Land Use Feasibility Analysis

Rattlesnake Key and the Cowen Tract

Conceptual Waterfront Community Potential Usage

The subject properties are located in a low-lying coastal area along Tampa Bay bisected by the Sunshine Skyway and facing the mouth of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. (Exhibit “A”). They consist of approximately 1,052 acres of environmentally sensitive lands, including privately owned submerged lands and uplands, including: Rattlesnake Key, Paradise Island, Skeet Key, Ed’s Key, Sisters Key, the southwest tip of Terra Ceia Island and the Cowen Tract, which carries with it the rights to bulkhead and fill and to dredge the necessary fill from surrounding adjacent State-owned sovereignty submerged lands. The properties have over 10 miles of undeveloped shoreline. The site is near the Terra Ceia State Park and is surrounded by, but not located within the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve. (Exhibit “B”). The properties are listed for priority acquisition under the State’s Florida Forever program and are within the Optimal Expansion Boundary for the Terra Ceia State Park.


Lands above mean high water of navigable water bodies are generally the only private lands available for development since title to submerged lands lying below mean high water is usually vested in the State of Florida. However, historically certain submerged lands and adjacent wetlands were sold to private parties with the express intent by all concerned that the lands conveyed be bulkhead, filled and developed with commercial and residential uses. The Cowen Tract (consisting of Cowen Mainland and Cowen Islands) falls into this category as parts were conveyed by the State into private hands at various times most recently in 1956. The 1956 conveyance by the State of the entirety of the Cowen Tract also included the rights to dredge adjacent State-owned submerged lands to provide a source of fill for development of the Cowen Tract. (Exhibit “C”). The existence of these rights has been acknowledged by the State (Exhibit “D”). Because submerged lands are rarely sold for private development today, these rights are very unique, and are, essentially, the rights to create and develop new waterfront property.

The Cowen Tract, Skeet Key and Paradise Island abut the right-of-way for the Sunshine Skyway in the immediate vicinity of the existing interchange that currently serves the South Skyway Fishing Pier and rest area. Property that abuts the State highway system enjoys an abutters’ easement of access to that highway unless those access rights have been voluntarily conveyed or condemned. (Exhibit “E”). It does not appear that the State has ever obtained good title to or condemned the access rights to/from the Cowen Tract, Skeet Key or Paradise Island and U.S. 19. Also, in connection with the 1956 sale of the Cowen Tract into private hands, access to and from U.S. 19 was approved by the State every 660 feet along U.S 19 where the Cowen Tract abutted U.S. 19. (Exhibit “F”). U.S. 19 was later incorporated into the Interstate Highway System as Interstate 275. The south tip of Terra Ceia Island appears to have potential access from the Terra Ceia Island mainland, while Rattlesnake Key and Sisters Keys would be accessible by boat only.