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Cabinet Considers Land Sales To Help Fund Florida Forever

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/News Service of Florida) – State is getting closer to its Florida Forever fundraising goal for the upcoming budget year, though environmentalists say the amount is not enough.

Most of the projected $40 million lawmakers hope to generate for the conservation program may soon become available through the sale of closed prisons and other non-conservation parcels.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will be asked Tuesday to approve the sale of seven parcels from across the state, including four shuttered prisons, which could generate about $18.8 million for the state fund used for Florida Forever land purchases.

If the deals are approved, as staff has recommended, the trust fund for the next budget year — which begins July 1 — would reach $35.2 million from such sales.

In April, Scott and the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — approved the $803,000 sale of 142 acres of vacant land in Hillsborough County to Farmland Reserve Inc., a corporate entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A month earlier, they voted to accept the $15.6 million sale of the closed A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana to Southeast Legacy Investments, a land development and construction company.

The focus on selling non-conservation land replaced a controversial plan to raise the money through the sales of parcels that the state had previously acquired for preservation. That plan was abandoned earlier this year.

Environmental groups approve of the proposed sales of non-conservation property. However, they say the state’s current method of funding Florida Forever continues to fall far short of the program’s needs.

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

Abberger’s group is pushing a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state’s documentary-stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

The proposal, which will be on the November ballot, could generate $10 billion over its 20 year life, the group said. But the proposal also faces opposition from Republican legislative leaders who argue, in part, it could shift too much land into state control.

A $77 billion budget Scott signed June 2 includes $12.5 million for the purchase of land to protect springs and water resources or for military land buffering. The additional $40 million depends on how successful the state is in selling non-conservation lands.

In addition to the sales, the Cabinet will be asked Tuesday to approve the Division of State Lands’ 2014-2015 Florida Forever Work Plan, which identifies and ranks 44 sites across the state for potential preservation.

The sites up for sale Tuesday are in Monroe, Volusia, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Hendry and Broward counties. They include the former Broward, Glades, Hendry and Hillsborough correctional institutions, which were closed as part of a consolidation in 2012.

Of the deals, the city of Pembroke Pines would spend $13.5 million to convert the closed site of the Broward Correctional Institution into an industrial park.

The city of Miami is expected to spend $4.7 million to turn a two-story building used by the Department of Juvenile Justice into a roundabout to help traffic for the proposed mixed-use “Brickell City Centre” and as an “iconic entry” into that part of the city.

BGI Group, a real-estate management firm, is expected to pay $1.2 million to convert the Glades Correctional Institution into a commercial, agricultural and possibly residential mixed-use project.

Blue Spoon, a veteran-owned business in South Florida, has bid $3.75 million for the former Hendry Correctional. Blue Spoon is looking to use the site as a tactical training facility.

Volusia County is expected to spend $540,000 to buy a 5.7 acre parcel along Clyde Morris Boulevard in Daytona Beach. The land would be incorporated into neighboring land planned by the county and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as the Center for Motorsport Engineering, Research and Development.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.

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