County acquires 5 acres on East Venice Avenue, thanks to funding from Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program

Property located near Snook Haven Park and Sleeping Turtles Preserve South

A graphic shows the East Venice Avenue property, outlined in green. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Just eight days after purchasing almost 43.5 acres on Woodland Avenue in North Port, Sarasota County staff added another 5-acre site to its conserved land inventory, thanks to funding available through the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP).

On April 12, the county paid $950,000 for the parcel located at 3905 E. Venice Ave. in Venice, as shown in the records maintained by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.

A county news release pointed out that the land was in a location that gave it a high priority, as it is close to Snook Haven Park (5000 E. Venice Ave.) and Sleeping Turtles Preserve South “and in close proximity” to another recent purchase along East Venice Avenue.

“We have been able to acquire beautiful, natural sites with the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program,” said Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, in the county news release. “These sites are important for local wildlife and are key for connectivity in the area,” she added.

Among the notable wildlife spotted on the East Venice Avenue property have been gopher tortoises, red-shouldered hawks and great horned owls, the release says. “Diverse plant life inhabits the property as well, including southern red cedar, cabbage palm and pond cypress,” the release points out.

 “The property consists of mesic flatwood and remnant scrubby flatwood habitat,” the release adds.

As The Sarasota News Leader has explained, the ESLPP is a voter-approved and taxpayer-funded program established to acquire and protect natural lands and parklands. Property owners pay 0.25 mills on their property bills each year to generate revenue for the program.

The county’s website points out that the ESLPP began in 1999. “Since its inception, the ESLPP has protected and preserved more than 40,540 acres of natural habitat, with more than 21,000 of those acres placed under a conservation easement. Conservation easements remove the land’s development rights and require the landowner, current and future, to protect the land for greenways, water quality, habitat, and wildlife protection in perpetuity.”

In response to a public records request this week, the News Leader learned that the members of the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC) discussed the purchase of the East Venice Avenue parcel during their regular meeting on June 1, 2023.

The person who nominated the property was Becky Morgan, the related form said; a revocable living trust in her name was the entity that formally sold the land to the county.

This aerial map also shows the 5-acre site, outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The nomination form explained that the parcel “is located directly across E. Venice Ave. from Sleeping Turtles South” and it also is immediately adjacent to a 28-acre Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) site “used for road expansion mitigation and stormwater.”

The land is only half a mile from the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, the form pointed out. It includes a one-story, three-bedroom/two-bathroom residence comprising about 1,670 square feet.

“The single family residence features a large stone fireplace and chimney with prehistoric [sharks’] teeth from the region embedded amongst the stone. All structures were built from 1986-1999,” the form added.

On the section of the form asking for reasons why the county should purchase the land, Morgan wrote, “My husband always wanted our property to become a future Sarasota County park. He spent many years caring for the property as if it were a park. He made improvements for accessibility by installing ramps throughout the single-family residence and guest house. He cared for the landscape, trees and open space. I think this property would make a great addition to the existing parks and preserves on N. River Road and along E. Venice Avenue. The home would make a great Welcome Center or museum reflecting old Florida history and culture of Sarasota County and the [Southwest] Florida region.”

During the Open to the Public comment period at the beginning of the June 1, 2023 ESLOC meeting, Morgan addressed the members, voicing support for the county’s purchase of the land and providing a history of the property, the meeting minutes say.

ESLOC member Rhonda Deems ended up making the motion calling for the acquisition, the minutes add, and ESLOC member Shana Hamel seconded it. With only one member of the advisory committee absent at the time, the minutes note, the vote in favor of the motion was 7-1, with member Helen King voting “No.” (The minutes did not provide an explanation for King’s decision.)

Any community member interested in nominating land to be considered for county acquisition may complete a land nomination form, the county news release points out.

The completed form may be sent to or mailed to the following address: Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Attn: Land Nominations, 1660 Ringling Blvd., 5th Floor, Sarasota, FL 34236.