Named specifically on a list of area properties that might be sold are 0.4 acres of land owned by Gasparilla Island State Park at the end of Gasparilla Street, numerous acres of land on Cayo Costa and in Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park. It also lists 47 acres in the Yucca Pens Unit, located off Zemel Road in Charlotte County near Babcock Ranch.
Changes are being made to the list daily, though.
Lee County Commissioner John Manning summed up the feeling of many with his thoughts on the sale.
“I just found out about it, and I’m not really happy,” he said. “Those lands were purchased for the purpose of conservation and perpetuity. If they are able to sell it to developers I will fight it tooth and nail. Luckily, nothing has been put in motion at this time, and we have time to voice our opposition. I can tell you, though, the commissioners don’t want this to happen.”
According to Patrick Gillespie, press secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the reason behind the sale is a program called Florida Forever. It is a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program which replaces another program called Preservation 2000, the largest public land acquisition program of its kind in the country.
“During the legislative session, the legislature provided $20 million in funding for Florida Forever projects,” Gillespie said, “plus up to $50 million based on the sale of state-owned conservation land after conducting a scientific assessment of the three million acres of land managed by Florida State Parks, Florida Forest Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
Since it began in July of 2001, the program has acquired more than 650,000 acres of land and spent $2.87 billion.View More images >>
Qualifications for land to be considered as valued for conservation include water quality protection, ecological significance and recreational elements.
What the DEP is hoping will happen if they do, indeed, sell these lands is that they will be able to use the money to purchase land with a “higher conservation value.”
“The department (DEP) has worked this summer to conduct such an assessment, factoring in conservation land characteristics, such as recreation opportunities, wildlife benefits, protection of water sources, geological features, etc.,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said if the land is to be put up for sale, it first must be noticed to state agencies, universities and colleges, which all have the first option to lease the land. If there is no interest, cities and counties can purchase at appraised value. If there is no interest still, it can be put up for bid.
“Any land that gets to the final stage and is put up for bid and a bid is secured, it must go to the board of trustees (the governor and cabinet), which must determine the land is no longer needed for conservation purposes as well as approve the sale,” he said.
If the land is sold for public use, there are virtually no stipulations as to what can be built there.
At a meeting held recently Karen Maguire, director of Lee County Lands, said that some of the Cayo Costa lands are lots between existing buildings and others are submerged lands.
The most comprehensive place for information on this process and overview is found here: dep.state.fl.us/lands/assessment/default.htm. Also listed on the page is the preliminary list of potential sites that could be sold. Keep in mind, these sites are undergoing title review and are changing daily. The website to find the list is dep.state.fl.us/lands/assessment/Maps.htm.
On the main page, you’ll see a document called “model criteria with weights” which explains the characteristics used as part of the scientific assessment to review the 3 million acres.
“This is a preliminary list of sites and will be further vetted after public comment this week, after the Acquisition and Restoration Council meets in September, and again with public meetings regionally throughout the state in October,” Gillespie said.
A very rough timeline is that properties will likely start to be noticed as available in October or November.
As for the 0.4 acres of land at the end of Gasparilla Street, it cannot be built upon no matter who purchases it. It was given to the state many years ago by island philanthropist Bayard Sharp, who added the stipulation that if the state took it, it was not to be built upon.
The director of the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association, Misty Nichols, has corresponded with state officials reminding them of that fact.In the email Nichols said,
“As you may know, this single-family lot was part of (and physically connected to) a much larger land gift, which included 113 acres of land and one mile of beach on Gasparilla Island. It was given to the State of Florida by the GICIA with an estimated total value (in 1983) of $11 million.
“The intent was to keep this land in its natural condition. Deed restrictions were placed on this property to assist in the intent of keeping it natural and undeveloped. (The GICIA was given this land by the Hugh and Bayard Sharp families and we then passed it on to the state with deed restrictions.)
“Clearly, the GICIA feels that placing this parcel on the surplus land list is in violation of the intentions of this valuable land gift. Therefore, I respectfully request that this parcel be removed from the proposed list and no longer be considered as a possibility for the surplus list.”
Jim Cooper, president of the Lemon Bay Conservancy, addressed the issue of a potential sale of part of the property that his organization is very involved with.
“Key local Charlotte Harbor essential fish habitat is suddenly being seriously threatened by the FDEP’s new and very flawed ‘sell off surplus lands’ plan,” he said. “This ill-conceived FDEP effort throws the baby out with the bath. As presently written, FDEP would unintentionally sell off these vital lands to developers, which will serve as a guillotine to gradually, sale by sale of each cited area, destroy our region’s invaluable and already fragile and rapidly diminishing ‘natural essential fish nursery habitat’ ... which is the only safe home for the nursery stage growth of our region’s most valuable recreational fish, such as tarpon, snook, striped bass, etc.”
Cooper urges everyone to contact FDEP with their thoughts prior to their next meeting on Sept. 13. They can be reached at (239) 344-5600 or online at dep.state.fl.us/mainpage/contact.htm.
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