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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Politics

State urged to sell farmland in Hillsborough

The News Service of Florida


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A Mormon Church-affiliated firm is in line to purchase 142 acres of vacant land in Hillsborough County from the state, with the money potentially helping Florida’s future efforts to preserve environmentally sensitive land.

State staff has recommended Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve the $803,000 sale Tuesday of two noncontiguous parcels to Farmland Reserve Inc., a corporate entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The money is expected to become part of a revamped Department of Environmental Protection program that raises money for Florida Forever land purchases.

The program was shifted in March from selling surplus parcels within environmentally sensitive sites to putting noncommercial space on the market. The Hillsborough County land was once slated to be an alternative education center for juvenile offenders.

Since changing gears on the land sale program, the state department has started offering for sale a number of sites, mostly closed prisons, which could bring in more than $20 million for Florida Forever. The total is based upon appraised values.

Spokesmen for Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi said in emails Wednesday that they look “forward to hearing” more about the proposed sale to Farmland Reserve.

Deseret Ranches of Florida, the operational name for Farmland in Florida, intends to use the land to expand its existing agricultural operations that now include more than 312,000 acres in the Sunshine State.

“The property FRI is purchasing in Hillsborough County adjoins existing agricultural land owned by FRI,” Deseret Ranches general manager Erik Jacobsen said in an email. “Our intent is to expand our agricultural operations on this additional acreage.”

The pending Farmland Reserve purchase comes on the heels of AgReserves Inc., another Mormon Church affiliate, purchasing 382,834 acres of timberland in Northwest Florida. The land was purchased in November for $565 million from St. Joe Co., long one of Florida largest and most influential landowners.

The Hillsborough County sale would be the second to get approved by Scott and the Cabinet since the DEP made noncommercial lands the focus of efforts to raise money for land preservation.

Scott and the Cabinet, showing support in March for the refocused DEP program, approved the $15.6 million sale of the former A.G. Holley state tuberculosis hospital in Lantana.

“The attorney general supports the best use of all state-owned property, and if a state agency determines that it no longer needs a piece of nonconservation land, the Board of Trustees (the governor and Cabinet) will decide if it’s in the best interest of the state to sell the property,” Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Bondi, said in an email Wednesday.

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