Pasco commission balks at preserving ranch of nearly 3,600 acres

Pasco commissioners declined to add the nearly 3,600-acre Secret Promise property to its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program list. If commissioners had followed their citizens committee recommendaton, it would have been the second-largest parcel the county had attempted to preserve. In 2014, Pasco was unable to buy the 12,400-acre Cross Bar Ranch, above, from Pinellas County. TIMES photo.
Pasco commissioners declined to add the nearly 3,600-acre Secret Promise property to its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program list. If commissioners had followed their citizens committee recommendaton, it would have been the second-largest parcel the county had attempted to preserve. In 2014, Pasco was unable to buy the 12,400-acre Cross Bar Ranch, above, from Pinellas County. TIMES photo.
Published January 31 2018

NEW PORT RICHEY – Pasco County commissioners say preserving the former Fort King Ranch is too pricey.

Even though they don’t know the price.

Last week, commissioners balked at adding the nearly 3,600 parcel, now known as Secret Promises, to its list of land worth preserving from development. The property, north of State Road 52 and east of the intersection at Ehren Cutoff, is owned by the heirs of the late St. Petersburg heart surgeon Dr. J. Clayton Pruitt. The Florida Estates Winery is on the property.

The land is valued at $14.8 million by the Pasco Property Appraiser’s Office, but commissioners declined to even negotiate with the owners, saying the eventual price tag could wipe out the remainder of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program, ELAMP, account.

The fund, financed by the Penny for Pasco sales tax, stands at $27 million. The county has nine other ELAMP projects in the works totaling 632 acres and its list of seven other potential acquisition properties totals 1,039 acres.

"Right now, my opinion, at 3,600 acres, it’s going to crush future projects,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore. "It’s almost (if) we add this, we can’t add anything else.’’

The property is considered worthy of ELAMP status because it is in the so-called agricultural reserve area of the central and eastern portion of the county. A citizens advisory committee, known as the Environmental Lands Selection Committee, recommended adding the property to the preservation list.

However, commissioners noted, the land is not part of the ecological wildlife corridors the county is seeking to protect among the existing land preserves. Additionally, 1,044 acres of the site are wetlands and cannot be developed.

The land carries a planed unit development designation allowing nearly 1,300 homes and 100,000 square feet of non-residential development on 1,500 acres.

"I’d rather see that money come to some other parts of the county’’ for improved drainage, said Commissioner Ron Oakley.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey suggested the county at least try to negotiate an acquisition price, but could walk away if the cost was too steep. She found no backers for that idea. Instead, commissioners said they would be willing to reconsider the parcel if some other agency shared the expense.

Secret Promise is represented by Realtor and former Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader. He declined comment about the commission’s decision, saying he had not yet conferred with his client.

Pruitt obtained much of the land for $3.1 million in 1997. Former owner Freeman Polk unsuccessfully attempted to auction his massive Fort King Ranch in 1990, taking out advertisements in the Wall Street Journal to spur national interest in what was then a 5,500-acre ranch. He rejected a high bid of $7.2 million and eventually had to liquidate his holdings as part of a bankruptcy proceeding. The Secret Promise property totals 3,586 acres. The remainder of the former Fort King Ranch is now the 2,000-acre 4-G Ranch, owned by William "Ted’’ Phillips, west of the Secret Promise land.

Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

PAST COVERAGE: County mulls preserving former Ft. King Ranch.

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