Gov. Scott, Florida Cabinet to consider land sales to fund Florida Forever

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Florida Forever is fast approaching its fundraising goal for the approaching budget year; but environmentalists continue to insist the money is not nearly enough.

Of a projected $40 million generated for the state’s conservation program, much of it will become available through sales of properties such as closed prisons and other non-conservation tracts of land.

Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida is reporting that on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will decide on the sale of seven parcels statewide, including four decommissioned prisons, generating as much as $18.8 million to be set aside for Florida Forever conservation land purchases.

If Scott and the Cabinet approve the deal, which the staff recommended, the trust fund could reach $35.2 million for the next budget year beginning July 1.

To support Florida Forever, Scott and the Cabinet (Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater) in April approved the sale of 142 acres of Hillsborough County vacant land for $803,000 to Farmland Reserve Inc., a corporation associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They also agreed to accept $15.6 million for the former A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana to land development company Southeast Legacy Investments.

Earlier this year, state leaders abandoned a controversial plan to raise money by selling parcels the state had acquired for preservation. They replaced that program with one selling non-conservation land, with support of environmentalists, who also argue the state’s current funding methods fall short of the needs of Florida Forever.

“With funding for conservation land acquisition reduced by 96 percent since 2009, we welcome any new funding for the state’s land-conservation programs,” said Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Inc. chief  Will Abberger in an email to the News Service of Florida. “However, the state’s water and land conservation needs far outpace the amount of funding that’s available from such sales.”

Water and Land legacy is promoting constitutional Amendment 1, which would set aside 33 percent of Florida’s revenue from documentary-stamp tax — paid anytime real estate is sold – for the purchase, manage and protection of conservation and recreation lands, those that are critical for water supply and the repair of degraded natural systems.

Amendment 1, already on the November ballot, could generate up to $10 billion during two decades. However, there is already Republican opposition, mostly by legislative leaders who maintain that too much land could shift into state control.

Florida’s newly signed $77 billion budget includes $12.5 million to buy land for the protection of springs and water resources, as well as a buffer zone for military land. An additional $40 million is the state’s success in selling non-conservation lands.

Also on Tuesday, the Cabinet will consider approving the 2014-2015 Florida Forever Work Plan by the Division of State Lands, identifying and rating 44 sites statewide for protection.

The proposed sales to support Florida Forever are in Broward, Hendry, Hillsborough, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Volusia Counties. Sites include former correctional institutions in Broward, Glades, Hendry and Hillsborough Counties, closed in 2012 as part of a consolidation.

One deal has the City of Pembroke Pines spending $13.5 million to convert the decommissioned Broward Correctional Institution, converting it into an industrial park.

In addition, Turner notes that the City of Miami expects to spend $4.7 million to convert a two-story building, once used by the Department of Juvenile Justice, into a traffic roundabout for an “iconic entry” into that part of the city the location of a proposed mixed-use “Brickell City Centre.”

Real-estate management firm BGI Group expects to pay $1.2 million to renovate the Glades Correctional Institution into a mixed-use commercial, agricultural and possibly residential project.

Bidding on the former Hendry Correctional site will be Blue Spoon, a South Florida veteran-owned business. The group expects to spend $3.75 million to acquire the site, to become a tactical training facility.

Volusia County could spend up to $540,000 for 5.7-acre to purchase a parcel off Clyde Morris Boulevard in Daytona Beach. The county would incorporate the land into an existing tract planned for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, to become the Center for Motorsport Engineering, Research and Development.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.