Put Cone Ranch in ELAPP's care
November 6, 2009
The Cone Ranch Advisory Committee, of which I am a member, was asked to listen to the proposal by Florida Conservation & Environmental Group and recommend to the Hillsborough County Commission the best way to preserve and protect Cone Ranch.
After listening to FCEG's proposal, it is my opinion that there are too many questions and barriers in their proposal to feel comfortable that their involvement is the best way to preserve and protect Cone Ranch, its environmental attributes, wildlife and water for our future.
I question the legalities of dealing with a for-profit entity that wants to set up a nonprofit to make loans to sell parcels to other for-profit or private individuals. Although it would appear that safeguards would be put in place through a conservation easement, this easement in the hands of private ownership is still a contract that can be amended by the parties, so nothing is guaranteed.
The legal layers that would have to be peeled down in court if some part of this transaction went awry would be time-consuming and costly to taxpayers.
I do not support this approach in whole or in part. Although the county has not done anything toward protecting and restoring this property since its ownership, I do believe that the county (public) should retain ownership and control of this very valuable and one-of-a-kind property that's still left in Hillsborough. What part of the county controlling this property is the key.
To protect the property and taxpayers, I recommend the Water Department retain ownership and the county's environmental lands acquisition program buy a conservation easement in perpetuity over the whole property. The control of Cone Ranch then would be through ELAPP, which has the power and resources to protect and restore environmental damage to the property.
A conservation easement is less expensive to taxpayers than buying the property outright (anywhere from 10 percent to 80 percent less).
After all, Hillsborough County would be selling Cone Ranch to Hillsborough County. This doesn't make any sense, financially or otherwise. Also, with ELAPP controlling the property, money can be made through various initiatives at no cost to taxpayers to restore and manage the property.
The lure of a public park offered by FCEG is no more than bait for a deal. Let's not "make a deal" when we don't know what is behind the curtain.
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