Hillsborough County plans to spend $11.4 million to turn a cattle ranch into part of an environmental corridor.
Wednesday, commissioners voted 6-0, with Commissioner Ken Hagan not voting, to acquire and restore the 487-acre ranch on Flowers Road in Wimauma. The land buy will be made through the county’s Jan K. Platt Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program.
The land will connect existing preserves, creating a two-county wildlife corridor along the Little Manatee River.
“It’s just so important that we continue to protect wildlife corridors along our rivers,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith, who nominated the property for acquisition 12 years ago as a citizen member of the environmental land program’s general committee.
The land is within the Little Manatee River corridor that commissioners previously identified as “essential” for preservation in the rapidly developing south county region. The land connects 9,000 acres of county preserved land along the river to 3,000 acres of state-owned land along the south fork of the river in Manatee County.
“It’s great to see this work come to fruition today,” Commissioner Stacy White told Smith.
It’s the county’s second acquisition in the past two months that expands the area’s land preserve. In September, the commission agreed to spend $1.66 million for a former 79-acre sod farm.
The deal approved Wednesday calls for the county to buy the land from Beckett Holdings of Kentucky for $10.24 million and to spend an additional $1.2 million restoring the wildlife habit on the property and to demolish buildings on the site that include two mobile homes and a barn.
The purchase price is above two independent appraisals that valued the land at $8.89 million. The seller’s asking price was more than $13.6 million, the county said.
As part of the deal, the owners will lease the property back from the county for two years to wind down the ongoing cattle-grazing operations. The ranch will be allowed to hold up to 280 cows.
Commission chairperson Kimberly Overman noted that people frequently ask, “‘Why are we spending the money here?’ Here’s the reality: If we were to build houses there, they would be a property insurance risk that everyone pays for when the house has to be replaced because of the tidal waters. It makes sense to not build there.”
Wednesday was the final commission meeting for Smith and Overman, who lost reelection bids, and for White, who is departing because of term limits.
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The commission also voted to rename a different environmental preserve after White.
The county purchased that 800-acre site in 2020 to end a lawsuit over a disputed rezoning case. The land has been known as the Ag-Mart property after its former owner, Ag-Mart Produce. It will become the Stacy R. White Nature Preserve on Dec. 1.
Smith lauded White for his leadership in the November 2019 land-use case, when the commission rejected a request to rezone the land at Balm and Balm Riverview roads that would have allowed 1,599 homes and 53,000 square feet of commercial space in an area outside the county’s urban service area.