40-acre site just south of Sarasota County’s Old Miakka Preserve to be purchased through Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program

County Commission approves funding for improvements to foster public enjoyment of property, as well

This map shows the MAG Properties site (outlined in red) in the eastern part of Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Commission has authorized the necessary steps for the county to acquire a 40.14-acre parcel at the end of Fruitville Road, just south of the county’s Old Miakka Preserve.

The series of actions the board approved on May 5 — as part of the passage of its Consent Agenda of routine business items — will allow staff to work through the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast on the purchase, at a cost of $562,100. The owner of the land is MAG Properties Inc., which is a Delaware corporation, a county staff memo noted.

Further, the commission authorized the expenditure of funds to improve the property for public use. That work will bring the total county investment to $671,126, the staff memo pointed out.

The terms of the acquisition call for the county to close on the site by Aug. 3, the memo added.

Following the acquisition, the memo continued, staff plans to remove “nuisance exotic vegetation” from the property. Among other initial activities that would make the site safe for public use could be the installation of fencing, the memo said. “The existing amenities at the neighboring Old Miakka Preserve include nature trails, interpretative kiosk, benches, two-pole picnic shelters and a shell parking lot,” the memo noted. “Combined with the proposed improvements at the site,” the memo said, “these will provide an overall enhanced visitor experience.”

A scrub jay perches on a post in the Old Miakka Preserve. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The property, which is located on Jomar Road, includes a 40-foot-wide, north-south corridor that connects to Old Miakka Preserve, the staff memo explained. The land contains scrubby and mesic flatwoods and an abundance of plant and wildlife species, the memo added: crested caracara, bald eagles, Florida sandhill cranes, wood storks, longleaf pine, sweetbay magnolia, Chapman’s oak, myrtle oak, sand holly, chalky bluestem, marsh pink, staggerbush, honeycomb head and St. John’s wort.

The funds for the purchase and improvements will come from the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP), for which county property owners are assessed a 0.25-mill tax each year. Voters initially approved that assessment during a March 1999 referendum; they extended the life of the tax through 2029 during a second vote in November 2005, the county website explains.

The Conservation Foundation secured an agreement with MAG Properties in May 2019 that gave the Foundation a year-long option to purchase the land, the staff memo pointed out. That agreement allows the Foundation to assign the option to another entity, with approval of MAG Properties, the memo added.

MAG Properties was incorporated in September 1975, the website opencorporates.com says. It also has an office in Sarasota, that website adds. Amanda F. Outerbridge, who is listed as president and chair, has a Bermuda address, the Florida Division of Corporations points out on its website. The Division of Corporations record also notes that Philippa Groves Gerard of Southampton, N.Y., is co-chair and director of the company.

In June 2019, the county memo continued, county staff received a nomination from the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which encouraged county staff to consider acquiring the property, the memo said. The land at the heart of the May 5 vote is part of a 275-acre tract that MAG owns, the memo noted.

On Oct. 3, 2019, the members of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC), which serves as an advisory board for the ESLPP, determined that the MAG site met the ESLPP criteria, the memo said. Then staff obtained two appraisals completed by independent firms, as called for under the ESLPP guidelines, the memo continued. Afterward, “Staff successfully negotiated a purchase price with [the Foundation] on behalf of MAG,” the memo said.

With the County Commission’s May 5 approval of the next steps, the memo added, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis would delegate authority to the manager of the county’s Property Management Division, or a designee, “to perform duties and tasks required by the Option Agreement,” and to complete the necessary due diligence before closing the transaction, the memo explained.