228 more acres to be purchased by Sarasota County to double size of Old Miakka Preserve

County Commission approves spending $4.3 million to buy the property from Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

This is a view of part of the 228 acres in Old Miakka. Photo by Sam Valentin, courtesy of the Conservation Foundation of the Gufl Coast

Two members of the public this week thanked the Sarasota County commissioners for agreeing to purchase 228.2 acres in Old Miakka, in the eastern part of the county, as the land will double the size of the existing Old Miakka Preserve.

During the Open to the Public period of the Oct. 26 board meeting, Rhonda Deems, chair of the Board of Directors of the Osprey-based Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, pointed out that the Foundation used its resources “to acquire this property in the midst of our very hot real estate market.”

She noted that the land would “link up to over 120,000 acres, buffering and protecting the state-designated Wild and Scenic Myakka River,” and that the purchase also would protect water quality while expanding recreational opportunities for the public.

In unanimously approving the item on its Oct. 26 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the commission agreed to pay the Foundation $4,335,000 for the property. The funds are coming out of the revenue the county receives each year through its Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP), which, as Deems noted, is “a voter-approved, taxpayer-funded program [that] has acquired and protected over 37,000 acres of natural land” and more than 100 acres for new parks.

County property owners pay 0.25 mills per year to support the ESLPP, as explained in the formal commission resolution regarding the purchase. The program will be in effect at least through Dec. 31, 2029, the resolution added.

Rhonda Deems addresses the commissioners on Oct. 26. News Leader image

The ESLPP, Deems said, “helps make Sarasota County such an attractive community to live in and visit.”

Deems also talked of the pleasure the Foundation’s staff and board have in working with the county in a public-private partnership on land preservation.

The following day, Jane Grandbouche, who lives in the Old Miakka community, also spoke to the commissioners during the Open to the Public comment period.

Her voice quavering, Grandbouche said she wanted to thank the commissioners for acquiring the property, noting that she has been an Old Miakka landowner for 35 years.

“I love the land,” Grandbouche continued. “My grandfather taught me to love the land. … That was a beautiful piece of property that you bought and are preserving.” In fact, she added, the area “is the most beautiful part of Sarasota County.”

A Foundation news release explained of the county’s new acquisition, “This land is a critical link between Sarasota County’s Old Miakka Preserve and Conservation Foundation’s Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve …” The release added that the Old Miakka Preserve “is open to the public daily for hiking, picnicking, birdwatching and wildlife viewing.”

The  former owner of the 228 acres, MAG Properties Inc., received multiple offers for it, the release pointed out. The Conservation Foundation “recognized that if this key land was to be saved, time was of the essence,” the release continued. “Conservation Foundation worked quickly to purchase the property to ensure its permanent protection. The purchase was completed using Conservation Foundation’s dedicated land fund and $3.9 million in short-term loans.”

“The process of land conservation has become increasingly complex in recent years, requiring significantly more resources and the ability to act swiftly and without hesitation,” noted Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation, in the release. “We took a risk in purchasing the land using short-term loans without having a conservation buyer lined up and are thrilled that Sarasota County has now voted to purchase the land as an addition to their Old Miakka Preserve.”

The county purchase is expected to close by the end of the calendar year, the release said.

A county staff memo provided to the board members in advance of their Oct. 26 meeting said that the county must complete its due diligence investigations of the property by Dec. 10, with the closing planned no later than Dec. 27.

This map shows the area of the 228 acres relative to Old Miakka Preserve. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In July, the memo added, staff received a nomination for the county’s purchase of the property. “The Site contains scrubby longleaf pine, flatwoods, scrub, xeric hammock, mesic hammock, blackwater stream, basin swamp, depression marsh, and grassland/rangeland,” the memo pointed out. Further, “The Site supports a high diversity of wildlife, including many Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SCGN) identified within the State Wildlife Action Plan.”

Among the species “possibly supported” on the property, the memo noted, are gopher tortoises, gopher frogs, the Eastern indigo snake, the diamondback rattlesnake, and Sherman’s fox squirrel. Further, the memo said, “[T]wo active bald eagle nests are located on the property.”

This is another view in the new acreage in Old Miakka. Photo by Lee Amos, courtesy of the Conservation Foundation of the Gufl Coast

On Aug. 5, the memo noted, the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee determined that the Old Miakka property met the criteria for the ESLPP program. Afterward, the memo added, county staff obtained an appraisal of the land “and successfully negotiated a purchase price” with the Conservation Foundation.

This week, the board members also unanimously approved the spending of an extra $686,550 for the closing costs, the due diligence and improvements of the property for public use. “Following closing of the purchase,” the county staff memo explained, “nuisance exotic vegetation removal will occur to improve the habitat quality on the Site. Other initial activities may include installing fencing and other improvements for safe, public access.”

The neighboring Old Miakka Preserve already has nature trails, an interpretative kiosk, benches, two-pole picnic shelters and a shell parking lot, the memo noted.