Cone Ranch, Georgetown sites on list for land conservation program
September 16, 2009
A citizens' committee that advises Hillsborough County's land conservation program has recommended two high-profile sites within the county for preservation.
Hillsborough's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program's site selection committee voted Tuesday to add the 12,800-acre Cone Ranch and 160-acre former Georgetown apartment sites to a list of properties that need to be purchased.
Cone Ranch, now owned by the county water department, was nominated in 1998 for purchase through the land trust, but that never happened. A private group of investors wants to broker a sale of the land in 2,000-acre parcels to wealthy conservationists, a proposal that has alarmed a number of environmentalists, including ELAPP members.
At Tuesday's meeting, the site committee gave the ranch a top priority ranking, putting it at the top of the list of properties that will be considered for acquisition in the future.
Georgetown got a somewhat lower ranking, in part, because of the expected high cost of acquiring the waterfront property, according to Jan Smith, a site committee member.
But interest from nearby residents for a park in the neighborhood boosted its rating.
"It was clear from people who spoke at the meeting that they want a park," Smith said.
Mayor Pam Iorio has asked the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to put together a proposal to buy the parcel off West Shore where the former Georgetown Apartments stood.
This nonprofit trust has submitted a bid to Bank of America, which holds the mortgage, to buy the property. If accepted, the trust and its partners, DeBartolo Development and Christian Tyler Properties, would redevelop about half the property as housing.
Under the proposal, the other half of the Georgetown property, roughly 80 acres, would be purchased though ELAPP and preserved as open space. While South Tampa is bounded by water on three sides, much of the coastline is private property.
The Motta Group of Fort Lauderdale, which bought the property for $125 million in 2005, planned to replace the 600-unit apartment complex with 1,200 homes. But the slumping market killed those plans. The property is now a ghost town of abandoned buildings.
Using ELAPP funds would require approval from the Hillsborough County Commission.
ELAPP is funded by county property taxes. Since being created two decades ago, the program has preserved nearly 45,000 acres of mangrove-lined shoreline, river swamp, wetlands and lakes, most in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
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