preservation of these 44 acres of open space is worthy of these efforts, and wanted to have a shot at that,” Bramley said.
There’s been an outpouring of community support to preserve the property and the critical ecosystems and endangered species on it, said Kira Barrera, conservation chair for Sierra Club Florida chapter. About $53,000 in private donations has been raised so far, in addition to the $2 million donation, she said.
It’s a regional effort. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard have signed letters for support for grant funding as well, Bramley said.
“This property has been almost like an indicator species for the will of our community to preserve green space here in Pinellas County. Fourteen thousand people have signed a petition calling for its preservation and when we launched the capital campaign in early November, since then we’ve had over 200 people donate, amounts from $5 up to Rebecca’s generous donation which have pushed us this close to being successful,” Barrera said.
Donations are being accepted on the Pinellas Community Foundation’s website at https://pinellascf.org/ Donors also can text SaveTheGDP to 71441.
If the campaign does not meet its funding goal, donations will be used for future land preservation projects in Pinellas County, said David Bender, director of grants and projects for the Pinellas Community Foundation.
Public access to the property could still be several months off, even with a successful purchase, said Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. An environmental survey will need to be conducted and potential safety issues such as downed trees will need to be addressed first, she said.
The Douglas-Hackworth property is part of a broader ongoing discussion about environmental land opportunities in Pinellas County, said Dave Eggers, incoming chairman of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.
“Because Pinellas is a land-locked county, land is at a premium. There will be many opportunities that we need to find for competing interests such as affordable housing … and having more jobs through industrial land protections so we can raise the bar for wages,” Eggers said. “The whole conversation is an important one to have.”