TAMPA — A sprawling swatch of undeveloped land is now officially in the hands of the Hillsborough County's land preservation program.
County commissioners approved the final details Wednesday needed to transfer Cone Ranch and its 12,800 acres of pine, scrub and swamp to the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program.
"I'm absolutely thrilled we're permanently preserving this environmentally sensitive land," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan.
Hillsborough County's water utility has owned the property for nearly two decades, and it repeatedly has fielded requests to sell all or part of it. Last year, a group of businessmen proposed subdividing the property into six pieces and selling the land to private investors, who would promise not to develop it as a different way to ensure its preservation. The county would have profited from the sale, and the business group would have earned a commission.
Hagan formed a task force that instead recommended transferring the land to ELAPP. After considerable back and forth over how to do so, commissioners agreed to have ELAPP pay the water utility about $12 million — the cost of purchasing the land 20 years ago — to effect the transfer.