Deal to preserve 111 acres in Indian River Shores could close this month

INDIAN RIVER SHORES – If the Indian River Land Trust can raise enough money to make it happen, a pristine 111-acre tract of wildlife habitat on the Indian River Lagoon will be forever protected from development.

The organization is currently raising an undisclosed amount of funds to purchase the property and hopes to close the deal by the end of the month.

The parcels at the west end of Fred Tuerk Drive, historically called Bee Gum Point, is now owned by The Estuary developers Roger Doerr and Doug Hazel under the name The Point Development LLC.

Attorney Jerome Quinn described the parcels in a letter to Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem as “lying between John’s Island, Bermuda Bay and the Town of Indian River Shores property to the north and The Estuary and Park Shores to the South.”

Doerr said the property was the planned site of a 21-home development called The Pointe, where homes would be built skirting the Lagoon on the east side of the property.

Considering the real estate market and the fact that Doerr said he’s ready to retire after many decades in the development industry, he and Hazel listed the property at $7.5 million with beachside Broker Michael Thorpe.

Doerr said he’s pleased that the Land Trust approached him to buy it.

“We promised the residents of The Estuary that we would never build directly across from them,” Doerr said. “This would keep that promise. The residents and the Homeowners Association are very happy about the sale.”

Doerr said there are still a few technical issues to be cleared up with the title, and requests are in the works with the Shores Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners to vacate the formerly platted development on the site and easements set up to build a bridge to the mainland.

The Bee Gum Point property was once identified as an alternate location for a causeway before the new Merrill Barber Bridge was constructed.

As word about the pending transaction swirls around Indian River Shores, residents have had concerns about what the land might be used for and who might be traipsing through the Town to get to it.

Right now, the property is fenced, gated off and locked with no access from the road.

According to Indian River Trust Executive Director Ken Grudens, local residents won’t notice any change if and when a sale goes through.

Grudens said the improvements the Land Trust hopes to make would be designed to enhance the habitat by removing some exotics and making the property more conducive to supporting wildlife, not to provide for recreation.

“It would still be fenced and the gate would remain locked. The only time it would be open would be for periodic special events hosted by the Indian River Land Trust for our members and donors,” Grudens said.Some birding outings and educational events would also be open to the public.

Bee Gum Point is ecologically significant for several reasons. It’s a mix of uplands and saltwater marsh and provides important habitat for indigenous waterfowl and for numerous species of migratory birds.

The acquisition and placement of this parcel into conservation is part of a larger plan the Indian River Land Trust unveiled two years ago to assemble a collection of nearby and, if possible, adjacent lands hugging the Indian River Lagoon.

“In January 2009, our board commenced the Lagoon Waterfront Initiative with a vision of protecting undeveloped land on the east and west sides of the Lagoon from the Sebastian Inlet to the St. Lucie County line,” Grudens said.

“It’s important to be able to protect lands on both sides of the lagoon,” he added.

Since its inception in 1990, the Indian River Land Trust has purchased 140 acres of environmentally sensitive lands throughout the county and has established partnerships to acquire and manage another 300 acres.

The Land Trust has also assisted property owners, mostly ranchers, in placing more than 2,000 acres of land into permanent conservation easement. Bee Gum Point would be a milestone for the Land Trust, and an achievement its board has desired for some time – to own and protect Lagoon shoreline on the barrier island.

The plans are there and the lands are available, but the biggest challenge right now in socking away conservation lands is money.

Much of the public dollars for this purpose has dried up, leaving organizations like the Indian River Land Trust to forge ahead with private dollars.

“We’re excited at the prospect of being able to acquire and protect this property,” Grudens said. “If we don’t, it could go to development.”

Though the Land Trust can talk up the project to donors, Grudens said he can’t say what the purchase price is that he’s trying to come up with or how much has already been raised.

“At the present time, the way the contract is set up, we’re not really at liberty to discuss the terms,” he said. “We have had dozens of donors already come forward to contribute, many of those from the barrier island. It’s really been a broad effort.”

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